Cardinal Bertone on Pius XII

Author: Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone


Cardinal Bertone on Pius XII

Part 1

"The Victim of a 'Black Legend'"


Here is a translation of the first part of a speech given today by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone at the presentation of a book by Andrea Tornielli, "Pio XII: Un Uomo Sul Trono di Pietro" (Pius XII: A Man on the Throne of Peter).

Parts 2 and 3 of the speech will be published on Wednesday and Thursday.

* * *

1. The "Black Legend"

For decades now the figure of Eugenio Pacelli, Pope Pius XII, has been at the center of some volatile polemics. The Roman Pontiff who guided the Church through the terrible years of the Second World War and the Cold War is the victim of a "black legend," which has proved difficult to combat even though the documents and testimonies have amply shown its complete inconsistency.

One of the unpleasant "secondary" consequences, so to speak, of this black legend — that falsely portrays Pope Pacelli as indulgent toward Nazism and indifferent to the fate of the victims of persecution — has been to sideline the extraordinary teaching of this Pope who was a precursor of Vatican II.

As has happened with the figures of two other Popes of the same name — Blessed Pius IX, who is discussed only in relation to topics linked to the politics of the Risorgimento, and St. Pius X, often only remembered for his strenuous battle against modernism — there is the risk that the pontificate of Pacelli will be reduced to his supposed "silences."

2. The Pastoral Activity of Pius XII

I am here this evening, therefore, to give a brief testimony to a man of the Church, who, by his personal holiness, shines as a luminous witness of the Catholic priesthood and of the papacy.

It is not as though I have not already read many interesting essays on the figure and work of Pope Pius XII, from the well-known "Actes et Documents du Saint Siège," to the brief biographies of Nazareno Padellaro, Sister Marchione, and Father Pierre Blet, among the first ones that come to mind.

There are also the "wartime addresses" of Pope Pacelli, which, if you would like to read them, are available in an electronic format. Even today I find these speeches quite interesting for their doctrine, pastoral inspiration, literary sophistication; they are perforce human and civil.

All in all, I already knew not a little about the man called the "Pastor Angelicus" and "Defensor Civitatis." We must nevertheless be grateful to Dr. Tornielli who, in this massive and well-documented biography, drawing from much unpublished material, restores for us the greatness and completeness of the figure of Pius XII.

He allows us to delve into his humanity, he allows us to rediscover his teaching. He brings again to our minds, for example, his encyclical on the liturgy, his reform of the rites of Holy Week, the great preparatory work that would flow into the conciliar liturgical reform.

Pius XII opened up the application of the historical-critical method to sacred Scriptures, and in the encyclical "Divino Afflante Spiritu," established the doctrinal norms for the study of sacred Scripture, emphasizing the importance of its role in Christian life.

It is the same Pope Pacelli who, in the encyclical "Humani Generis," takes evolutionary theory into consideration, albeit with care. Pius XII also gave notable impetus to missionary activity with the encyclicals "Evangelii Praecones," 1951, and "Fidei Donum," 1957 — this year is its 50th anniversary — highlighting the Church's duty to proclaim the Gospel to the nations, as Vatican II would amply reaffirm.

The Pope refused to identify Christianity with Western culture or with a particular political system. There is more. Pius XII is still the Pope who gave the most room to women in his canonizations and beatifications: 54.4% of canonizations and 62.5% of beatifications.

Indeed, this Pontiff spoke often about women's rights, affirming, in a 1957 radio message to a congress of the Italian Center for Women, for example, that women are called to "resolute action" even in the political and judiciary fields.

3. Unjust Accusations

These are only examples that show how much there is to discover, or rather, to rediscover, in the teaching of the Servant of God Eugenio Pacelli.

I was struck by the many allusions present in Tornielli's book, from which emerge both the lucidity and the wisdom of the future Pontiff in the years that he was papal nuncio, first in Munich and then in Berlin, along with many traits of his humanity.

