D-Day, the anniversary of the Allied Invasion of Normandy. The beginning of the end, or at least the end of the beginning for Nazi Germany. No one has been more maligned from the era of World War II than Pope Pius XII. Yesterday this speech from the Vatican:
Speech of Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Secretary of State at the presentation of the book by Andrea Tornielli“PIUS XII, EUGENIO PACELLI. A MAN ON THE THRONE OF PETER”June 5, 2007
1. A “Black Legend”
The figure of Eugenio Pacelli, Pope Pius XII, by now stands at the center of decades of very intense polemics. The Roman Pontiff who guided the Church in the terrible years of the Second World War, and afterwards the Cold War, is the victim of a “black legend” which is difficult to dislodge, even though documents and witnesses have amply established its incoherence. One of the unfortunate “secondary” consequences, so to speak, of this black legend – which falsely depicts Pope Pacelli as indulgent with respect to Nazism, and insensitive to the fate of the victims of persecution – is that it’s caused the extraordinary magisterium of this Pope, which was the precursor to the Second Vatican Council, to be completely forgotten. As has happened with the other two popes of the same name – Blessed Pius IX, who is spoken of solely in relation to issues connected to the politics of the Italian Risorgimento; and Pius X, often remembered solely for his strenuous battle against Modernism – also for Pacelli, there’s a risk of reducing his entire pontificate to the question of his presumed “silences.”
2. The Pastoral Activity of Pius XII
Thus I am here this evening to give a brief testimony to a man of the Church who, for his personal holiness, shines as a luminous witness to the Catholic priesthood and to the Supreme Pontificate. I have already read many interesting essays on the figure and the work of Pope Pius XII, from the well-known Actes et Documents du Saint Siège, to the biographies of Nazareno Padellaro, Sr. Marchione, Fr. Pierre Blet, among the first which come to mind. This is without speaking of the “Speeches on the War” of Pope Pacelli, which, if one desires, are available in electronic format, and which I find absolutely interesting even today for their doctrine, their pastoral inspiration, for their refined literary language, and for their human and civil strength. In sum, I already knew not a little with regard to the Pastor Angelicus et Defensor Civitatis. But one must be grateful to Andrea Tornielli, who in this full-bodied and well-documented biography, drawing on much previously unpublished material, restores to us the greatness and the fullness of the figure of Pius XII, deepening his humanity and allowing us to rediscover his magisterium. It reminds us, for example, of his encyclical on liturgy, his reform of the rites of Holy Week, his grand preparatory work which would unleash the council’s liturgical reforms. Pius XII opened the Church to the application of the historical-critical method in the study of Sacred Scripture, and in his encyclical Divino afflante Spiritu he established the doctrinal norms for the study of Sacred Scripture, emphasizing its importance and its role in the Christian life. It was also Pope Pacelli, in his encyclical Humani generis,who took into consideration, even if cautiously, evolutiionary theory. Pius XII also gave a notable impulse to missionary activity with the encyclicals Evangelii Praecones (1951) and Fidei donum (1957, which marks its 50th anniversary this year), emphasizing the duty of the Church to announce the gospel to all peoples, as Vatican II would do extensively. The Pope refused to make Christianity coextensive with Western culture, or a given political system. Even more, Pius XII remains the Pope who gave the greatest attention to women in his canonizations and beatifications: 54.4 percent of his canonizations, and fully 62.5 percent of his beatifications. For the rest, this Pontiff spoke many times about the rights of women, affirming, for example, in his radio message to the Congress of the Italian Women’s Center in Loretto in October 1957 that women are called to exercise “decisive action” in the political and legal field.
3. Unjustified Accusations
These are merely examples, which demonstrate how much there is yet to discover, indeed to rediscover, in the magisterium of the Servant of God Eugenio Pacelli. I was struck, moreover, by the many references in Tornielli’s book from which emerge both the lucidity and the wisdom of the future Pontiff in the years in which he was the Apostolic Nuncio in Munich, Bavaria, and then in Berlin, as well as the numerous instances of his humanity. Thanks to unpublished letters with his brother Francesco, we can obtain some sharp judgments from him regarding the National Socialist movement then taking shape, as well as the great and serious interior drama lived by the Pontiff during the period of the war regarding the right attitude to take about Nazi persecution. Pius XII spoke about it many times in the course of his radio messages – and therefore it’s completely out of place to accuse him of “silence” – though he chose a prudent profile. With regard to the “silences,” I willingly refer to a well-documented article by Professor Gian Maria Vian published in 2004 in the journal Archivum historiae pontificiae with the title “The Silence of Pius XII: At the Origins of the Black Legend.” In it, among other things, it’s said that the first to raise the question of the “silences of Pius XII” was Emmanuel Mournier, in 1939, just weeks after his election as Supreme Pontif, in relation to the Italian aggression in Albania. These questions gave rise to bitter polemics, later reprised in the Soviet and Communist context, as we will see, by exponents of the Russian Orthodox Church. Rolf Hocchuth, author of the drama “The Deputy,” the theatrical piece which contributed to spreading the “black legend” against Pius XII, in a recent interview defined Pope Pacelli as a man of “demonic cowardice,” while there are historians of an anti-Pius XII mindset who even regard anyone who does not think like them, who dares to express a different opinion on these events, as part of a “Pacelli brigade.” One cannot but denounce this attack on good sense and on rationality, which is often perpetrated in the pages of newspapers.
