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from issue no. 08 - 2007

The last speech of Pope Ratti

According to the historian Emma Fattorini, Pius XI found himself alone facing the two chief figures in Nazi-Fascist totalitarianism. Her book also contains the undelivered speech in which the Pope asserts that, in moments of difficulty, what remains primordial and substantial in the Church is the priesthood and episcopacy (and therefore the seminary)

by Lorenzo Cappelletti

Emma Fattorini, <I>Pio XI, Hitler e Mussolini. La solitudine di un Papa</I> [Pius XI, Hitler and Mussolini. The solitariness of a Pope], Einaudi, Turin 2007, 252 pp., euro 22,00

Emma Fattorini, Pio XI, Hitler e Mussolini. La solitudine di un Papa [Pius XI, Hitler and Mussolini. The solitariness of a Pope], Einaudi, Turin 2007, 252 pp., euro 22,00

Einaudi has just published in its Struzzi series Pio XI, Hitler e Mussolini. La solitudine di un Papa [Pius XI, Hitler and Mussolini. The solitariness of a Pope], a book by Emma Fattorini that evaluates the documentation recently made available by the Vatican Secret Archive on the pontificate of the Pope from Desio.
The book, that has had a mixed reception, does not aim at a fresh systematic treatment of the pontificate. So true is it that the eight chapters into which it is divided are structured by themes, in the manner of a dossier, rather than by chronological phases, in any case restricted to the latter part of the pontificate. In the light of the conclusion, anticipated in the title, or better in title plus subtitle, that provide the key to a volume intent on showing how Pius XI found himself alone in the face of the two chief figures in the Nazi-Fascist totalitarianism. I shall linger on that thesis in my conclusion, after first listing a series of facts that emerge from the sources cited.
In the opening pages Emma Fattorini takes her time in evincing, with womanly sensibility, the role of inspiration and companionship (the very opposite of the solitariness set out in the subtitle) that some female figures had on this pontificate. The pope’s mother Teresa, in primis. Margaret Mary Alacoque, the messenger of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. And then above all Little Teresa of Lisieux, «star of our pontificate», who the Pope canonized in 1925 «in an emblematic coincidence with the condemnation of Action Française» (p. 41). Of her Pius XI was to make «no longer the icon of a poignant Romantic and nineteenth-century devotion but the modern model of an austere and mature spirituality» (p. 15). Little Teresa is shown, therefore, as the path of the Pope towards a more modern Christian sensibility.
Another Teresa also belongs to this group of women, Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) who on the other hand, we might say, sanctions the indissociable bond with the ancient tree of Jesse.
The words «we are all spiritually Semites» pronounced by the Pope in a speech of September 1938 are often quoted. Fattorini wonders, though without documentary evidence, what influence may have been exerted by the letter (given in full in the Appendix) written to the Pope by Edith Stein in April 1933: «Is not this war of extermination against Jewish blood an insult to the most holy humanity of our Savior, the Most Blessed Virgin and the apostles?». And whether the Pope’s expression may not also result from his relationship with the Rabbi of Milan, Alessandro Da Fano, of whom little is known, according to Fattorini (p. 7), but of whom the Pope was mindful precisely at the moment of the promulgation of the racial laws in Italy, when in setting out an answer to the Chief Rabbi of Egypt, he exclaimed: «If he knew that we too have been pupils of the Chief Rabbi of Milan!» (p. 183).
Two entire chapters, the third and fourth, are devoted to relations with France in the hands in the late ’thirties of the Popular Front and with Spain where the Front was instead to succumb to the Alzamiento nacional. The closing years of Pope Pius XI’s pontificate were not only those of the Divini Redemptoris and the Mit brennender Sorge, the great encyclicals of principle against the Communist-Fascist totalitarianism. They were also the years, on the one hand, in which Catholic Spain was forging itself, and, on the other, the great season of French Catholicism.
Interesting here is how much happens in the name of Little Teresa in July 1937. Pope Pius XI wanted to preside in person at the celebrations for the inauguration of the Basilica of Lisieux, but his health did not permit it. It was the crucial moment in the illness from which he was then to be cured, he asserted, thanks precisely to the intercession of Little Teresa. So it was Pacelli, as Papal Legate, who went to France, where he was received very cordially. In his turn he expressed himself so cordially towards the fille aînée de l’Église as to be accused by those convinced of the perfect identity of views between Fascism and the Vatican, of having accepted the hand offered by the French Social-Communists.
Pope Pius XI

