The Venerable Pope Pius XII, Maria Giuseppe Giovanni Eugenio Pacelli (2 March, 1876 - 9 October 1958) was the Roman Catholic pope from March 2, 1939 to 1958. He was the only pope to proclaim a dogma under Papal Infallibility, in his 1950 his encyclical Munificentissimus Deus. Pius's actions and inactions during World War II have become a matter of major dispute. He was proclaimed Venerable, a step on the road to sainthood, by Pope John Paul II in the 1990s.

Pius XII

Table of contents
1 Birth and early church career
2 Pacelli and the Concordat with Hitler
3 Pope Pius XII
4 World War II
5 Hitler's views
6 Pope Pius's encyclicals
7 Beatifications and canonisations
8 Pope Pius in later life
9 Footnotes
10 Additional Reading
11 External links

Birth and early church career

Pacelli, who was of noble birth, was a grandson of Marcantonio Pacelli, founder of the Vatican's newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, a nephew of Ernesto Pacelli, a key financial advisor to Pope Leo XII, and a son of Filippo Pacelli, dean of the Vatican lawyers. His brother Francesco Pacelli became a highly regarded attorney, and was created a marchese by his brother Pius XII.

Pacelli became a Roman Catholic priest in April, 1899. From 1904 until 1916 Fr. Pacelli assisted Cardinal Gasparri in his codification of canon law. Fr. Pacelli was appointed Apostolic Nuncio in Bavaria by Pope Benedict XV in 1917, and Apostolic Nuncio to the German Weimar Republic in June, 1920. Pacelli was created a cardinal on 16 December 1929 by Pope Pius XI. Within a few months, on 7 February 1930 Pope Pius appointed papal Secretary of State. During the 1930s Cardinal Pacelli arranged concordats with Bavaria, Prussia, Austria and Germany. He also made many diplomatic visits throughout Europe and the Americas, including an extensive visit to the United State in 1936.

Pacelli and the Concordat with Hitler

As Papal Secretary of State, Pacelli signed a concordat with the nazi-led regime of Adolf Hitler (see image). The signing of the concordat proved controversial in hindsight, being described by some historians and by critics of the Roman Catholic Church as giving Hitler's regime international acceptance, given that at the time it was signed, the Enabling Act of March 23 had already granted Hitler dictatorial powers; mass arrests and book burnings had taken place, and the first official concentration camp, Dachau, had been created (though the concentration camps and their usage did not become widely known until some years later). All political parties except for the NSDAP had effectively been dissolved by July 14.

The Holy See signs a concordat with Hitler's Germany
Cardinal Pacelli, representing Pope Pius XI, signs the "Reichskonkordat" with the government headed by Nazi Chancellor Adolf Hitler, on July 20, 1933 in Rome. From left to right: Nationalist Party politician and Hitler's Vice-Chancellor, Franz von Papen, Giuseppe Pizzardo, Pacelli, Alfredo Cardinal Ottaviani, Rudolf Buttmann.

Most critics regard the Church relationship towards the nazi regime as not substantially different to that it established with other non-communist states, regimes and governments. Historian on the papacy Dr. Eamon Duffy observed that the Church under Pope Pius XI followed a policy of establishing concordats with individual states during the 1920s and 1930s. This included concordats with Latvia (1922), Bavaria (1924), Poland (1925), Romania (1927), Lithuania (1927), Italy (1929), Prussia (1929), Baden (1932), Austria (1933), Germany (1933) and Yugoslavia (1935). These concordats were aimed at regularising relationships between the Holy See and the states, and at protecting Roman Catholic-run schools, hospitals, charities and third level institutions (all often run with public funds, including in Germany) from state seizure.

In particular they were aimed at ensuring the Church's canon law had some status and recognition in its own spheres of concern (e.g., church decrees of nullity in the area of marriage) among new or emerging states with new legal systems. Duffy suggests that the concordats provided technical procedures through which formal complaints to the states could be made by the Holy See.

