Thursday, 20 November 2008

The start of the Third Christian Millenium

It was a guid New Year on 1 January 2000, but it was neither a guid New Century nor a guid New Millennium.

Of course, to determine when the New Millennium was to properly start, we need not have bothered with historical precedent as revealed between the pages of venerably aged copies of relatively ancient editions of still extant newspapers and periodicals. Nor need we have referred to Papal Bulls of yore. Commonsense alone should have dictated that just as one century could not begin until the previous one had ended, so, too, could the Third Millennium not begin until the Second had run its true course.

When might we have expected that to be? Well, if you could do the counting it was dead simple really: “…one thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine, two thousand, two thousand and one, two thousand and two…” Yes, that bit between “two thousand” and “two thousand and one”, that was we were waiting for. Or, rather, should have been.

If you did not like being blinded by the science of computation (one is embarrassed in these circumstances to give it its proper name, arithmetic); if, to put none too fine a point on it, your lap-top or desk-top computer had rendered you numerically illiterate (?) by dint of want of cerebration, then perhaps a more pedantic, historic approach might not so much have been preferred, as have been the only one that might just possibly have convinced.

Since our calendar is a Papal invention (or at least commission, as, indeed, was its predecessor), what did the Holy See have to say about the dawning of the New Millennium?

Well, it must be remembered that the Holy Father and the Church are concerned primarily with matters spiritual. Millennium bugs, or any other bugs, and the depredations which may befall society as a result of their pernicious activities, are not of prime importance to the Holy Father, the Apostolic Penitentiary, the Holy Office (of old), the Sacred College of Cardinals, the Roman curia, or national hierarchies. Thus, on Advent Sunday, 29 November 1998, when the Papal Bull, Incarnationis mysterium, was promulgated in St Peter’s Basilica, the Holy Father’s thoughts were not directed to matters related to the Y2K problem or, really, to when the civil authorities should celebrate the New Millennium, but to how the faithful might the more readily and joyfully enter into the Kingdom.

In this Bull the Holy Father designated the year 2000 as The Great Jubilee Year 2000 and decreed that it begin on Christmas Eve, 24 December 1999, in accordance with custom long ago established by Pope Boniface VIII for the first Holy Year, in 1300. That Christmas Eve would represent, according to our calendar, which is the only one by which we can regulate our lives in the present day, the one thousand nine hundred and ninety-ninth anniversary of the eve of the birth of Christ, our Lord and Saviour, at Bethlehem. The following Christmas, 25 December 2000, would represent the two thousandth anniversary of His birth. Any document issued between those dates over the late, Venerable, Holy Father’s signature would (did) close with a formula of words such as: “Given in Rome, at St Peter’s, on (date), (Feast), in the year of our Lord 2000, the twenty-second of my Pontificate.”

Christmas Day 2000 marked the opening of the Third Christian Millennium. And God Bless Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II! For, she (during her Christmas Day broadcast) was the only public figure in this country who acknowledged that fact. The anticipation of that fact was why Incarnationis mysterium, the Bull of Indiction of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, was addressed to “all the Faithful journeying towards the Third Millennium”.

However, to emphasise that fact the Holy Year, the Year of Indulgence, the Great Jubilee Year 2000, was to not officially end then, but on the Feast of the Epiphany, 6 January 2001. This was in recognition of that Feats Day’s great symbolic importance as the two thousandth anniversary of the Christ Child being revealed to the Gentiles in the personages of the Magi (whether they be the Three of the Western Church, or, the Twelve of our Eastern brethren).

In consequence, therefore, according to the Church, the New Millennium could only begin, as far as the civil calendar was concerned, on 1 January 2001.

But let us not bother too much about Rome, after all, few of our neighbours do. What has heretofore been the practice in Great Britain when it comes to the ends of centuries? A look at some newspapers from the first days of 1901 tells us all we need to know.

The Times of New Year’s Day, Tuesday, 1 January 1901, ran an everyday item called “To-day’s arrangements” with a far from everyday sub-heading: “The Twentieth Century begins”. The first two notices indicated that the Anglican Church intended to welcome-in the Twentieth Century in some style:

“Service at St Paul’s Cathedral to welcome the New Century:
The Dean of Windsor preaches.
Twentieth Century Services in Canterbury Cathedral:
The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bishop of Ripon, and Dean Farrar will preach.”

The Presbyterian Church north of the border had, of course, already welcomed-in the New Century in the traditional manner by holding Watch Night services across the land on Hogmanay. The Scotsman on New Year’s Day, reported on the traditional service held at the Tron Church. The Rev Archibald Fleming had told his congregation that the 19th Century had been one characterised by “exact thought” and that “the outcome of exact thought had been a rapid series of wonderful discoveries, for accuracy of knowledge was always the condition of progress; invention was never born of chaos… After the shock and conflict of a hundred years, one figure stood forth unshaken in historic definiteness and unrivalled dominance ― the figure of Christ.” The close of each century “was, therefore, always a time of quiet but exultant triumph to Christians.”

There followed an account of the service at St Giles’s Cathedral conducted by the Rev Dr Cameron Lees. He told his congregation they “were met in unwonted circumstances… (standing) on the boundary not only between two years, but also between two centuries… it (was) easier to grasp the moral and spiritual significance of 365 days than of 100 years.”

The celebrations of the dawn of the New Century by the Catholic Church in England and Wales and in Scotland went unreported in the mainstream press. Traditionally, of course, for the Catholic Church the year ends in the moments preceding the start of Midnight Mass at Christmas (although some, thirled to the liturgical cycle, would argue that it ends at midnight on the eve of the First Sunday of Advent).

However, we learn from The Glasgow Observer and Catholic Herald of Saturday, 5 January 1901, that throughout the archdiocese of Glasgow the New Century had been welcomed in by packed congregations at Midnight Masses celebrated, according to the wishes of Archbishop Charles Peter Eyre, in every church.

In Glasgow’s St Andrew’s Cathedral on Clyde Street the celebrant was Fr JW McCarthy. At St Saviours “the New Century was brought in with the Missa Cantata sung by Fr Louis de Backer, Coran Sanctissimo. Benediction was given after the last Mass on New Year’s Day and the Te Deum and Veni Creator were sung in accordance with the wish expressed in the circular issued by His Grace the Archbishop”. At St Alphonsus’ the Missa Cantata was sung by Fr Scannell, while at St Mary’s “the Pope’s Encyclical on Jesus Christ the Redeemer was read on Sunday to the congregation. High Mass was sung at Midnight on Monday to usher in the New Century, and it was well attended.”

Activities involving the Catholic Church occurring in Rome were reported on New Years Day by both The Glasgow Herald and The Scotsman. Indeed, the very first news story carried by The Glasgow Herald on the first day of the 20th Century concerned the closing of the Holy Door of St Peter’s Basilica by Pope Leo XIII on Christmas Day, during the previous week. Under the headline “The Sacred Door Closed”, dateline Rome, 25 December 1900, from “an occasional correspondent”, it was reported:

“It is something to see what no-one has seen for 75 years. Although technically the Holy Year should occur every quarter of a century, the political circumstances of 1850 and 1875 made a Pontifical function impossible. The last celebration was in 1825, when Leo XII, with great pomp, opened and closed the Holy Door of St Peter's as a symbol of the beginning and end of the Year of Indulgence. Among the spectators of the 1825 function was a certain Gioacchino Pecci, an unknown boy in his 16th year, to whom it has fallen, as Leo XIII, to officiate at the closing of the 19th Century.”

The Scotsman under the headline “British Pilgrims at Rome”, dateline Rome, 31 December 1900, from Reuters, reported that the British Jubilee pilgrims, including the Duke of Norfolk, had met at the Hotel Rome and decided to commence their Jubilee tour of the basilicas on 2 January. The British pilgrims were to attend the Midnight Mass in St Peter’s to be celebrated by Cardinal Rampolla (Mariano, the Marchese del Tindarro, Cardinal Secretary of State) to welcome in the New Century.

