FIFTY YEARS AFTER THE DEATH OF POPE PIUS XII
Pro Pope Pius
We publish the introduction written by the Secretary of State of His Holiness for the book by Sister Margherita Marchione, gathering the nun’s research in defence of the memory of Pope Pacelli. The work of the Pope to save Jews and others persecuted by the Nazis during the Second World War
by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone
I have in the past had occasion to speak of Pius XII, the two hundred and sixty second successor of Saint Peter, I also had occasion recently to express my opinion on the controversy surrounding this twentieth-century Pope.
On 25 January 2007 I had the pleasure of presenting, at its launch in Italian, the book I giusti (The Just) by the Jewish historian Sir Martin Gilbert. The author demonstrates that the accusations against Pius XII during the Shoah are false, recalling the noble actions of the Pope and the Catholic Church in helping to save the lives of Jews, in line with the efforts of other rescuers. One example among others cited in the book is the testimony of Emilio Viterbi, a Jewish refugee in Assisi, which confirms the involvement of Pius XII in the rescuing of Jews by religious institutions. This was in reference to the pastoral action of Bishop Nicolini of Assisi, “who with the greatest love and greatest zeal followed the philanthropic wishes of the Holy Father”.
During the launch I strongly contested the critics who say the Pontiff failed to protect Jews during the Holocaust. With reference to the Church’s intervention, I said: “It is clear that Pope Pacelli was not in favor of silence but, on the contrary, of intelligent and strategic discourse, as shown in the Radio broadcast for Christmas 1942 that enraged Hitler terribly. The proofs are in the Vatican archives... Research carried out by independent historians confirmed that Pope Pius XII took extraordinary steps to save the lives of Jews”.
I spoke about this argument again on 17 April 2007, citing a circular letter of the Secretariat of State, dated 25 October 1943, bearing the initials of Pius XII, which gave instructions to religious institutes and all Catholic institutions to save the greatest possible number of Jews. This made news in Europe, but did not at all surprise those who have read any book by Sister Margherita Marchione. She interviewed dozens of witnesses who had direct knowledge of this and other instructions given by the Pope.
In my speech on 5 June 2007, I carefully analyzed the “Black Legend”, and I talked about Pope Pius XII as a man of God, who through his personal holiness remains a wonderful witness to the Catholic priesthood and the papacy. After reading the publications of Pierre Blet, Margherita Marchione, Andrea Tornielli and countless other authors, I can only repeat my conviction that through his many encyclicals, Pope Pius XII issued important doctrinal norms, gave new impetus to missionary activity and affirmed the rights of women in a myriad of fields, including the political and judicial.
It was precisely through a prudent approach that Pius XII protected Jews and refugees. It should also be remembered that many times during the Second World War, the Fascist government took steps to ensure that Vatican Radio “did not have the necessary electricity”, so that the voice of the Pope could not be heard, that often there was a “scarcity of paper” for reproducing his thoughts and his upsetting teaching against Nazism and Fascism; that on different occasions some “accident” meant that numbers of L’Osservatore Romano containing clarifications, updates, policy notes, etc., went missing or destroyed.
Margherita Marchione, La verità ti farà libero. Pio XII a cinquant’anni dalla morte (The truth will make you free. Pius XII fifty years after his death), Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Vatican City 2008, 142 pp., 14.00 euro
In this book, she reminds us that it was Pius XII who authorized even false certificates of baptism to save the life of the Jews, and, furthermore, ordered the distribution of visas so that Jews could enter other countries and instructed the superiors of convents and monasteries so that they opened their doors and hid Jews and other victims of the Nazis and Fascists. And Angelo Roncalli (the future Pope John XXIII) was asked to distribute certificates, as confirmed by himself when he affirmed that everything was done according to the directives of the Pope. While he was Apostolic Delegate in Istanbul, he wrote in his diary of an audience with Pope Pius XII on 10 October 1941, saying that the Pope’s statements were “prudent”.
The neutrality of Pius XII saved not only Jews but also other prisoners, well aware as he was that the fate of millions of people depended on his every single word. Robert Kempner, a Jewish lawyer and public official at the Nuremberg Tribunal, wrote in 1964: “Any propagandistic position that the Church might have taken against Hitler’s government would not only have been a suicidal move, but would have hastened the execution of an even greater number of Jews and priests”.
Scholarly historiography, taking into account the different sources not only of a historical nature, but especially of a documentary and testimonial character, now holds as certain that the accusation of the alleged “silence” of Pius XII was simply the result of ideological speculation. Unfortunately it is still uncritically repeated in some circles, where there is little sense of the Church and, to adopt a more charitable expression, a certain difficulty in understanding how it works.
Some want to make of Pope Pacelli a “politician” at war with two ideologies commonly considered heinous. Pius XII always thought (as early as his first encyclical) that it was not the Church that had enemies, but that there were, rather, enemies of mankind, who used the State to continuously perpetrate acts against the person and society. The illuminating document – and it is not the only one – is his first encyclical, the Summi Pontificatus, still unknown even now in a prophetic-social perspective. It should be reread. This is what he wrote at that time: “A full statement of the doctrinal stand against the errors of today can, if necessary, be put off to another time less disturbed by calamitous external events; for the moment We limit Ourselves to some fundamental observations... The first of these pernicious errors, widespread today, is the forgetting of that law of human solidarity and charity which is dictated and imposed both by our common origin and by the equality of rational nature in all men, to whatever people they belong”.
Young Jews hidden by the Marist Brothers at the Saint Leo the Great School of Rome
For the discussion about Pius XII, fifty years after his death, to reach a genuine understanding of his position and his actions, a study of his prophetic writings is essential, in terms of the inner life of the Church, and in terms of the theological, liturgical, scriptural, disciplinary, pastoral, canonical, spiritual dimensions, that the 19-year pontificate expressed. It is not without significance that, after Holy Scripture, the words of Pius XII are among those most quoted by the sources of the Vatican II Ecumenical Council.
In conclusion, I would like to thank all those who, like Sister Margherita Marchione, have contributed to a better understanding of the apostolic and exemplary action of the Servant of God Pius XII. It is deeply unfair to draw a veil of prejudice over the work of Pius XII during the war, forgetting not only the historical context but also the immense charitable works that he promoted, opening the doors of the seminaries and the religious institutes, welcoming refugees and the persecuted, helping all those in need. The directives given by Pius XII by radio, in the press and through diplomatic channels, were clear. In that tragic 1942 he said to all, “Action, not complaint, is the motto of the hour”.