Between the German Concordat's signing in 1933 and 1939, Pope Pius XI made three dozen formal complaints to the Nazi government, all of which in reality drafted by Pacelli. In Duffy's words, their tone was 'anything but cordial.'1

Both Hitler and Pacelli saw the concordat as a victory for their side. Hitler told his cabinet on 14 July "An opportunity has been given to Germany in the Reich Concordat and a sphere of influence has been created that will be especially significant in the urgent struggle against international jewry." Pacelli in a two page article in L'Osservatore Romano on 26 July and 27 July dismissed Hitler's assertion that the concordat in any way represented or implied approval for national socialism, much less moral approval of it. He argued that its true purpose had been "not only the official recognition (by the Reich) of the legislation of the Church (its Code of Canon Law), but the adoption of many provisions of this legislation and the protection of all Church legislation."2 On the other hand, the Concordat prohibited clerics from engaging in any political activity whatsoever, a standard prohibition in a period where church leaders had their attitudes on democratic participation influenced by attudes of Pope Pius IX in the Syllabus of Errors and Pope Pius X's hostility to Catholic democrat participation, but which complicated Catholic resistance to the Nazi regime, as it has in the past Catholic participation in the French Third Republic, Italian democracy and later Catholic resistence from the 1920s to the Mussolini regime.

Pope Pius XII

On 2 March 1939, Pacelli became the first Secretary of State since 1667 to become pope; he took the name Pope Pius XII.

World War II

Pius XII's role during World War II has been a source of major controversy. What is universally agreed is that Pope Pius XII followed a policy of public neutrality during the Second World War mirroring that of Pope Benedict XV during the First World War. Pius's main argument for that policy was two-fold. That public condemnation of Hitler and nazism would have achieved little of practical benefit, given that his condemnation could effectively be censored and so unknown to German Catholics (who in any case had been told as early as the early 1930s by the German Roman Catholic hierarchy that nazism and catholicism were incompatible). Secondly, Pius argued that had he condemned nazism, the result would have been repression of Roman Catholicism within Nazi Germany, making low level work against nazi policies at parish and diocese level difficult, in turn cutting off secret escape routes which were used by many jews, gypsies and homosexuals to escape deportation to nazi extermination camps. Historians differ in their acceptance of these justification for Pope Pius XII's policies.

The view of Pope Pius's defenders

To his defenders, Pius is said to have worked tirelessly for peace and to help Jews who were facing persecution by Nazi Germany. Through the Pontifical Aid Commission, Pius XII provided relief to the victims of the war on both sides, but especially to the Jewish people. When, following the collapse of the Italian Royal Government, the Nazis occupied Rome on 10 September 1943, Pope Pius XII opened the Holy See to Jewish refugees. Estimates have suggested that 1,500,000 refugees, including Jews were helped by Pope Pius, many through the granting of Vatican citizenship. It has also been alleged that Pius directly supported the network of priests who smuggled vast numbers of jews to safety. Israel Zolli, the Chief Rabbi of Rome, was so impressed by Pius's actions that following the war he became a Roman Catholic. Furthermore, Jewish relief agencies donated over a million dollars in gratitude to the Holy See after the end of World War II in Europe, while Pius XII was awarded the title "Righteous Gentile" by the state of Israel, and the Israeli Government announced its intention to plant 850,000 trees in his honor - one for each Jewish life he was credited with saving. Upon his death he was eulogized movingly and appreciatively by Golda Meir, at that time Israel's ambassador to the United Nations.3

Signature of Pope Pius XII

The view of Pope Pius's critics

His critics, however, suggested that Pius failed to speak out publicly in strong enough terms against nazism, arguing that an explicit condemnation by the Pope would have seriously undermined Hitler and Nazism among Germany's many Catholics. Charges were made in Rolf Hochhuth's play The Deputy, later refuted, that his wartime aid to Jewish refuges from fascism was motivated primarily by motives of financial gain.