The Glasgow Observer and Catholic Herald of 12 January 1901 noted that Dr Lapponi, the Papal Physician, had deemed the Holy Father too unwell to officiate at this public Midnight Mass, but had given him permission to celebrate one in his private chapel.

What of the civil authorities and the general public, did they recognise 1 January 1901, as the start of a New Century?

The Scotsman of 2 January reported: “The great Scottish holiday which ushered in 1901 and the beginning of the 20th Century… was celebrated in a hearty and rational fashion in Edinburgh.” It also tells us of an “inaugural breakfast” hosted by the directors of the Glasgow branch of the Young Men’s Christian Association presided over by the honorary president, Lord Provost Chisholm. The Lord Provost extended his “warmest greetings” to those present on that “new morning, of a new day, of a new year, of a new century which has so calmly dawned upon us.”

The Glasgow Herald observed that in Glasgow “the advent of the New Century was observed in the customary way.” Alas for posterity, no details of this “customary way” were given, but it may safely be assumed that spirituous liquor was consumed.

What of abroad?

The Times of 1 January 1901 reported:

“At 2 o’clock yesterday afternoon (that is 31 December 1900) ― that being equivalent of midnight in Australia ― the Australian flag was hoisted at the Mansion House by order of the Lord Mayor as an indication that the new century had begun in Australia and the new Commonwealth had been inaugurated. At the same time the bells of Bow Church were peeled.”

It then went on to relate how the Agent-General for New South Wales had colourfully decorated his office in Victoria Street, Westminster, with the flags of the six federating colonies and their various shields.

The Scotsman of the following day also noted the inauguration of the new Commonwealth: “Enter with a New Century, a new Commonwealth on the stage of history. Australia which a hundred years ago had hardly had its outline traced upon the map…”

It should be noted that the referendum in Australia (1999) was carefully timed such that if it had resulted in a vote for a Republic, which it did not, there was plenty of time to organise matters so that the Republic would formally have come into being on 1 January 2001, exactly 100 years after the establishment of the Commonwealth of Australia, on 1 January, 1901. The symbolism was exquisite. Just as the creation of the Commonwealth of Australia had welcomed in a New Century, the 20th Century, so, too, would the formation of the Republic of Australia have heralded a New Century, the 21st. But it would also not simply have marked the beginning of a new era for Australia, but a New Millennium for the world!

On the same page on which The Scotsman referred to the new Commonwealth of Australia, it went on to note that closer to home: “Spain has celebrated the beginning of a New Century by adopting Greenwich time…” And in Paris on New Year’s Eve, President Laubert had received the Diplomatic Corps led by its Dean, the Papal Nuncio, Mgr Lorenzelli. Archbishop (later Cardinal) Lorenzelli in his remarks had said that at the close of the 19th Century he wished to express his desire for a “strengthening of the bonds of fraternity between peoples…”

What had happened at the dawn of previous centuries, when had they been celebrated?

On New Year’s Day, 1901, The Glasgow Herald’s London Correspondent quoted a line from a poem, “The Passing of the Century”, written by the Poet Laureate, Mr Alfred Austen, whom he described as being “blessed with a host of critics”: “I was here as I died, amid wrath and smoke,
When the war wains rolled and the cannons spoke.” The correspondent went on to observe:

“These lines reminded me of an article I was reading the other day in a time-worn copy of a London newspaper published on the 1st of January, 1801. ‘At the beginning of a new year, and the opening of a new century, it would have been grateful,’ said the leader writer, ‘to have announced the return of peace. A period of time which has in itself something august and solemn, and from which the British Empire in particular derives, as it were, new auspices and new inauguration, seemed to want only this blessing to have rendered it venerable and famed in the eyes of mankind.’”

While he made no mention of the name of the London newspaper, it seems most likely that it was in fact The Times.