4. A Very Precise Historical Point
It seems useful to me to underline how the work of Tornielli brings to light facts already known to serious historians. One of the merits I regard as fundamental of the volume we’re discussing today, taking account of the very sad times in which Pope Pacelli lived, is that it shows how the Pope’s voice, in the turbine of the Second World War and the opposition which followed between two blocs, did not enjoy the favor of those in power. How many times was the elecriticty “missing” for Vatican Radio to make the words of the Pontiff heard; how many times was the paper “missing” to reproduce his thoughts and teachings, which made some uncomfortable; how many times did copies of L’Osservatore Romano end up “missing,” which reported his speeches, clarifications, updates, and political notes? Today, however, thanks to modern resources, these sources have been fully reproduced and are available. Tornielli has sought them out and found them, as witnessed by the large body of notes which go along with the book. In this regard, I’d like to draw attention to an important point. The figure and work of Pius XII, for which people gave praise and thanks during and after the Second World War, began to be scrutinized with a different eye in a very precise historical period, from August of 1946 to October of 1948. The desire of the martyred people of Israel to have their own land was understandable, their own secure refuge following “the persecutions of a fanatic anti-Semitism directed against the Jewish people” (allocution of August 3, 1946). But it was equally understandable that those who were already living in Palestine expected to see their rights respected, and to receive attention, justice and protection. The newspapers of the period refer amply to the state of tension which existed in the region, but because they did not want to consider the reasoning and proposals of Pope Pius XII, they began to take sides, some one one side and some on the other, thereby ideologizing a reflection that developed in a very articulated fashion, attentive to criteria of justice, equity, respect and legality. Pius XII was not only the Pope of the Second World War, but a pastor who, from March 2, 1939, to October 9, 1958, had before himself a world seduced by violent and irrational passions. From that point forward, an incomprehensible accusation began to take shape that this Pope had not intervened as he should have in favor of the persecuted Jews. In this regard, it seems important to me to recognize that anyone who is free of ideological interests and who loves the truth can understand more deeply, in full sincerity, a long, fruitful, and, in my view, heroic papacy. One example is the recent change in attitude in the great sanctuary of memory which is Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, to reconsider the figure and the work of Pope Pacelli not from a polemical point of view, but from an objective historical perspective. It’s my fervent hope that such good will, manifested publicly, can lead to an adequate outcome.
5. The Duty of Charity to All
On June 2, 1943, on the occassion of the Feast of St. Eugene, Pius XII publicly explained the reasons for his attitude. First of all, Pope Pacelli spoke again of the Jews: “The leaders of peoples must not forget that those who, to use the language of Sacred Scripture, ‘carry the sword,’ may not dispose of the life and death of human beings except according to the law of God, from whom all power comes.” Pius XII went on: “You might expect that we would describe here all that we have sought to do, and been able to do, to lessen their suffering, to improve their moral and legal conditions, to preserve their inalienable religious rights, and to meet their needs and their shortages. Every word addressed by us on these matters to the competent authorities and every one of our public references has to be pondered seriously by us, measured against the interests of the suffering people themselves, in order not to render their situation, without intending to, even more grave and intolerable. Sadly, the visible improvements obtained do not satisfy the maternal concern of the Church in favor of these particular groups, who are subject to the most bitter fate ... and the Vicar, though asking only compassion and a return to the elementary norms of law and of humanity, has found himself before a door that no key seems to open.” We therefore find here already presented, in the middle of 1943, the explanation for the prudence with which Pacelli moved in terms of public denunciations: “In the interests of the suffering people themselves, in order not to render their situation even worse.” These are words of which I seem to hear echoes in the brief speech of Paul VI on September 12, 1964, in the Catacombs of Saint Domitilla. On that occassion, Pope Montini said: “The Holy See abstains from raising the voice of legitimate protest and deploration with greater frequency and vehemence, not because it ignores or minimizes the reality of the situation, but out of Christian patience and for not provoking even worse evils.” Paul VI, in the middle of the 1960s, was referring to the countries behind the Iron Curtain, governed by Communist totalitarianism. Thus he, who was a close collaborator of Cardinal Pacelli and then of Pope Pius XII, gave the same explanation. When popes speak, they’re not thinking about assembling a positive image for posterity. They know that their every word could affect the destiny of millions of Christians, and they take to heart the welfare of men and women of flesh and bone, not the applause of historians. For the rest, Robert Kempner, a Jewish judge and a public minister for the Nuremberg Trials, wrote in January 1964, after the release of “the Deputy” by Hocchuth: “Any propagandistic position from the Church against the government of Hitler would not only have been a form of premeditated suicide ... but it would have accelerated the assassination of a greater number of Jews and priests.”
