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The Life & Pontificate of POPE PIUS XII
BETWEEN HISTORY & CONTROVERSY
By Frank J. Coppa
The Catholic University of America PressCopyright © 2013The Catholic University of America Press
All rights reserved.
The Pacelli Family
A COUNTER-RISORGIMENTO CLAN IN A NATIONAL AGE
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In the order of nature, among social institutions there is none higher than the family. Christ elevated marriage, which is, as it were, its root, to the dignity of a sacrament. The family has found and will always find in the Church defense, protection, and support, in all that concerns its inviolable rights, its freedom, the exercise of its lofty function.
Over the centuries church and society have often disagreed on various issues and the importance of particular institutions, but have almost always concurred on the crucial role of family in the physical, psychological, social, and religious formation of individuals. "We are not born as the partridge in the wood ... to be scattered everywhere," wrote the American clergyman Henry Ward Beecher, adding that human beings should be grouped together and "reared day by day in that first of churches, the family." He like others recognized that character and personality are largely shaped by the interaction of genetic and environmental considerations, and the family plays a key role in the emergence of both. Despite its profound influence in character development, this crucial aspect has been largely ignored by those examining the life and pontificate of Eugenio Pacelli, who in early March 1939, on his sixty-third birthday, became Pope Pius XII.
In fact, most of the writers embroiled in the "Pius War," from the appearance of Hochhuth's play in 1963 to the present, have neglected the impact of both Eugenio's family and his formative childhood years on his life and career. Paul O' Shea, author of A Cross Too Heavy, and John Cornwell, who wrote Hitler's Pope, both of whom have devoted a chapter to the Pacelli family in their volumes, are more of an exception than the rule.2 For the most part "combatants" in the Pius controversy not only overlook his family but tend to ignore his educational background, initial diplomatic activity, his decade of service as nuncio in Germany, and his years as the secretary of state of Pope Pius XI— all vital for an understanding of the man who became pope and the policies he would pursue once he donned the tiara. Both man and pope were long in the making.
Nonetheless, much of the literature and historiography on Pacelli dwells primarily on his papacy. Indeed, a number of writers have narrowed their scope even further. Saul Friedländer, for example, begins his study with the election of Pacelli as pope in March 1939 and ends his work in September 1944. Others bypass even more aspects of Pius XII 's papal tenure (1939–1958) to focus on his "silence" during the Holocaust, not realizing that this and other aspects of his pontificate cannot be fully understood in isolation, outside the broader context of his life and times. Small wonder that these narrow and restricted accounts have been compared to a jigsaw puzzle with missing pieces, rendering difficult, if not impossible, an objective and coherent biography of Pius XII.
Some blame the introspective, private, and taciturn Eugenio for the shortcomings in much of the historiography of his life and career, citing his failure to say or write much about himself and for revealing precious little about his personal feelings, inner convictions, and intellectual and religious development. It is true that over the years the inner-directed Eugenio, who from an early age was a loner, did not provide much information on his childhood, which he regarded as a personal matter. Indeed, even when on the verge of death Pius XII ordered his staff to burn those papers he had not reexamined. He was equally protective of his public and private lives, clearly reflected in the notes he took during his meetings with Pius XI. Whether one judges his family's influence as positive or negative, or most influential religiously, politically, culturally, economically, or socially, his numerous relatives clearly played a crucial role in Eugenio's formation, career, and future actions. His traditional and strict Catholic family therefore warrants greater study than it has hitherto received.
Although the Pacelli family's political, religious, and legal roles in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries have been explored, some things are not known about the early origins of the family. Its presence is first recorded in Onano, a little town— some would say a village—of some three thousand in the northern province of Lazio, near Viterbo, on the border with Tuscany. Today its population is even smaller, numbering just over one thousand. While the family lived there, some fifty miles north of Rome, the paternal family surname already had been changed from Pacella to Pacelli in the seventeenth century—but it is not precisely known when and why this had occurred. We do know that the earliest accounts of the family relate their political traditionalism, deep religious devotion, staunch loyalty and service to the papacy, and their support for both its political and religious rights.
We also know that the standing of the family was enhanced in January 1774 when Maria Domenica Pacelli married Francesco Caterini, son of another prominent Catholic family from the Onano area. Six children resulted from this marriage, the youngest of whom was Prospero Caterini (1795–1881), who would have an important impact on the life and career of Marcantonio Parcelli, who in turn influenced his son Filippo and his grandson Eugenio. The intermarriage and "alliance" between these two families, devoted to the papacy and the papal state, continued. At the turn of the eighteenth century Maria Domenica's brother Gaetano Pacelli married Maria Antonia Caterini, sister of Francesco. Six children also resulted from their marriage.
Their second son Marcantonio (1800–1902), a name in the papal state generally borne by the nobility, and some believe reflective of the family's high aims and great ambitions, was the future pope's grandfather. Born during the Napoleonic Age, his career was advanced by a number of ecclesiastics, establishing a precedent that would be followed by most of his descendants, down to Eugenio and his nephews. Marcantonio's first cousin Monsignor Prospero Caterini, who became Cardinal Caterini in 1853, acted as the entire family's protector and patron. Almost all the biographers of Pius XII mistakenly refer to Prospero as Marcantonio's uncle. He was not. Since Prospero was the son of a Caterini male who married a Pacelli female, while Marcantonio was the son of a Pacelli, who was brother to the female who married the Caterini male that produced Prospero, the two were first cousins.
Prospero found personal fulfillment and a religious vocation in Rome. However, he missed his extended family which remained in Onano and sought to persuade its more adventurous and ambitious members to join him in the capital. To persuade them to venture to Rome, he pointed out the many educational and employment opportunities available there. He noted that to govern and minister to the millions of his subjects and faithful, the pope required a host of collaborators and assistants—both lay and clerical. This need, together with the vast array of schools and institutes that provided training for potential candidates to serve Church and state, offered prospects simply not available in the small and largely rural Onano.
Prospero's invitation was all the more attractive because it was accompanied by an offer of assistance and guidance both in education and employment to those family members who joined him in Rome. In 1819, Marcantonio and his older brother Giuseppe Pacelli, excited and enticed by the promises and prospects dangled before them, accepted Prospero's suggestion that they transfer to
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