How much more venerable and famed might we not have been destined to be in the eyes of our descendents if we had but managed to actually welcome in the New Millennium at its proper time, on its due date? Which was not quite yet when we did, but a year later. Unless, of course, like many you did both.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Pope John XXIII

On the morning of Sunday, October 12, 1958, the mayor of Venice led a contingent of notables, clerical and lay, gathered on the platform of the new Stazione Ferroviaría Santa Lucia to see off His Eminence Angelo Giuseppe Cardinal Roncalli, aged 76 years, the accidental Patriarch of Venice bound for Rome and the conclave to elect a successor to Pope Pius XII. The Mayor fully expected to welcome him back a few weeks later.

In the consistory of February 1953, Pius elevated four of his nuncios to the Sacred purple: Gaetano Cicognani, Spain, later Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for Rites and pro-Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura; Pietro Ciriaci, Portugal, later Prefect of the Sacred Congregation of the Council; Francesco Borgongini Duca, Italy, later an official of Propaganda Fide who died in the following year; and, Angelo Roncalli, (France).

When the list of 24 new cardinals was announced on 29 November, 1952, among their number was Carlo Agostini, Patriarch of Venice (since February 5, 1949). Sadly, His Excellency died (on 28 December) of complications from Parkinson’s disease before receiving his red hat. (India’s Valerian Gracias, 52, Archbishop of Bombay, was added to the list becoming that country’s first ever cardinal.)

When Nuncio Roncalli’s elevation had been announced, President Vincent Auriol of France, an erstwhile anti-clerical socialist, claimed the ancient privilege of the Head of State of a Catholic country and so presented him with his red hat in the Elysee Palace.

A year earlier, a bit of the personality which was to so capture the imagination of the world, and not just the Catholic world, was demonstrated when Nuncio Roncalli, Doyen of the Corps Diplomatique, led the corps in presenting their traditional best wishes to President Auriol on New Year’s Day, 1952. The President related what happened in a statement issued when Good Pope John died in June 1963: “On New Year’s Day of 1952, mindful of my disputes with the mayor and parish priest of my town, he gave me as a present a book by Giovanni Guareschi, The Little World of Don Camillo, with these words on the flyleaf: To Monsieur Vincent Auriol, president of the French Republic, for his amusement and for his spiritual profit, from J. Roncalli, Apostolic Nuncio.”

Of course, French pride would only be satisfied should their Nuncio receive a suitable, lofty appointment upon his elevation. Customarily, Nuncios newly elevated were allowed a bit of a sabbatical before taking up new duties in the Roman Curia. Carlo Agostini’s death in Venice ensured that French pride would not be hurt by a much delayed, minor Vatican appointment; which, apparently, was exactly what had been in store for Angelo Roncalli: a sinecure to see out his remaining days.

When Patriarch Angelo departed Venice bound for Rome and the conclave aboard the 9.40 train, he had in his pocket a return ticket. However, as soon as he found himself in Rome, he also found himself being talked of by at least some of his brother cardinal electors as a strong candidate in the succession stakes. Cardinals Cicognani (above), Maurilio Fossati, Archbishop of Turin, and Elia Dalla Costa, Archbishop of Florence, were principal among those who favoured Roncalli’s candidacy.

For reasons known only to himself, Pius XII had held only two consistories for the naming of new cardinals during his almost twenty year long pontificate. By the time of his death there were only 53 cardinals and two of those died before the conclave opened. Thus, there were nineteen cardinal electors less than the maximum of 70 allowed under the Apostolic Constitution. Of that 51, 24 were older than Cardinal Roncalli!

On the afternoon of 28 October, feast day of the Holy Apostles Saints Simon and Jude, the third day of the conclave, at ten minutes to five the cardinal scrutineers announced that Cardinal Roncalli had secured 38 of the 51 available votes and so under the Apostolic Constitution, providing he accepted election, the senior Cardinal Deacon could declare “Habemus papam” from the central loggia, balcony, on the front of St Peter’s Basilica.

