Hitler 'ordered pope kidnapped'
But leading German general refused to obey order, newspaper says
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) -- Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler gave one of his generals a direct order to kidnap Pope Pius XII during World War II but the officer did not obey, Italy's leading Roman Catholic newspaper reported.
Avvenire, which is owned by the Italian Conference of Roman Catholic bishops, said new details of the plot had emerged in documents presented to the Vatican in favor of putting the controversial wartime Pontiff on the road to sainthood.
Elements of alleged plots to abduct the pope during Germany's occupation of Italy have already emerged in the past from some historians, but Avvenire's full-page report said its details were new.
Avvenire said Hitler feared the pope would be an obstacle to his plans for global domination and because the dictator wanted to eventually abolish Christianity and impose National Socialism as a sort of new global religion.
The newspaper said a plot that was code named Operation Rabat had originally been planned for 1943 but was not carried out that year for unspecified reasons.
It said that in 1944, shortly before the Germans retreated from Rome, SS General Karl Friedrich Otto Wolff, a senior occupation officer in Italy, had been ordered by Hitler to kidnap the pope.
According to the newspaper, Wolff returned to Rome from his meeting with Hitler in Germany and arranged for a secret meeting with the pope. Wolff went to the Vatican in civilian clothes at night with the help of a priest.
The newspaper said Wolff told the pope of Hitler's orders and assured him he had no intention of carrying them out himself, but warned the pontiff to be careful "because the situation (in Rome) was confused and full of risks."
Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini had already fallen and set up a German-backed puppet regime in northern Italy. The German occupation of Rome was in its dying days. Allied forces were advancing on the capital, which they liberated on June 5, 1944.
As a test of Wolff's good faith, Pope Pius asked for him to free two Italian resistance leaders who had been condemned to death. Wolff arranged for them to be released, the paper said.
Road to sainthood
Avvenire said the details of the plot are in testimony Wolff gave before he died in Germany to Church officials accumulating evidence to back efforts to have Pius eventually made a saint.
But the reports of Hitler's contempt for Pius have contrasted with other versions by historians and authors who have depicted Pius as being pro-German and have accused him of intentionally turning a blind eye to the Holocaust.
The Vatican's procedures to put Pius on the road to sainthood have not been slowed or shelved despite concerns from Jews, and they will enter a new phase in March when Vatican historians will begin discussing many volumes of documentation.
The Vatican maintains that Pius did not speak out more strongly because he feared it would worsen the fate of Catholics and Jews, and that he worked behind the scenes to save Jews.
Pius's pontificate has been one of the trickiest problems in post-war Catholic-Jewish relations.
In 1998, there was widespread Jewish discontent with a Vatican document called "We Remember, a Reflection on the Shoah," which effectively absolved Pius of accusations that he facilitated the Holocaust by remaining silent.
But the current pontiff, Pope John Paul, has strongly defended Pius and once called him "a great pope."
Pius XII: There are plans to make him a saint, but others accuse him of turning a blind eye to the Holocaust