The chancery, or embassy building, was what Italians refer to as a "palazzo," or large structure, which once served as a family home, located on Via Aurelia 294 in a lovely section of Rome on the Gianocolo, one of the hills near the Vatican. The palazzo was spacious enough for our small staff, and shortly after my arrival the building's custodian asked if I wished to see something a bit unusual on the upper floor.
He led me up a staircase that opened into a small room surrounded on all sides by windows. It was in this room, he said, that a young and frail Eugenio Pacelli would spend much of the summer to avoid the heat of Rome; the U.S. Embassy building had been in the family of the future Pope Pius XII for generations. While I cannot say that my knowledge of this pope began in that building, I do know that connection rekindled a deeper interest on my part in this priest and pope. It also expanded my awareness of the controversy that has raged around him for the past half century, a dispute that has prevented the finalization of the canonization process started in October, 1967, thereby denying well-deserved sainthood to an outstanding pope of the 20th century.
The Defamation of Pius XIIwas written by Ralph McInenry, the late Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Jacques Maritain Center at Notre Dame University, and author the 29-volume Father Dowling detective series. One could describe his book as a legal brief to set the record straight, and, in so doing, a ringing endorsement of Pope Pius XII.
McInerny's objective is to rebut the sordid attempts to deny this holy priest his deserved place amongst the greatest of popes, although the book, published in 2001, cannot include the current effort of Pius's "postulator," Rev. Stephen Gumpel, S.J., to carry on the crusade to bring about the late pope's ultimate canonization. Professor McInerny's and Fr. Gumpel's efforts still have not borne fruit, for the canonization process of Pope Pius XII has been repeatedly delayed, almost discarded, and under the present pontiff, rests in limbo. The immediate question is: why?
The young boy in the attic on Via Aurelia who was to become Pope Pius XII was born on March 2, 1876, and as was the custom of the day, baptized two days later, and given the name, Eugenio Maria Giuseppe Giovanni Pacelli. The Pacelli family had long been active in Vatican affairs: grandfather Marcantonio had been Minister of Finance, and then Minister of Foreign Affairs under popes Gregory XVI and Pius IX; father Filippo was a lawyer in the Congregation of the Sacred Rota (the Court of Appeals in the Vatican that deals mainly with efforts to annul marriages); both were part of the "Black Nobility," the supporters of papal, not monarchial, rule of Italy.
After the Papal States were permanently lost in 1870, Pope Pius IX confined himself as "a prisoner of the Vatican," and never left it. Against this political backdrop, in 1899, Eugenio Pacelli was ordained, and the defense of the Church against her enemies at home and abroad became one of his priestly objectives.
An event nine years after his ordination invariably raises the question: "What if?" After he had served as a Professor of Canon Law in Rome, in 1908 the Catholic University of Washington, D.C. offered Fr. Pacelli a similar position, but he turned it down at the behest of the Vatican's Secretary of State, Cardinal Rampolla. Would the world and the Church have been different had he accepted the position and remained in the U.S.? In 1914, Msgr. Pacelli was named to the #2 position within the Vatican's diplomatic organization; three years later, on April 20, 1917, he was given the rank of Archbishop on the very same day the three children at Fatima saw the first apparition of the Virgin Mary. Recall the French proverb: a coincidence is an event in which God chooses to remain anonymous.
As Archbishop, he was named Apostolic Nuncio (the pope's personal representative, or the equivalent of an ambassador) to Germany, then in the throes of the disastrous effects of World War I. During his twelve-year stay in Germany, Nuncio Pacelli would personally witness the rise of the Bolshevik menace from the East, and the birth of the short-lived Weimar Republic. Those dozen years would provide his enemies a rationale to attack him after his death: the future pope had, they would claim, developed a fondness for Germans and Germany, which included the Nazi Party, despite the fact that the Party was virtually non-existent when he left. McInenry: "The Nazi Party (in 1929) was a small and insignificant factor during the time Archbishop Pacelli served as papal nuncio to Germany. Not much more significant than the Zionist Party. German Jews were not at the time much interested in, or concerned by, either of them."
In December of 1929, during the early phase of the worldwide Great Depression, Archbishop Pacelli was recalled to Rome and given a red hat; two months later, he was appointed as the Vatican's Segretaria di Stato, or Secretary of State. For the next nine years, Cardinal Pacelli would serve as "the right arm of Pope Pius XI," and travel the world, including a visit to the U.S., carrying out the instructions of the sovereign pontiff. And what were those "instructions?" McInenry: “No one can understand the actions of a pope unless he understands that pope's teaching...Pius XI and his secretary of state acted on the basis of the Church's vision of man's ultimate vocation and its implications for what he does in this world..."