Thanks to the unedited correspondence with his brother Francesco, we are made aware of some clear judgments that he made on the nascent National Socialist movement and the great and grave interior drama he lived as Pope in regard to the attitude to maintain in the face of the Nazi persecution during the war.

Pius XII spoke of it several times in the course of his radio messages — and so it is completely out of place to speak of his "silences" — choosing a prudent approach. In regard to the "silences," I happily advert to a well-documented article of professor Gian Maria Vian entitled "Il Silenzio Pio XII: alle origini della leggenda nera" (The Silence of Pius XII: At the Origins of the Black Legend), which was published in 2004 in the journal Archivum Historiae Pontificiae.

In this article Vian says, among other things, that the first to ask about the "silences of Pius XII" was the French Catholic philosopher Emmanuel Mounier in 1939, just a few weeks after the election of the Supreme Pontiff and in relation to Italian aggression in Albania.

A bitter polemic, of Soviet and communist origin — and, as we shall see, revived by certain exponents of the Russian Orthodox Church — grafted itself onto these questions. Rolf Hochhuth, author of "The Deputy," the play that contributed to the creation of the black legend against Pius XII, has in a recent interview defined Pope Pacelli as a "demonic wimp," while there are historians who only promote anti-Pius XII research and even call those who do not think as they do and dare to propose a different view on these matters "The Pacelli Brigade."

It is impossible not to denounce this attack on good sense and reason that is often perpetrated on the pages of the newspapers.

[Translation by ZENIT]
ZE07060501Part 2

"He Had Before Him a World in Thrall to Violent and Irrational Passions"


Here is a translation of the second part of a speech given Tuesday by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone at the presentation of a book by Andrea Tornielli, "Pio XII: Un Uomo Sul Trono di Pietro" (Pius XII: A Man on the Throne of Peter).

Part 1 was published Tuesday. Part 3 will be published on Thursday.

* * *

4. A Very Precise Historical Period

It seems useful to me to underscore how Tornielli's book calls our attention again to some things already known by serious historians. I think that this is one of the valuable points about the volume that we are discussing here: It takes account of the difficult times in which Pope Pacelli lived, the Pope whose voice did not enjoy the favor of the powers that be during World War II or during the succeeding period in which the opposing political blocs faced off against each other. How many times did Vatican Radio "not have the requisite electricity" to make the Pontiff's voice heard; how many times was there "a scarcity of paper" to reproduce his thoughts and uncomfortable teachings; how many times did some accident cause issues of L'Osservatore Romano to be "lost," — issues that carried clarifications, updates, political notes ...

Nevertheless, today, thanks to modern means, those sources have been amply reproduced and been made available. Dr. Tornielli has sought them out and found them and the great body of notes in his book is a testimony to them.

At this moment I would like to draw your attention to an important period. The figure and work of Pius XII, praised and thanked before, during and immediately after World War II, began to be scrutinized by different eyes during a very precise historical period, from August 1946 to October 1948. After "the persecutions of a fanatical anti-Semitism that were unleashed against the Jewish people" [Allocution of August 3, 1946], the desire of the tortured people of Israel to have their own country, their own secure refuge, was understandable.

But it was equally understandable that those people who already lived in Palestine also had rights and expected respect, attention, justice and protection. The newspapers of the times provided ample coverage of the tension that was beginning to manifest itself in that region, but because they did not wish to consider the reasoning and proposals of Pius XII, they began to take positions some on one side, some on another, and thereby transformed the Pope's reflection — that was attentive to the criteria of justice, equity, respect, and legality and developed in an articulate way — into ideology.

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 him a world in thrall to violent and irrational passions. From that moment forward, there began to take shape an incomprehensible accusation against the Pope, namely, that he did not intervene as he should have on behalf of the persecuted Jewish people.