Pope Pius XI

Fattorini makes it understood that Pius XI would have gone even further in that direction. A note reporting the words of the Pope runs: «The Church cannot remain apart and indifferent to social miseries, to the evils that torment humanity; if you provide it with a way of more easily managing to alleviate such miseries, to combat such injustice, it is very happy to practice its principles of charity and justice in that way [... ]. In this respect the hand offered can be taken into serious consideration» (pp. 83-84). Verdier, the archbishop of Paris, also testifies to this attitude of Pius XI. On Christmas Eve of that same year 1937, fresh from a meeting with him, Verdier asserted that the Pope had «confided in him how, after the tough experience of the recent illness so new for him, he felt more compassionate towards human suffering wherever it came from, also from the separated brethren, and the Muslims who were asking him for help» (p. 84).
As for Spain, according to Fattorini the documentation available reveals the Vatican attitude to have been «animated more “by condemnation of communist violence” than assent to Francoism» (p. 89), and «the hostility of Pius XI towards Franco is especially clearly confirmed» (p. 104).
Much space is also given in later pages (pp. 152-159) to the Anschluss of 1938, i.e. the German annexation of Austria. Here examination of the sources enables fuller understanding of the reasons behind the support given to Hitler by Innitzer, the archbishop of Vienna. From the documents it emerges that, if one may put it so, fear did more than conviction. If that was the case with the man still considered, within the Catholic hierarchy, the emblem of “convinced” support of Nazism, one must conclude that even more caution is required in judging others, the Pope and his entourage in primis. On this matter, according to an anticipation given by Francesco Perfetti in Libero, unpublished papers of Curzio Malaparte (who had known Pope Pius XI personally when he was nuncio to Poland and left incomplete a biographical outline of him) go so far as to speak of Pope Ratti’s «democratic» if not a «leftwing» approach.
Returning to Fattorini’s book, it emerges very clearly, from the documents analyzed in chapter five, that what is described as the Pope’s “concordat mania” (cf. p. 29) was motivated by his concern at the ability of the totalitarian regimes to regiment young Catholics. A concern confirmed by the German bishops who saw in the Concordat of 1933 the only possibility of safeguarding fundamental religious freedoms, inasmuch as «the weakness of the Catholic family preoccupied by the economic future [of the children]» (p. 119) rendered the situation extremely delicate.
Regarding concordat relationships in Italy, the so-called crisis of 1931, when, despite the Concordat, the regime became highly intolerant of Catholic Action, is well known of. But perhaps insufficient attention has been paid to the fact that the Pope’s reaction in defense of freedom of education (with the encyclical Non abbiamo bisogno [We have no need]) was matched in that year by equally sharp attention to the social question. A coincidence noted by Fattorini: «The regime’s pretensions to take over the education of young people, which the Pope wrote against as early as six months after the Concordat in Divini illius magistri [not Divinis illius magisteri! Unfortunately such oversights are not few, the result perhaps of a haste to publish] did not lessen and reached their peak in the clash on Catholic Action in April and May 1931 just when the Quadragesimo anno on the social question came out» (pp. 31-32).
Hitler on his visit to Rome 6 May 1938

