Modern Day Saint

Pope Pius XII

(Father Peter Gumpel, S.J. is currently preparing the beatification cause of Pope Pius XII.)

Eugenio Pacelli, born October 9, 1876 in Rome, Italy reigned as Pope Pius XII from 1939 until his death in 1958. His family came from Tuscany and had provided many Vatican lawyers since 1819. Eugenio was an outstanding law student with a quick mind and an exceptional memory. He was ordained in 1899. Because of his abilities he became an archbishop in 1917 and a diplomat to the Bavarian Court to negotiate a concordat (a Vatican-state agreement). In 1925 he was transferred to Berlin where he remained until he was appointed a cardinal in 1929. He then returned to Rome to become Secretary of State.

He grew up in a home of deep piety and of devotion to the papacy, but also in a Rome smarting from the loss of the Papal States. He inherited a diplomatic tradition and technique centered on the principle of the concordat, developed for the purpose of preserving the Church's privileges and freedom of action, even under regimes irreconcilable with Christian principles. Fascism came to power in Italy during Pacelli's absence in Germany.

Writings of Pope Pius XII opposing Hitler and protecting Jews date back to 1922 when he was Msgr. Pacelli. In 1928, as the German representative from the Vatican, Archbishop Pacelli drafted the following statement: "Moved by Christian charity, the Holy See is obligated to protect the Jewish people against unjust vexations and, just as it reprobates all rancor and conflicts between peoples, it particularly condemns unreservedly hatred against the people once chosen by God; the hatred that commonly goes by the name of anti-Semitism."

The settlement of the Roman Question with the Italian dictator Mussolini resulted in the creation of the Vatican city-state in 1929. The concordat with Hitler's Germany (1933) was a calculated risk aimed at preserving a platform for Catholic life and ministry in a hostile German society.

Dr. Jeno Levai, an eminent Jewish historian, emphatically stated that "throughout the 1930s while serving as Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pacelli lodged no less than 60 protests on behalf of the Jews." Cardinal Pacelli, in 1937 while his Papal predecessor was ill, led the preparation and promulgation of the encyclical, Mit Brennender Sorge (With Burning Preoccupation). He had changed the title from "With Deep Concern" to "With Burning Preoccupation" to emphasize the vital importance of the document. It was a vociferous denunciation of the Nazis - one of the most severe condemnations ever of any regime by the Vatican.

This encyclical was read at the same hour on Palm Sunday from all the pulpits in Germany! Written in German, instead of the usual Latin for faster dissemination, it was reprinted by the tens of thousands and distributed throughout Germany.

His part in the anti-nazi encyclical Mit Brennender Sorge, his dozens of other notes and memoranda to the German government as secretary of state, his candid reception of the Nazi foreign minister, his bitter reproach to the Austrian Cardinal Innitser's weakness, and the unfavorable German reception of his election as Pope showed his true estimate of the German tyranny.

This was a difficult time for the neutral Vatican city-state. However, the Vatican did speak out against the Munich agreement (1938) by which Czechoslovakia was sacrificed to expanding German power by Britain and France

Pius' untiring efforts to relieve suffering, anxiety, and grief have been generally applauded. In a notable series of Christmas broadcasts he looked toward to postwar future and replacing the egotistic nationalism that had bred war. Although he was clearly an outspoken critic of the Axis he agonized over charges of neglect. Should he raise an even higher voice in defense of the persecuted or would his protests have aggravated Nazi policy without achieving any good result. Some people still agonize over this today. However, Dr. Jeno Levai has stated "Pius XII did more than anyone else to halt the crime (the Holocaust) and alleviate its consequences." He credited Pius XII with saving 860,000 Jews from the Nazis.

After he became Pope the New York Times chronicled the Pope's many attacks on Hitler and Hitler's persecution of Jews. The New York Times praised him editorially a number of times and at one point said he was the lone voice in Europe objecting to Nazism and the Jewish persecution.

After the war, and the beginning of the spread of communism, Pope Pius XII enacted severe measures against Catholics collaborating with communists.

Perhaps Pius' greatest writing was the encyclical Divine Afflante Spiritu (1943; "With the Help of the Divine Spirit"), which gave fresh impetus and direction to Catholic biblical studies. The encyclical welcomed most of the techniques of modern biblical scholarship.

His encyclical Mediator Dei (1947; "Mediator of God") was a similar charter for the liturgical movement. He aimed at restoring community character to public worship but warned against extravagant experiment.

His last encyclical Humani Generis (1950; "Of the Human Race") touched on more theological views and is referenced frequently to this day by orthodox theologians.

Pope Pius Xll lived in the times that tried the best of people. This was the era that saw the rise of both fascism and communism, the worst war the world had ever seen, and the systematic annihilation of millions of innocent civilians. These were the times when a few weak political leaders abandoned the weaker and the oppressed. However, these were also the times when millions of heroes come to the aid of those in need. Pope Pius XII stands out among those heroes.

There is a good article in the National Catholic Register (3/26-4/1) by Karl Keating, founding director of Catholic Answers, regarding his several talks with a Jewish group about the Holocaust. Keating repeated many of the instances of Pacelli's communications on behalf of the Jewish people. History has shown and continues to prove Pius XII was a hero to the persecuted Jewish people. Even today they continue to acknowledge his help prior to, during, and after World War II.

Jim Fritz

James S. Fritz is one of the founders of Defenders of The Faith, Inc. and Chapter Leader for the Morgan County West Virginia Right to Life.

To contact Curtis, Fred, John or Jim please use our Website address or write us at Defenders of The Faith, Inc., PO Box 1000, Berkeley Springs, West Virginia 25411.



Return to Top

Close this window to return to current Featured Saint page.