Accepting election and choosing to reign as John XXIII, the new Pope began his pontificate as he intended to go on. Before the members of the Sacred College dispersed from the Sistine Chapel, the new Vicar of Christ did something which had once been traditional but had been abandoned in recent times. He took his red zucchetto (skullcap) which obviously he would no longer need, and placed it on the head of Msgr Alberto di Jorio, who had served as Secretary to the Conclave. His Holiness thereby created him cardinal. He was to be the first of many.

Pope John’s first consistory, the first for almost six years, began on Monday, 15 December. Since one of the new cardinals was to be Mgr André Jullien, retiring Dean of the Sacred Roman Rota (another revived tradition), he should have been succeeded in that position by the vice Dean, the next most senior auditor by length of service. However, that poor man was terminally ill and in no position to accept the job. And so the Deanship fell to the next most senior judge, a proud Scotsman: Mgr William Theodore Heard MA (Oxon), DCL, PhD, DD.

By naming 23 new Cardinals, Pope John swept away four hundred years of tradition. It was not the actual number of cardinals created which destroyed the tradition, but the fact that they took the total number to 74. This exceeded the limit of 70 set by Pope Sixtus V in 1586, a total which was in practice seldom, if ever, reached.

Under that Sixtine disposition the Sacred College was to consist of, as a maximum: 6 Cardinal Bishops, 50 Cardinal Priests and 14 Cardinal Deacons. These latter were priests associated with the various administrative offices of the Vatican, the so-called cardinals in curia, and they were not bishops. Indeed, until the 1917 Code of Canon Law came into effect the cardinals deacon did not even need to be priests, although they did have to be in minor orders. Incidentally, according to that same Code of Canon Law, His Holiness should not have created one of the cardinals: Amletto Giovanni Cicognani, long time Nuncio to the USA, had a brother Gaetano (above) who was already a cardinal. The rules relating to the prevention of nepotism preclude two close relatives being cardinals at the same time, but since the Pope willed it…

Since John XXIII was choosing as one of his first acts to abrogate this Sixtine disposition, he decided to state clearly why he was doing so. Generally the new cardinals were being created in order to “(meet) the needs of a growing Church” and to “lighten the duties of the Roman curia”. He wished to create a situation in which “authority could be delegated”. He added that he “also had in mind that the very grave duties ― and in certain cases multiple duties ― incumbent upon some of you in the City of Rome might be lightened to some extent.”

His Holiness was considering not only the age and health of some of the members of the Sacred College but ― “and this was foremost in our mind” ― that the Roman Curia might be better able to expedite the matters referred to it. This, he believed, would be for the good not only of the Vatican and its staff, but also for the Universal Church. He also indicated that this was not to be his last word on the matter and that more elevations were likely. He said: “There are many others whom we have in our mind and heart and whom we judge most worthy of the same honour and whom we hope to honour at a future date with the same lofty dignity.”

The problem was that there were not enough titular churches in the Eternal City to go round; but that would soon be rectified.

The Beijing Olympics having now passed and the persecution of the Church having been resumed on its very last day with the arrest of a Bishop, it is worth recalling that in this his first major public utterance as Pope, Blessed John also launched a scathing attack on the Chinese communist government for its persecution of the church, of its missionaries, bishops, priests and people.

Perhaps Good Pope John was influenced in making these remarks by the death during the sede vacante of an old friend, Cardinal Costantini. In August 1922, Archbishop Celso Benigno Luigi Costantini was sent by Pope Pius XI to China as first Apostolic Delegate, serving there until 1933. He called the first Chinese Episcopal conference in Shanghai in 1924, which established a constitution for the mission to China, founded several regional major seminaries, and helped found the Fu Jen Catholic University. To the great delight of Pius XI, he brought six native Chinese priests to Rome for Episcopal ordination on 26 October 1926 in St Peter’s. (They are often described as the “first Chinese bishops”, but this is not correct. The Dominican, Msgr Lo Wen-tsao O.P. was both the first Chinese to be ordained priest, 1654, and bishop, 1685.)