Hitler's views

Adolf Hitler made the observation that "[Pius] is the only human being who has always contradicted me and who has never obeyed me." Historians in general differ as to whether or not Pope Pius XII did enough to prevent the Holocaust and save lives, and indeed whether any intervention by him would have any impact on the number of deaths caused by Nazi policies.

Pope Pius's encyclicals

Among his most prominent encyclicals were

  • Mystici Corporis Christi: On the Mystical Body, 29 June 1943
  • Communium Interpretes Doloraum: An Appeal for Prayers for Peace, 15 April 1945
  • Fulgens Radiatur: Encyclical on Saint Benedict, 21 March 1947
  • Mediator Dei: On the Sacred Liturgy, 20 November 1947
  • Auspicia Quaedam: On Public Prayers For World Peace And Solution Of The Problem Of Palestine, 1 May 1948
  • In Multiplicibus Curis: On Prayers for Peace in Palestine, 24 October 1948
  • Redemptoris Nostri Cruciatus: On the Holy Places in Palestine, 15 April 1949
  • Anni Sacri: On A Program For Combating Atheistic Propaganda Throughout The World, 12 March 1950
  • Humani Generis: Concerning Some False Opinions Threatening to Undermine the Foundations of Catholic Doctrine, 12 August 1950
  • Munificentissimus Deus, 1 November 1950 (on the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven) This particular encyclical is considered infallible. Perhaps contrary to popular conceptions, it is very rare for a pope to invoke papal infallibility. This was one of those rare occasions—the only one in the 20th century.
  • Ingruentium Malorum: On Reciting the Rosary: Encyclical promulgated on 15 September 1951
  • Fulgens Corona: Proclaiming a Marian year to Commemorate the Centenary of the Definition of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception, 8 September 1953

  • Ad Caeli Reginam: On Proclaiming the Queenship of Mary, Encyclical promulgated on 11 October 1954
  • Datis Nuperrime: Lamenting the Sorrowful Events in Hungary, and Condemning the Ruthless Use of Force, 5 November 1956
  • Miranda Prorsus: On the Communications Field: Motion Pictures, Radio, Television, 8 September 1957

Beatifications and canonisations

During his reign, Pius XII canonised eight saints, including Pope Pius X, and beatified five people. He consecrated the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary in 1942. In 1950, using Papal Infallibility he promulgated a new dogma, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven (ie, that Mary, the mother of Jesus was taken into heaven body and soul, on account of her status as the Mother of the Son of God.

Pope Pius in later life

Pius was dogged with ill-health later in life, largely due to a charlatan who posed as a medical doctor and won Pius's trust. His treatments for Pius gave the Holy Father chronic hiccups and rotting teeth. Though eventually dismissed from the Papal Household, this man gained admittance as the pope lay dying and took photographs of Pius which he tried, unsuccessfully, to sell to magazines. When Pius died, the charlatan turned embalmer. Rather than slow the process of decay, the doctor-mortician's self-made technique speeded it up, leading the Holy Father's corpse to disintegrate rapidly, turning purple, with the corpse's nose falling off. The farce over the Pope's health and treatment in death caused considerable embarrassment to the Vatican, but in the 1950s was not reported, though widely rumoured among those in Rome who had witnessed the body's decay as it lay in state, as well as being captured in photographs. (See Catholic website below.)

Pope Pius XII became a candidate for sainthood under Pope John Paul II in the 1990s. He has been raised to Venerable, an early step through the process of sainthood.


1 Eamon Duffy, Saints and Sinners: A History of the Popes p.341.

2 John Cornwell, Hitler's Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII pp.130-131.

3 On the question of Pius XII's attitude toward the Nazi persecutions, see also the New York Times editorial page for Christmas Day of 1941 and 1942.

Additional Reading

External links

Preceded by:
Pope Pius XI
List of popesSucceeded by:
Pope John XXIII