6. “Action, not Lament, is the Rule of the Hour”
This said, after having taken into view the 11 volumes (in 12 books) of the Actes et Documents du Saint Siège regarding the Second World War; having read dozens of folders with hundreds of documents regarding the thinking and the acts of the Apostolic See during the Second World War; and given the violent partisan polemics (expressed in innumerable volumes, full of violent and false ideology), it seems to me that the work of the Actes, published by order of Paul VI (the Substitute of the Secretary of State in the terrible circumstances of 1939-1945), could be usefully completed by the documents which are listed under the archival entry of “Stati Ecclesiastici,” which contain papers regarding the obligations of the Holy See and the Catholic Church to undertake the duty of charity towards all. It’s an archival sector not sufficiently explored, given that it’s a matter of thousands of personal cases. For each case, the smallest State in the world, neutral in an absolute sense, gave attention on an individual basis, hearing every voice that asked for help, even giving audiences. It’s an immense amount of documentation, unfortunately still not available because it hasn’t been put in order. Maybe it would be possible, with the ad hoc help of some charitable foundation, to catalogue in a brief amount of time these papers which are stored in the Archives of the Holy See! The directives given via radio, print, and diplomatic channels by Pope Pius XII in 1942 were clear. He said to everyone during the tragic year of 1942, that: “Action, not lament, is the rule of the hour.” The wisdom of that affirmation is attested to by myriad sources: diplomatic notes, urgent meetings, specific interbentions (for example, with Cardinal Bertram, Cardinal Innitzer, Cardinal Schuster, etc., etc.), all urging them to do everything possible to save people while preserving the neutrality of the Apostolic See.That situation of neutrality allowed the Pope to save not only Europeans, but also prisoners who were not part of the Axis. We think of the very sad situation in Poland, or the humanitarian interventions in Southeast Asia. Pius XII never signed circulars or proclamations. He said quietly what had to be done. Bishops, priests, religious and laity understood very well the mind of the Pope, and what was urgent to do. Among others, evidence of this are the innumerable records of audiences with Cardinals Maglione and Tardini, with their comments. Afterwards, protests and various “no’s” arrived in response to the humanitarian requests of the Holy See.
7. Denounce or Act?
Allow me to recount a small episode which took place in the Vatican in October of 1943. At the time, beyond the Gendarmes (around 150 people) and the Swiss Guard (about 110 people), there was also the Palatine Guard. In that period, beyond these roughly 300 people to protect the Vatican and its extraterritorial property, there were 575 Palatine Guards. Well then, the Secrtariat of State asked the occupying powers in Italy for permission to insert another 4,425 people into the Palatine Guard. The Jewish Ghetto was just two paces away ...The editors of the Actes et Documents could not print all the thousands of personal cases. The Pope, at that time, had other priorities: he could not make known his “desires”; he wanted to act, within the limits imposed upon him by the circumstances, according to a clear program. For honest people, however, legitimate questions arise: When did Pius XII meet Mussolini? He did so as the Cardinal Secretary of State in 1932, but never as pope! When did Cardinal Pacelli meet Chancellor Hitler? Never! When did the Pope meet Mussolini and Hitler together? Never! If that never happened, it could mean that the two states decided not to speak to the Pope, so what should the Pontiff have done: make declarations of denunciation, or act?Pius XII chose the second option, with is witnessed by many Jewish sources from all over Europe. Perhaps it would help to make copies of the abundant Jewish expressions of gratitude and esteem to the human and spiritual ministry of this great Pope. The book which we can read today adds some extra elements not only to the figure of a great Pontiff, but also to all the silent, but effective, work throughout the life of Eugenio Pacelli, a pastor who passed through the storms of two world wars (he had been the nuncio in Bavaria since 1917) and the tragic construction of the Iron Curtain, within which millions of children of God perished. Heir to the Church of the Apostles, the Church of Pius XII continued to work not only through a prophetic word, but above all through daily prophetic action.
8. A Concluding Note
Lastly, I would like to thank Andrea Tornielli for this work, which contributes to a better understanding of the luminous apostolic action and the figure of the Servant of God, Pius XII. This is a useful service to the Church, and a useful service to the truth. It’s proper to discuss it, to deepen it, to debate, and to exchange views. But it’s important to guard against the most grave error for the historian, which is anachronism, judging the reality of that time with the eyes and the mentality of today. Thus it’s profoundly unjust to judge the work of Pius XII during the war with a veil of prejudice, forgetting not only the historical context but also the enormous work of charity which the Pope promoted, opening the doors of seminaries and religious institutes, welcoming refugees and the persecuted, helping all.