Please Help The Remnant Continue Its Daily Defense of Catholic Truth
Secretary of State Pacelli signed the Concordat with Nazi Germany in July, 1933. To this day, critics have conflated that action as demonstrable evidence that Cardinal Pacelli instinctively favored the Nazi regime. Yet, as Secretary Pacelli explained to the British diplomat, Ivone Kirkpatrick, his reason for doing so was quite different and compelling: "I had to choose between an agreement on these lines and the virtual elimination of the Catholic Church of the Reich."
While it is oft-repeated that he signed the Concordat, what is rarely mentioned is that over the next four years Cardinal Pacelli would issue 34 diplomatic notes strongly protesting violations of the agreement. After these futile efforts to remind Germany of the terms of the agreement, and the dangers facing the Church in Germany, in 1937 Pope Pius XI issued his encyclical, Mit Brennender Sorge (with burning anxiety), which was read in all Catholic churches in Germany on Palm Sunday, and delivered to Berlin. It is very likely that Cardinal Pacelli was the author of that document, and the final title of the encyclical was definitely his. The Nazi response was to attack the pope and his right-hand man as "the Jew-God and his deputy in Rome." Hardly a measure of affection.
In February of 1939, Pope Pius XI, described by Mussolini as "this stubborn old man," passed to his eternal reward. From all over the world, tributes came but one, published in Time Magazine, was particularly noteworthy: "Only the Church stood squarely across the path of Hitler's campaign for suppressing the truth. I never had any special interest in the Church before, but now I feel a great affection and admiration because the Church alone (emphasis mine) had the courage and persistence to stand for intellectual truth and moral freedom. I am forced thus to confess that what I once despised I now praise unreservedly." The author of that praise was Albert Einstein.
On the day of his 63rd birthday, March 2, 1939, Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli was elected pope and took the name Pius XII. During the next 19 years, he would shepherd the Church and its members through the most catastrophic event in history: World War II. Yet, despite all his efforts to prevent war and save people in war-torn Europe during the cataclysm, something noted in the encomiums after the end of the war from international leaders, again and again we hear the charge that, with regard to "the Final Solution to the Jewish problem," the pope, "didn't do enough," although no one appears to have defined what "enough" really means.
War came to Europe in September 1939, when Germany attacked Poland from the west, but what is often ignored was that two weeks later, the Soviet Union attacked from the east. Closer to the Vatican, under a growing Nazi yoke, Fascist Italy increasingly carried out the will of its masters, as in the 1938 Racial Laws against Italian Jews. In the German conquest of Poland, "the Church was the first target in removing all opposition...The Germans executed 214 Polish priests, and imprisoned over 1000." Among those who survived the Gestapo raids was the young seminarian, Karol Wojtyla, who, twenty years after Pius XII's death, became Pope John Paul II.
In exile in Rome, Polish Cardinal Hlond, the Polish Primate, "told the story to the world," but the situation worsened. The Bishop of Cracow, "repeatedly pleaded with the pope to stop protesting, as it made things worse." These pleas to remain silent were to play a significant part in the future plans of the newly installed pope, for outward protest might, indeed, do more harm than good and result in serious loss of life.
That warning to the Vatican to remain silent would present itself often during the war. In occupied Holland, the Catholic and Protestant bishops protested the treatment of Jews in the area. "The Germans retaliated by seizing and deporting all Catholic non-Aryans they could find, among them Edith Stein." It is not difficult to understand how Edith Stein, born a German Jew, later a Carmelite nun known as Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, would be canonized, but the one man who oversaw every effort to save her was Pius XII. Anyone who knows anything about how the Vatican operated understands that not only the actions of the Polish and Dutch bishops, but also those of the papal nuncios, priests, and mother superiors who sought ways and means to save many Jews and others, came directly from Vatican instructions. Although circumstances are different, that chain of command is the same today.
In May 1945, the German armies surrendered and the war in Europe, a bloodbath in which nearly 19 million civilians and military were either killed or injured, came to an end. Hailed by many, including the leadership of many Jewish organizations as the man who saved hundreds of thousands of Jews, Pope Pius XII's popularity and reputation was comparable to any post-war leader. Anyone of a certain age - mine - remembers the virtual adoration of this blessed man by many non-Catholics, and whose ascetic appearance in St. Peter's Square after the war ended, captured on film, is still a very moving moment, as is this one a few days later:
Pope Pius XII died on October 9, 1958, and Pinchas Lapide, a former Israeli diplomat, wrote this of the deceased pope: "We Jews are a grateful people...no pope in history has ever been thanked more heartily by Jews for having saved or help their brethren in distress."
Four years later, Pius's successor, Pope John XXIII, called for a Council with the express purpose of "opening of the windows of the Church." After its conclusion in 1965, there began a series of changes that replaced, slowly at first, much of what Pope Pacelli had championed, and his reputation as the fearless leader who had saved so many came under attack. The time of change was nigh.