VATICAN CITY -- 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 yesterday.
Avvenire, owned by the Italian Conference of Roman Catholic bishops, said details of the plot had emerged in documents presented to the Vatican to support putting the wartime pontiff on the road to sainthood.
Elements of alleged plots to abduct the pope during Germany's occupation of Italy have previously emerged 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 abolish Christianity eventually and impose national socialism as a global religion.
The newspaper said a plot code-named Operation Rabat had 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 fallen, and a German-backed puppet regime was in northern Italy. The German occupation of Rome was in its dying days. Allied forces were advancing on the capital, which they liberated June 5, 1944.
At the request of Pope Pius, Wolff arranged to free two Italian resistance leaders who had been condemned to death.
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 made a saint.
The reports of Hitler's contempt for Pius have contrasted with other views by historians and authors who have depicted Pius as pro-German and have accused him of intentionally turning a blind eye to the Holocaust.