True picture of Pius XII

Wlodzimierz Redzioch talks to Andrea Tornielli, the author of the latest bibliography of Pius XII.

Wlodzimierz Redzioch: - Many books have been written about Pius XII. Why did you decide to write another bibliography of the Pope whose pontificate fell on the dramatic period of World War II and who is regarded to be a very controversial figure?

Andrea Tornielli: - I have already written three books on the attitude of Pius XII towards the Jews but none was a biography. I have decided to write a biography of the pope since I got hold of some archival materials that were not known before. These include: the newly-discovered archives of the papal family Pacelli, which contain a rich family correspondence, the archives of Count Eric Galeazzi, placed in the America (Pietro Galeazzi was the pope's confident to care for his relationships with the United States) and new testimonies found in the acts of the cause for beautification. These three new archival sources let me write a new and more objective biography of Pius XII.

- What do we learn from these new archival sources?

- My book is first of all an attempt to show Pius XII as man, and this aspect was often omitted. I would like to mention a letter written in the 1920s by the contemporary Apostolic Nuncio to Munich to his brother Francesco Pacelli. In this letter the future pope expresses his great anxiety about the origin and activities of the Nazi party, which proves false the opinion that Pius XII was in favour of Nazism. Another aspect, which can be seen in the correspondence, is the fact that Pacelli did not want to make career in the Roman Curia and become cardinal, but he thought of a pastoral mission of bishop in one of the Italian dioceses.

- Why was this valuable documentation concerning Pius XII unknown for almost 50 years after the pope's death?

- As I have already mentioned the family documentation has been discovered recently and is being catalogued by the Pacellis. So we deal with the materials that nobody saw before because nobody knew about them.

- The media too often report about one aspect of Pius XII's pontificate: the question of the Holocaust and the pope's silence (ascribed to him) when he faced the genocide of Jews. Thus they lessen or completely omit the magisterium of the pope, which is so important to the Church - Catholics very often know nothing about this subject. Can you remind us, even briefly, of the most essential points of the magisterium of Pius XII?

- Certainly, the polemics related to Pius XII's attitude towards the Jews during the war caused that people forgot about his great magisterium. Pius XII was the first modern pope in the history - his magisterium concerned the issues that his predecessors had never dealt with. I mean his speeches to scientists and representatives of various professions. The characteristic feature of his magisterium is really its modernity. In fact, this pope prepared as background for Vatican Council II. He was the first to accept the application of the historical-critical method in the analysis of the Holy Scriptures; he was open to discuss the theory of evolution; he canonised and beautified the biggest percentage of women (54 % canonised and 62% beautified); he was in favour - in spite of the opinion of the Holy Officium - of the natural methods of family planning; he began a big liturgical reform, which anticipated the conciliar liturgical reform. The interesting thing is that Pius XII is the most often quoted pope in the documents of Vatican Council II - 219 times. This is very meaningful.

- But let us come back to the accusations against Pius XII. According to Prof. Gian Maria Vian, the authors of the legend of the pope's silence about the Shoah were not only certain the Jewish environments but also the communist and Soviet ones. Does your research confirm these statements?

- Of course. It is known that before the end of the war the communist environments began bringing the accusations against Pius XII. Those negative opinions about the Pope were taken by some known French Catholics. Cardinal Giovanni Battista Montini, one of the closest collaborators of Pius XII and the future Pope Paul VI, was aware of that. In 1963, before the conclave during which he was elected Pope, Montini sent his famous article to the English weekly 'The Tablet' (the article was published by this periodical after Cardinal Montini had been elected Pope). This is a very interesting text since he mentioned the publication against Pius XII, which had appeared in the Soviet Union.

- Robert Kempner openly claimed that 'any public protest of Pius XII would have had a contrary effect and at the same time would not have allowed the Pope to organise help for the Jews.' Do you agree with this positive evaluation of the silent but successful method of the pope's activities?

- One should explain that Kempner was a German Jew; served as assistant US chief counsel during the Tribunal at Nuremberg. So we have a well-informed man who knew Nazism. When the play 'Der Stellvertreter' (The Deputy) by Hochhuth appeared Kempner said the words you had quoted, i.e. that the public protest of Pius XII would have had a contrary effect. The pope realised that and acted to avoid bigger evil. This official cautious attitude caused that he could put into motion a great 'machine of help.' Pinchas Lapide, a Jew himself, calculated that thanks to the action of the Church during the times of Pius XII 750,000 - 850,000 Jews were rescued in Europe. No other religious or humanitarian institution did more to help them!

- Your book has been published at the special moment: on 8 May there was a meeting of cardinals and bishops, members of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, during which they expressed their positive opinion on the heroicness of the virtues of the candidate for the altars Eugenio Pacelli, Pius XII. Currently, the positive results of the above mentioned gathering will be presented to Benedict XVI. So it seems possible that in the near future 'the Pope of the war' will be beatified. I would like to know whether you had the impression that you dealt with a holy man while you were conducting your research.

- I did not deal with the issue of beatification in my book. As a Catholic I completely trust the decisions of the Church in this respect but I cannot deny that a black legend was created around this Pope. Surely, Eugenio Pacelli was a man who was characterised by heroic virtues and he suffered a lot himself. He had a great sense of responsibility and he was not timid. Since the cardinals and bishops of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints voted unanimously to recognise heroicness of the virtues of Pius XII one should accept it as a very meaningful fact.

- What can we say about the attitude of Pius XII towards Poland?

- During the Nazi occupation of Poland, after the outbreak of World War II, Pius XII prepared letters supporting your occupied country. The letters were brought - I would say with vicissitudes - by Monsignor Quirino Paganucci, Prelate of the Anticamera. The letters were brought to Krakow, hidden in bottles of wine wrapped in straw. When Archbishop Adam Stefan Sapieha got them he said to Fr Paganucci, 'I thank the Holy Father for his closeness but we cannot communicate Your Holiness' letter to the faithful, for that would provide a pretext for fresh persecution.' This example gives the best testimony that more decisive reactions of Pius XII would have only increased persecutions.

"Niedziela" 33/2007

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: