The “explosive” (The New York Times) bestseller—now with a new introduction by the author
When Hitler’s Pope, the shocking story of Pope Pius XII that “redefined the history of the twentieth century” (The Washington Post ) was originally published, it sparked a firestorm of controversy both inside and outside the Catholic Church. Now, award-winning journalist John Cornwell has revisited this seminal work of history with a new introduction that both answers his critics and reaffirms his overall thesis that Pius XII, now scheduled to be canonized by the Vatican, weakened the Catholic Church with his endorsement of Hitler—and sealed the fate of the Jews in Europe.
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During the "Holy Year" of 1950, a year in which many millions of pilgrims descended on Rome to show their allegiance to the papacy, Eugenio Pacelli, Pope Pius XII, was seventy-four years of age and still vigorous. Six feet tall, stick-thin at 125 pounds, light on his feet, regular in his habits, he had hardly altered physically from the day of his coronation eleven years earlier. It was his extreme pallor that first struck those who met him. "The skin, tightly drawn over the strong features, almost ash-grey, unhealthy, looked like old parchment," wrote one observer, "but at the same time it had a surprisingly transparent effect, as if reflecting from the inside a cold, white flame." The effect he had on otherwise unsentimental men of the world was often stunning. "His presence radiated a benignity, calm and sanctity that I have certainly never before sensed in any human being," wrote James Lees-Milne. "All the while he smiled in the sweetest, kindliest way so that I immediately fell head over heels in love with him. I was so affected I could scarcely speak without tears and was conscious that my legs were trembling."
The Holy Year saw a host of papal initiatives--canonizations, encyclicals (public letters to the Catholic faithful of the world), even the declaration of an infallible dogma (the Assumption of the Virgin Mary)--and Pius XII seemed deeply settled in his pontificate, as if he had always been Pope and always would be. For the half-billion Catholic faithful in the world, he embodied the papal ideal: holiness, dedication, divinely ordained supreme authority, and, in certain circumstances, infallibility in his statements about faith and morals. To this day, elderly Italians refer to him as"l'ultimo papa," the last Pope.
A man of monklike inclinations of solitude and prayer, he nevertheless met in audience a prodigious number of politicians, writers, scientists, soldiers, actors, sports personalities, leaders of nations, and royalty. Few failed to be charmed and impressed by him. He had beautiful tapering hands, which he used to great effect in his constant blessings. His eyes were large and dark, almost feverish behind gold-rimmed spectacles. His voice was high-pitched, a trifle querulous, with a tendency to overmeticulous enunciation. When he performed church services, his face was impassive, his gestures and movements controlled and elegant. Toward his visitors he was strikingly affable, putting them at ease, all assentation and eagerness, with not the slightest impression of pomposity or affectation. He had a ready and simple humor and would give a big silent laugh, mouth agape. His teeth, one observer noted, were like "old ivory."
Some spoke of a "feline" sensibility, others of an occasional tendency to "feminine" vanity. Before a camera there was a hint of narcissism. And yet he impressed most who met him with a sense of chaste, youthful innocence, like an eternal seminarian or monastic novice. He was at home with children, and they felt drawn to him. He was never known to gossip or speak ill of others. His eyes froze, harelike, when he felt assailed by overfamiliarity or a coarse phrase. He was alone--in a quite extraordinary and exalted sense.
How can one capture a sense of that unique solitude, that papal egotistical sublime, in which modern popes have chosen to live and have their being?
Overwhelmed by the solitude of his pontifical role, Paul VI, Pope in the 1960s and 1970s, confided a private note to himself that might just as well have been penned by Pacelli, whom Paul VI had served (as Giovanni Battista Montini) for fifteen years:
I was solitary before, but now my solitariness becomes complete and awesome. Hence the dizziness, the vertigo. Like a statue on a plinth--that is how I live now. Jesus was also alone on the cross. I should not seek outside help to absolve me from my duty; my duty is too plain: decide, assume every responsibility for guiding others, even when it seems illogical and perhaps absurd. And to suffer alone.... Me and God. The colloquy must be full and endless.
This vertiginous papal consciousness surely alters the man who shoulders the papal burden. It is a solitude attended by certain dangers--not least the perils of increasing egotism and despotism. The longer the papacy, the more entrenched the papal consciousness. The theologian John Henry Newman, Britain's most famous convert to Catholicism in the nineteenth century, delivered a devastating verdict during a previous drawn-out pontificate: "It is not good for a Pope to live twenty years. It is anomaly and bears no good fruit; he becomes a god, has no one to contradict him, does not know facts, and does cruel things without meaning it." Within ten years of becoming Pope, Pacelli had elevated the papacy to heights of unprecedented exaltation; there was certainly no one to contradict him, and he adopted the manner of one destined for canonization.
There is a striking picture of Pacelli at the zenith of his power, published in 1950. Photographed from above and behind his head and shoulders, high over St. Peter's Square, he greets the seething multitudes below like a colossus holding the entire human race in his embrace.
The picture is entirely apt for a bold initial assertion:
That characteristic image of Pius XII--the supreme, albeit loving, authoritarian floating above St. Peter's Square--suggests several contrasts that distinguish the modern popes from their predecessors. The more elevated the Pontiff, the smaller and less significant the faithful. The more responsible and authoritative the Pontiff, the less enfranchised the people of God, including bishops, the successors to the apostles. The more holy and removed the Pontiff, the more profane and secular the entire world.
This book tells the story of the career of Eugenio Pacelli, the man who was Pius XII, the world's most influential churchman from the early 1930s to the late 1950s. Pacelli, more than almost any other Vatican official of his day, helped to enhance the ideology of papal power--the power that he himself assumed in 1939 on the eve of the Second World War and held until his death in October 1958. But the story begins three decades before he became Pope. Among the many initiatives in his long diplomatic career, Pacelli was responsible for a treaty with Serbia which contributed to the tensions that led to the First World War. Twenty years later he struck an accord with Hitler which helped sweep the Führer to legal dictatorship while neutralizing the potential of Germany's 23 million Catholics (34 million after the Anschluss) to protest and resist.
Pacelli's goals and his influence as diplomat and Pope cannot be separated from the auspices and pressures of the office that gave impetus to his remarkable ambition. That ambition was no simple lust for power for its own sake; the popes of the twentieth century have not been self-seeking men of worldly pride, hubris, and greed. They have been, without exception, men of prayer and meticulous conscience, burdened by the checkered history of the ancient institution they embodied. Pacelli was no exception. That he nevertheless exerted a fatal and culpable influence on the history of this century is the theme of this book.
Pacelli was born in Rome in 1876 into a family of Church lawyers in the service of a papacy disgruntled by the sequestration of the papal states by the new nation-state of Italy. That loss of sovereignty had left the papacy in crisis. How could the popes regard themselves as independent of the political status quo of Italy, now that they were mere citizens of this upstart kingdom? How could they continue to lead and protect a Church in conflict with the modern world?
Ever since the Reformation, the papacy had been reluctantly readjusting to the realities of a fragmented Christendom amid the challenge of Enlightenment ideas and new ways of looking at the world. In response to the political and social changes that gathered pace in the aftermath of the French Revolution, the papacy had struggled to survive and exert an influence in a climate of liberalism, secularism, science, industrialization, an the evolving nation-state. The popes had been obliged to fight on two fronts--as primates of an embattled Church and as monarchs of a tottering papal kingdom. Caught in a bewildering series of confrontations with the new masters of Europe, the papacy had been attempting to protect the Church universal while defending the integrity of its collapsing temporal power.
Most of the modernizing states of Europe were inclined to separate Church from State (or, in the more complex reality of oppositions, throne from altar, papacy from empire, clergy from laity, sacred from secular). The Catholic Church became an object of oppression in Europe through much of the nineteenth century: its property and wealth systematically plundered; religious orders and clergy deprived of their scope for action; schools taken over by the state or shut down. The papacy itself was repeatedly humiliated (Pius VII and Pius VIII were held prisoner by Napoleon), and the papal territories had been in constant danger of dismemberment and annexation as the forces for Italian unity and modernization gathered strength.
Through the vicissitudes of this era, the Church had been riven internally by an issue fraught with consequences for the modern papacy. Broadly, the struggle was between those who urged an absolutist papal primacy from the Roman center and those who argued for a greater distribution of authority among the bishops (indeed, those who even argued for the formation of national churches independent of Rome). Both these tendencies found expression in France from the seventeenth century onward, although the antecedents of papal autocracy had an ancient lineage dating back to the eleventh century and the foundations of papal monarchism. Papal autocracy undoubtedly had been a principal cause of the Reformation itself.
The triumph of the modern centrists, or "ultramontanists" (a phrase coined in France indicating papal power from "beyond the mountains," or the Alps), was sealed at the First Vatican Council of 1870 against the background of the Pope's loss of his dominions. At that Council, the Pope was declared infallible in matters of faith and morals as well as undisputedprimate--supreme spiritual and administrative head of the Church. In some respects, this definition satisfied even those who had felt it inopportune: it was, after all, as much a statement of the limits as of the scope of infallibility and primacy.
In the first three decades after the Vatican Council, during the reign of Leo XIII, the ultramontanist Church waxed and grew strong. There was an impression of restoration; ecclesiastical Rome flourished with new academic and administrative institutions; Catholic missions penetrated to the farthest corners of the earth. There was a bracing sense of loyalty, obedience, fervor. The revival of the Christian philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, or at least a version of it, provided the perception of a bastion against modern ideas and a defense of papal authority.
By the first decade of the twentieth century, however, the concept of the
At the turn of the century, Pacelli, then a brilliant young Vatican lawyer, collaborated in redrafting the Church's laws in such a way as to grant future popes unchallenged domination from the Roman center. These laws, separated from their ancient historical and social background, were packaged in a manual known as the Code of Canon Law, published and brought into force in 1917. The code, distributed to Catholic clergy throughout the world, created the means of establishing, imposing, and sustaining a remarkable new "top-down" power relationship.
As papal nuncio in Munich and Berlin during the 1920s, Pacelli sought to impose the new code, state by state, on Germany--one of the largest, best-educated, and richest Catholic populations in the world. At the same time, he was pursuing a Reich Concordat, a Church-State treaty between the papacy and Germany as a whole. Pacelli's aspirations for that accord with the Reich were frequently resisted, not only by indignant Protestant leaders but also by Catholics who believed that his vision for the German Church was unacceptably authoritarian.
In 1933 Pacelli found a successful negotiating partner for his Reich Concordat in the person of Adolf Hitler. Their treaty authorized the papacy to impose the new Church law on German Catholics and granted generous privileges to Catholic schools and the clergy. In exchange, the Catholic Church in Germany, its parliamentary political party, and its many hundreds of associations and newspapers "voluntarily" withdrew, following Pacelli's initiative, from social and political action. The abdication of German political Catholicism in 1933, negotiated and imposed from the Vatican by Pacelli with the agreement of Pope Pius XI, ensured that Nazism could rise unopposed by the most powerful Catholic community in the world--a reverse of the situation sixty years earlier, when German Catholics combated and defeated Bismarck's Kulturkampf persecutions from the grass roots. As Hitler himself boasted in a cabinet meeting on July 14, 1933, Pacelli's guarantee of nonintervention left the regime free to resolve the Jewish question. According to the cabinet minutes, "[Hitler] expressed the opinion that one should only consider it as a great achievement. The concordat gave Germany an opportunity and created an area of trust that was particularly significant in the developing struggle against international Jewry." The perception of papal endorsement of Nazism, in Germany and abroad, helped seal the fate of Europe.
The story told in this book, then, spans Pacelli's youth, the years of his education, and his formidable early career before he became Pope. The narrative, moreover, finds a new center of gravity in Pacelli's fate-ful negotiations with Hitler in the early 1930s. Those negotiations, in turn, cannot be seen in isolation from the development of the ideology of papal power through the century, nor from his wartime conduct and his attitude toward the Jews. The postwar period of Pacelli's pontificate, through the 1950s, was the apotheosis of that power, as Pacelli presided over a monolithic, triumphalist Catholic Church in antagonistic confrontation with Communism both in Italy and beyond the Iron Curtain.
But it could not hold. The internal structures and morale of the Catholic Church began to show signs of fragmentation and decay in the final years of Pius XII, leading to a yearning for reassessment and renewal. The Second Vatican Council was called in 1962 by John XXIII, who succeeded Pacelli in 1958, precisely to reject the monolithic, centralized Church model of his predecessors, in preference for a collegial, decentralized, human community on the move. In two key documents,The Church (Lumen gentium) and The Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et spes), there was a new emphasis on history, accessible liturgy, community, the Holy Spirit, and love. The guiding metaphor of the Church of the future was of a "pilgrim people of God." Expectations ran high, and there was no lack of contention and anxiety--old habits and disciplines died hard. There were indications from the very outset that papal and Vatican centrism would not acquiesce easily.
At the outset of Christianity's third millennium it is clear that the Church of Pius XII is reasserting itself in countless ways, some of them obvious, some clandestine, but above all in confirmation of a pyramidal Church model--faith in the primacy of the man in the white robe dictating in solitude from the pinnacle. In the twilight years of John Paul II's long reign, the Catholic Church gives a pervasive impression of dysfunction despite John Paul II's historic influence in the collapse of Communist tyranny in Poland and the Vatican's enthusiasm for entering the third millennium with a cleansed conscience.
In the latter half of John Paul II's reign, the policies of Pius XII have reemerged to challenge the resolutions of Vatican II and to create tensions within the Catholic Church that are likely to culminate in a future titanic struggle. As the British theologian Adrian Hastings comments: "The great tide powered by Vatican II has, at least institutionally, spent its force. The old landscape has once more emerged and Vatican II is now being read in Rome far more in the spirit of Vatican I and within the context of Pius XII's model of Catholicism."
Pacelli, whose canonization process is now well advanced, has become the icon, forty years after his death, of those who read and revise the provisions of the Second Vatican Council from the viewpoint of an ideology of papal power that has already proved disastrous in the century's history.
Eugenio Pacelli was described routinely, during his pontificate and after his death, as a member of the Black Nobility. The Black Nobles were a small group of aristocratic families of Rome who had stood by the popes following the seizure of their dominions in the bitter struggle for the creation of the nation-state of Italy. The Pacellis, intensely loyal as they were to the papacy, were hardly aristocrats. Eugenio Pacelli's family background was respectable but modest, rooted on his father's side in a rural backwater close to Viterbo, a sizable town fifty miles north of Rome. At the time of Pacelli's birth in 1876, a relative, Pietro Caterini (referred to as "the Count" by members of Eugenio's own generation), still owned a farmhouse and a little land in the village of Onano. But Pacelli's father and grandfather before him, as well as his elder brother, Francesco, owed their distinction not to noble links or wealth but to membership of the caste of lay Vatican lawyers in the service of the papacy. Nevertheless, from the 1930s onward, Pacelli's brother and three nephews were ennobled in recompense for legal and business services to Italy and the Holy See.
Pacelli's immediate family association with the Holy See dates from 1819, when his grandfather, Marcantonio Pacelli, arrived in the Eternal City to study canon, or Church, law as a protege of a clerical uncle, Monsignor Prospero Caterini. By 1834 Marcantonio had become an advocate in the Tribunal of the Sacred Rota, an ecclesiastical court involved in such activities as marriage annulments. While raising ten children (his second child being Eugenio's father, Filippo, born in 1837), Marcantonio became a key official in the service of Pius IX, popularly known as Pio Nono.
The quick-tempered, charismatic, and epileptic Pio Nono (Giovanni Maria Mastai-Ferretti), crowned in 1846, was convinced, as had been his predecessors from time immemorial, that the papal territories forming the midriff of the Italian peninsula ensured the independence of the successors to St. Peter. If the Supreme Pontiff were a mere inhabitant of a "foreign" country, how could he claim to be free of local influence? Three years after his coronation, it looked as if Pio Nono had ignominiously lost his sovereignty over the Eternal City to a republican mob. On November 15, 1849, Count Pelligrino Rossi, a lay government minister of the papal states, famous for his biting sarcasm, approached the Palazzo della Cancelleria in Rome and greeted a sullen waiting crowd with a contemptuous smile. As he was about to enter the building, a man leapt forward and stabbed him fatally in the neck. The next day, the Pope's Quirinal summer palace above the city was sacked, and Pio Nono, disguised in a priest's simple cassock and a pair of large spectacles, fled to the seaside fortress of Gaeta within the safety of the neighboring kingdom of Naples. He took with him Marcantonio Pacelli as his legal and political adviser. From this fastness, Pio Nono hurled denunciations against the "outrageous treason of democracy" and threatened prospective voters with excommunication. Only with the help of French bayonets, and a loan from Rothschild's, did Pio Nono contrive to return to the Vatican a year later to resume a despised reign over the city of Rome and what was left of the papal territories.
Given the reactionary tendencies of Pio Nono, at least from this period onward, we can assume that Marcantonio Pacelli shared his Pontiff's repudiation of liberalism and democracy. After the return to Rome, Marcantonio was appointed a member of the "Council of Censorship," a body charged with investigating those implicated in the republican "plot." In 1852 he was appointed secretary of the interior. The papal regime during this final phase of its existence was not beneficent. Writing to William Gladstone that same year, an English traveler characterized Rome as a prison house: "There is not a breath of liberty, not a hope of tranquil life; two foreign armies; a permanent state of siege, atrocious acts of revenge, factions raging, universal discontent; such is the papal government of the present day."
The Jews were made a target of post-republican reprisal. At the beginning of his reign, Pio Nono had begun to promote tolerance, abolishing the ancient Jewish ghetto, the practice of conversionist sermons for Roman Jews, and the enforced catechizing of Jews baptized "by chance." But although Pio Nono's return had been paid for by a Jewish loan, the Roman Jews were now forced back into the ghetto and made to pay, literally, for having supported the revolution. Then Pio Nono became involved in a scandal that shocked the world. In 1858, a six-year-old Jewish child, Edgardo Mortara, was kidnapped by papal police in Bologna on the pretext that he had been baptized in extremis by a servant girl six years earlier. Placed in the reopened House of Catechumens, the child was forcibly instructed in the Catholic faith. Despite the pleas of Edgardo's parents, Pio Nono adopted the child and liked to play with him, hiding him under his soutane and calling out, "Where's the boy?" The world was outraged; no less than twenty editorials on the subject were published inThe New York Times, and both Emperor Franz Josef of Austria and Napoleon III of France begged the Pope to return the child to his rightful parents, all in vain. Pio Nono kept Edgardo cloistered in a monastery, where he was eventually ordained as a priest.
The juggernaut of Italian nationalism, however, was unstoppable; and Marcantonio Pacelli, close to his Pope, was present at events of great consequence for the modern papacy. By 1860 the new Italian state under the leadership of the Piedmontese king, Vittorio Emanuele II, had seized nearly all the papal dominions. In his notoriousSyllabus of Errors (1864), Pio Nono denounced eighty "modern" propositions, including socialism, freemasonry, and rationalism. In the eightieth proposition, a cover-all denunciation, he declared it a grave error to assert that the "Roman Pontiff can and should reconcile himself with progress, liberalism, and modern civilization."
Pio Nono had erected about himself the protective battlements of God's citadel; within, he raised the standard of the Catholic faith, based on the word of God as endorsed by himself, the Supreme Pontiff, Christ's Vicar upon earth. Outside were the standards of the Antichrist, man-centered ideologies that had been sowing error ever since the French Revolution. And the poisonous fruit, he declared, had even affected the Church itself: movements seeking to reduce the power of the popes by urging national Churches independent of Rome. Yet just as influential was a long-established tendency from the opposite extreme: ultramontanism, a call for unchallenged papal power that would shine out across the world, transcending all national and geographical boundaries. Pio Nono now began to prepare for the dogmatic declaration of just such an awe-inspiring primacy. The world would know how supreme he was by a dogma, a fiat, to be held by all under pain of excommunication. The setting for the deliberations that preceded the proclamation was a great council of the Church, a meeting of all the bishops under the presidency of the Pope. The First Vatican Council was convened by Pio Nono late in 1869 and lasted until October 20 of the following year.
At the outset, only half of the bishops attending the Council were disposed to support a dogma of papal infallibility. But Pius IX and his close supporters went to work on them. When Cardinal Guido of Bologna protested that only the assembled bishops of the Church could claim to be witnesses to the tradition of doctrine, Pio Nono replied: "Witnesses of tradition?I am the tradition."
The historic decree of papal infallibility passed on July 18, 1870, by 433 bishops, with only two against, reads as follows:
The Roman Pontiff, when he speaks ex cathedra, that is, when, exercising the office of pastor and teacher of all Christians, he defines ... a doctrine concerning faith and morals to be held by the whole Church, through the divine assistance promised to him in St. Peter, is possessed of that infallibility with which the Divine Redeemer wished His Church to be endowed ... and therefore such definitions of the Roman Pontiff are irreformable of themselves, and not from the consent of the Church.
An additional decree proclaimed that the Pope had supreme jurisdiction over his bishops, individually and collectively. The Pope, in effect, was ultimately and unprecedentedly in charge. During the hour of these great decisions, a storm broke over St. Peter's dome and a thunderclap, amplified within the basilica's cavernous interior, shattered a pane of glass in the tall windows. According toThe Times (London), the anti-infallibilists saw in the event a portent of divine disapproval. Cardinal Henry Manning, the archbishop of Westminster and an enthusiastic lobbyist for Pio Nono, responded disdainfully: "They forgot Sinai and the Ten Commandments."
Before the Council could turn to other matters, the last French troops pulled out of the Eternal City to defend Paris in the Franco-Prussian War. In came the soldiers of the Italian state, and Rome was lost to the papacy, this time forever. All that remained to Pio Nono and his Curia, the cardinals who ran the erstwhile papal states, were the 108 acres of the present-day Vatican City, and that on the sufferance of the new Italian nation-state. Shutting himself inside the apostolic palace overlooking St. Peter's, Pio refused to come to an accord with the new state of Italy. He had already, in 1868, forbidden Italian Catholics to take part in democratic politics.
Marcantonio Pacelli might have been out of a job had he not helped found a new Vatican daily newspaper in 1861.L'Osservatore Romano became the "moral and political" voice of the Vatican, and the paper, now published in seven languages, thrives to this day. Meanwhile, following in Marcantonio's footsteps, Eugenio's father, Filippo, had also trained as a canon lawyer and was similarly appointed to the Tribunal of the Sacred Rota, eventually becoming dean of the consistorial advocates, lawyers to the Holy See.
Pacelli's parents were married in 1871. His mother, Virginia Graziosi, was a Roman and, as the phrase went, a pious daughter of the Church. She was one of thirteen brothers and sisters. Two of her brothers became priests and two sisters took the veil. Filippo Pacelli performed pastoral work in the parishes of Rome, distributing spiritual reading matter to the poor. He is chiefly remembered for his attachment to a book entitledMassime eterne (Eternal Principles), a meditation on death by Alfonso Liguori, the eighteenth-century Catholic moralist and saint. Filippo handed out many hundreds of copies throughout Rome, and each year led a procession to a Roman cemetery, where the pilgrims under his guidance pondered their inevitable destiny.
The remuneration of Vatican lay lawyers was meager, and the Pacellis were not prosperous. After 1870, there is an impression of family hardship. In later years Pacelli recollected that there was no heating in the family apartment, even in the depths of winter, save for a small brazier around which the family members warmed their hands. Whereas after 1870 many of their lay contemporaries entered the well-paid bureaucracies of the new Italy, the Pacellis remained faithful to their indignant rejection of Vittorio Emanuele's usurpation. It was the practice of the loyal papal bourgeoisie to wear one glove, to place a chair facing the wall in the principal room, to keep the shutters permanently closed, and to maintain the palazzo door half shut, in token of the Pope's confiscated patrimony. The Pacellis, although lacking an entire palazzo of their own, were of this staunch constituency. Eugenio Pacelli was thus raised in an ambiance of intense Catholic piety, penurious respectability, and an enduring sense of injured papal merit. Above all, the family was steeped in a wide scope of legal knowledge and efficacy--civil, international, and ecclesiastical. As the Pacellis saw it, their papacy and their Church, threatened on all sides by the destructive forces of the modern world, would survive and in time overcome through shrewd and universal application of the law.
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