By Terence McQueen WIDESPREAD comment has been aroused this week by an announcement that a German play labelled as "anti-Pope Pius XII" is to be presented in the West End by the Royal Shakespeare Company.
The play, entitled The Vicar, was condemned by German Catholic newspapers last month as a monstrous attempt to blame Pope Pius XII as a silent onlooker of the Nazi extermination of Jews.
The play's central figure is a young Catholic priest, and the climax is a clash between him and Pope Pius over what is described as the failure of the Pope to protest against Hitler's concentration camps. The priest alleges lack of leadership, and in protest pins a "Star of David" to his chest and dies with Jews in the Auschwitz gas chambers.
Last week, at the conclusion of a three day meeting of the Hierarchy in Germany. the play was denounced as a "disgraceful" distortion, implying that Pius XII feared to speak out against the Nazi slaughter of Jews.
A priest writing in the German weekly Catholic newspaper Petrusblast said that the playwright had
mingled historical persons with figures of his imagination and had thereby holstered old anti-Catholic prejudices and made the Pope a scapegoat for those really responsible for allowing the Nazi atrocities.
Mr. Clifford Williams, the Associate Resident Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company. who is to direct the London presentation of the play towards the end of the year, admitted this week that the weight of the play is against Pius XII, "hut it isn't a slashing attack," he said.
"The author introduces spokesmen for the Catholic side, and the whole question is extremely well argued and not without subtleties," he added. "The priest-hero. in stating his attitude to Pius XII, states that he is not attempting to attack the Church. The author is attacking Pope Pius Xli's lack of stand. The Pope is depicted as an extremely intelligent man, but insufficiently inclined to make a strong moral statement condemning the Nazi exterminations."
Mr. Williams said it was important to note that in the controversial Berlin presentation of the play, two-thirds of the original manuscript have been deleted. The author stated that this inclined to turn the production into an antiCatholic tract.
He added that the London production of the play would contain fewer cuts than the Berlin presentation. "I shall he doing a considerable amount of research into the life of Pope Pius XII before directing the play." he added.
The editor of the Jewish Chronicle said in London this week : "As I have not yet seen the play, t cannot comment on any of its alleged implications, but one knows quite well that Pope Pius XII came out very strongly against anti-Semitism. and no Jew would want to minimise what Pius XII did in fact do for the Jews'