In this connection it seems to me important to recognize that, in any case, those who are free of ideological designs and are lovers of the truth, are well disposed to more deeply understand, in complete sincerity, a long, fruitful, and to my mind heroic, papacy. An example of this is the recent change of attitude at the great sanctuary that is Yad Vashem in Jerusalem to reconsider the figure and work of Pope Pacelli, not from a polemical perspective but from a historically objective angle. It is a fervent wish that such publicly manifested goodwill will have an adequate follow-up.

5. The Duty of Charity Toward All

June 2, 1943, on the occasion of the feast of St. Eugene, Pius XII publicly expounded the reasons for his attitude. First of all, Pope Pacelli speaks again of the Jewish people: "The rulers of nations must not forget that he who 'carries the sword' — to use the language of sacred Scripture — cannot decide the life and death of men except in accord with the law of God, from whom all authority comes."

"You cannot expect us," Pius XII continues, "here to recount point for point all that we have tried to procure and accomplish to mitigate their sufferings, to better their moral and juridical condition, to safeguard their inalienable religious rights, to bring help in their sufferings and necessities. Every word to this end that we addressed to the competent authorities as well as each of our public allusions had to be weighed and measured by us in the very interest of those who were suffering, so that we should not unwittingly make their situation more grave and unbearable. Unfortunately, the visibly obtained improvements do not correspond to the maternal solicitude of the Church on behalf of these particular groups that are subjected to the most bitter misfortunes, and the Vicar, [who] asking only for compassion and a return to elementary norms of law and humanity, has found himself, at times, before doors that no key could open."

Here, in the middle of 1943, we find revealed the reason for the prudence with which Pacelli conducted himself in public denouncements: "in the very interest of those who were suffering, so that we should not unwittingly make their situation more grave and unbearable."

These are words that to me seem to be echoed in the brief address given by Paul VI on September 12, 1964, at the catacombs of Santa Domitilla. On that occasion Pope Montini said: "The Holy See abstains from more frequently and vehemently raising its legitimate voice in protest and outrage, not because it ignores or neglects the reality of what is happening, but out of Christian patience and so as not to provoke worse evils."

In the middle of the 1960s, Paul VI was referring to the countries behind the Iron Curtain, governed by totalitarian communism. He, who was a close collaborator of Cardinal Pacelli and of Pope Pius XII, thus adduces the same reasons.

Popes do not speak with the idea of pre-constituting a favorable image for future ages. They know that the fate of millions of Christians can at times depend on their every word; they have at heart the fate of men and women of flesh and blood, not the applause of historians.

Robert Kempner, a Jewish lawyer and public official at the Nuremberg trials, wrote in 1964, after the appearance of Hochhuth's "The Deputy": "Any propagandistic position that the Church would have taken against Hitler's government would have not only provoked suicide ... but it would have hastened the execution of still more Jews and priests."

[Translation by ZENIT]

Part 3

"Action, Not Lamentation, Is the Precept of the Hour"


Here is a translation of the final part of a speech given Tuesday by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone. He gave it at the presentation of a book by Andrea Tornielli, "Pio XII: Un Uomo Sul Trono di Pietro" (Pius XII: A Man on the Throne of Peter).

Parts 1 and 2 were published Tuesday and Wednesday.

* * *

6. "Action, Not Lamentation, is the Precept of the Hour"

Having said this, after having looked at the 11 volumes — in 12 tomes — of the "Actes et Documents du Saint Siège" that cover the Second World War, after having read dozens of folders with hundreds of documents on the thoughts and actions of the Apostolic See during that conflict, one gets a taste of the violent and biased polemics — countless volumes, full of violent and false ideology.

I think that the "Actes," printed by order of Paul VI — who served as undersecretary of state in the terrible period of 1939-1945, could be usefully completed by the documents that fall under the archival heading of "Ecclesiastical States," which include documents regarding the obligation of the Holy See and the Catholic Church to take charge of the duty of charity toward all.