Hitler on his visit to Rome 6 May 1938

Some years afterwards, at the crucial moment of his pontificate, the Pope’s concern for freedom of education was directed not just towards the Catholic associations, but towards the seminaries themselves.
For the tenth anniversary of the Lateran Pact, 11 February 1939, the Pope, invited all the Italian bishops to Rome. On the eve of the occasion, to which he attached great importance, as is evident from what we have said above and not only from that (let us remember that Hitler’s visit in the previous May had led the Pope to withdraw to Castel Gandolfo because Rome had been beflagged with – his words – «crosses that were not the cross of Christ»), he had written a long speech to address to the bishops. It can be read in full for the first time in the Appendix (pp. 240-244).
It is striking that all the first part of this speech, never delivered because the Pope died on 10 February, is devoted to the seminary. It might be said that it was a simple step in the direction of the true purpose of the speech, which was to warn against disinformation and the spying on Pope and bishops. But probably that is not so. Or rather that the one aim was inseparable from the other.
In the first place because it was no sudden afterthought for the Pope to deal with the seminary. The seminary had been the subject of his last initiative as archbishop of Milan and of his first solemn act as Pope. And from 1937, after the death of Cardinal Bisleti, he had assumed personally the prefecture of the Congregation of the Seminaries (as Pacelli was to do in his turn with the Secretariat of State, making clear what it was that both Popes thought of greatest importance and most congenial to them).
And then because, the Pope wrote, what else is primordial and substantial in the Church if not the episcopacy (and therefore the priesthood, and therefore the seminary)? This, at the crucial moment, comes across as the point of the reductio ad unum set out by the Pontiff: «Of course, above all and above everyone there stands and works the grace of God: grace of election and vocation, grace of sanctification and consecration. But all these graces are distributed, cultivated, perfected, consummated in the seminaries. From these, and only (as a rule) from these, the hope and, we dare say, the possibility of good and well-trained priests, and from the priesthood the episcopacy. What else is there primordial and substantial in the Church?».
With the death of the Pope, a Pope who, in the context of the imminent outbreak of the Second World War, with this important and feared speech in his hands and the first draft of an encyclical on anti-semitism that was never then to see the light, Fattorini’s book concludes.
As said at the start, the book’s main aim is to show the solitariness of the Pope and seems to find confirmation above all in these last unacted intentions and words suffocated in the throat. Indeed, it insists on declaring that «the solitariness of Pius XI even post mortem is total» (p. 222). Attributing to Pacelli, in a much too explicit fashion, the main responsibility for that solitariness.
But when one scrutinizes the documents one realizes just how hazarded the allegation is.
The interior of Saint Peter’s Basilica during the ceremony of the canonization of Teresa of Lisieux, 17 May 1925

The interior of Saint Peter’s Basilica during the ceremony of the canonization of Teresa of Lisieux, 17 May 1925

Straight from the introduction Fattorini first insinuates, on the basis of Dossetti’s reinterpretation, that Pacelli was responsible for burying the hopes raised by Pius XI, and then sharply asserts that «the Pontiff managed to write his speech of denunciation [?] and died immediately. Pacelli hastened to have the text destroyed at once: “Not even a line of it will remain”. A very eloquent gesture, that symbolically [and if instead, as some critics have rightly pointed out, that gesture eloquently expressed nothing other than respect for Canon Law?] heralded a new climate, less in conflict with Fascism and, up to the Conclave, also with Nazism. A new pontificate began that did not embrace the inheritance of the latter period of Achille Ratti» (pp. XXVIII-XXIX).
The final lines, suggesting that in 1941 «Pius XII might perhaps have regretted not having followed the path of the late-period Pius XI, when some margin for maneuver still existed, before Europe plummeted into catastrophe» (p. 228), conclude that it was Pacelli who created the vacuum around Pius XI, before and after his death.
One would expect that the two hundred and more pages that elapse between the introduction and the ending would be convincing confirmation of the thesis heralded at the beginning and reasserted at the end. Whereas leafing through them patiently one finds confirmation from top to bottom of a «total even if not empathetic obedience to Pius XI» (p. XXI) on Pacelli’s part; confirmation, between them, of «distinctions that perhaps do not signify true and proper divergences» (p. 148); even confirmation that, in the fateful final speech never delivered by Pius XI, «Pacelli’s corrections are minimal, few and formal and do not even attempt a different less aggressive emphasis» (p. 214).
Certainly, the sensibility and the manner of Pius XI were different from those of Pius XII. There is no one who would argue against that. But it is proper to fair-minded men, and Christians not sectarian, thanks be to God, to collaborate for the greater glory of God without always feeling in harmony. If one is in the grace of God it can also be charity.

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