It is an area of the archive that has not been sufficiently explored, given that we are dealing here with thousands of personal cases. The smallest state in the world, neutral in the absolute sense, listened to each one individually, acknowledging every voice that asked for help or an audience. Unfortunately, this documentation is unavailable because it is not organized.

It would be nice if, with the help of some charitable foundation, these documents conserved by the archives of the Holy See could be catalogued in a short period of time! The directive that Pope Pius XII gave in 1942 on the radio, in the press, and through diplomatic channels was clear. In the tragic year of 1942 he told everyone: "Action, not lamentation, is the precept of the hour."

The wisdom of this affirmation is testified to by a myriad of documents: diplomatic notes, urgent consistories, specific instructions — to Cardinal Bertram, to Cardinal Schuster, etc., etc., etc. — to do what was possible to save people, preserving the neutrality of the Holy See.

This neutrality allowed the Pope to save not only Europeans but other prisoners as well. I am thinking of the awful situation in Poland and the humanitarian interventions in Southeast Asia. Pius XII never signed circulars or proclamations. His instructions were given verbally. And bishops, priests, religious, and lay people all understood what had to be done. The countless audience papers with the comments of Cardinals Maglione and Tardini, among other things, were testimony to this. Then the protests or the rejections of the Holy See's humanitarian requests would arrive.

7. Denounce or Act?

Allow me to recount a little episode that took place in the Vatican in October 1943. At the time, besides the Papal Gendarmes — about 150 persons — and the Swiss Guard — about 110 persons — there was also the Palatine Guard. To protect the 300 or so people of the Vatican and its extraterritorial properties then, there were 575 Palatine Guards. Well, the secretary of state asked the occupying power if the Palatine Guard could enlist another 4,425 people. The Jewish ghetto was nearby …

The editors of "Actes et Documents" could not print all the thousands of personal cases. The Pope, at the time, had other priorities: He could not make his "wishes" known but wanted to act, within the limits imposed by the circumstances, according to his clear program.

For honest people some legitimate questions arise: When did Pius XII meet with Mussolini? He met him in 1932 as cardinal secretary of state but as Pope, never! When did Cardinal Pacelli meet with Hitler? Never! When did the Pope meet with Mussolini and Hitler together? Never! If that never happened, if two states did not consider talking with the Pope, what should the Pontiff himself do: denounce through declarations or act?

Pius XII chose the second course, which is testified to by many Jewish sources throughout Europe. Perhaps we should provide a copy of these abundant expressions of gratitude and esteem by Jews for the human and spiritual ministry of this great Pope. The book, which we can read today, adds another plug not only for the figure of a great Pontiff, but also for the whole silent but effective work of the Church during the life of a shepherd that passed through the storms of two world conflicts — Pacelli was nuncio to Bavaria from 1917 — and the tragic construction of the Iron Curtain, behind which millions of children of God lost their lives. Heir to the Church of the Apostles, the Church of Pius XII continued to work not only by means of a prophetic word but above all by means of daily prophetic action.

8. Concluding Note

In conclusion, I would like to thank Andrea Tornielli for this book, which contributes to a better understanding of the luminous apostolic action of the figure of the Servant of God Pius XII.

This is a useful service to the Church, a useful service of truth. It is right to discuss, delve into, debate, confront. But it is important that one guard oneself against the gravest error of the historian, that is, anachronism, judging the reality of that time with the eyes and mentality of today.

How profoundly unjust it is to judge the work of Pius XII during the war with the veil of prejudice, forgetting not only the historical context but also the enormous work of charity that the Pope promoted, opening the doors of seminaries and religious institutes, welcoming refugees and persecuted people, helping all.

[Translation by ZENIT]

This article has been selected from the ZENIT Daily Dispatch
© Innovative Media, Inc.

ZENIT International News Agency
Via della Stazione di Ottavia, 95
00165 Rome, Italy

To subscribe
or email: with SUBSCRIBE in the "subject" field