As he drew his consistorial remarks to a close, His Holiness said: “It is our wish that our admonitions should reach also those who taking over the places and Sees of sacred pastors by unlawful means have unfortunately paved the way for a deplorable schism. This word ‘schism’ as we utter it seems almost to burn our lips and wound our heart. We cannot but beseech God that in His mercy he may avert such a calamity as is now threatening the Catholic community of China.”

Ironically, shortly thereafter, by announcing his intention to call a Council, Good Pope John found himself being accused from within his own curia of fomenting schism. He announced his decision to summon a Council when, on January 25, 1959, he addressed a group of eighteen cardinals gathered at St Paul’s Outside-the-Walls to mark the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. A communiqué issued that evening read: “The Holy Father does not envisage that the aim of the Council is only to procure the spiritual good of the Christian people; it is also to be an invitation to the separated communities to join in the search for unity.”

In the following month, our Msgr Theo Heard should, according to the rules and regulations governing the Roman Curia, have submitted his resignation as Dean upon reaching his 75th birthday, on 24 February. However, with the new Pope contemplating sweeping changes, and not just within the Vatican, and not with just the Council, it seems that it was made clear to Dean Heard that he was expected to soldier on for a little while yet.

One of the changes which His Holiness soon acted upon was the creation of a department within the curia to deal with questions relating to Christian Unity.

Fr Augustin Bea SJ, a Rhinelander, was Pius XII’s confessor. For many years he had edited Biblica and the commentary Cursus Scripturae Sacrae. He was consultor to the Holy Office, to the Sacred Congregation for Rites, to the Pontifical Biblical Commission, and to the Congregation that dealt with Sacred Studies. Said to be a “most impressive” administrator, when he was nominated to the Sacred College of Cardinals in December of 1959, he was reckoned a worthy addition to that line of Jesuit cardinals running back to 1593 and Cardinal Toledo.

Fr Bea’s elevation to the Sacred College in December 1959, at the same time as Cardinal Heard, had been urged upon Pope John by some both within and outwith the curia anxious that the Holy Father’s determination that the Second Vatican Council should contribute to the process of reconciliation among Christians of all churches should not be sidetracked by the reactionary cardinals and other officials in the curia. Cardinal Bea was to go on to play a very influential role in the work of the Council; a role central to the legacy Good Pope John bequeathed the church and peoples he loved.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Pope Pius XII (a bit more)

The family Pacelli, grandfather Marcantonio, father Filippo, brother Francesco, uncle Msgr Giuseppe and cousin Ernesto, founder of Banco di Roma and financial adviser to three Popes, were devoted servants of the Papacy. So, when in April of 1917, aged just 41 years, Msgr Eugenio Pacelli accepted his appointment as Nuncio to Bavaria, he accepted in that family spirit of commitment to service to Holy Mother Church. And the Papacy in consequence honoured him with the archiepiscopal dignity.

But this was far from a promotion for Eugenio Pacelli. As Secretary of the Congregation for the Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs of the Holy See, every papal nuncio answered to him. They were all archbishops appointed by papal brief of nomination, but he, a humble monsignore, was their boss!

His modern-day equivalent, the Secretary of the Second Section (Relations with States) of the Secretariat of State, is the Morocco born French prelate, Archbishop Dominique François Joseph Mamberti. Archbishop Mamberti entered the Vatican’s Diplomatic Service in 1986 and held appointments in Algeria, Chile, the UN in New York and Lebanon. Naturally, he also did a stint at head office.

He was nominated as titular Archbishop of Sagona upon his appointment as Apostolic Nuncio to Sudan and Apostolic Delegate to Somalia in May, 2002. From February, 2004, until September, 2006, he served as Apostolic Nuncio to Eritrea. He ceased being a Nuncio when he was appointed to his present position as replacement for the Italian Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo who had been appointed President of the Governorate of Vatican City State in succession to the American Cardinal Edmund C. Szoka. At the earliest opportunity Archbishop Lajolo was himself created cardinal (at the consistory of November 2007).

Archbishop Mamberti’s appointment represented not simply a significant promotion, he was getting closer to the top of the Vatican tree, but also a magnificent statement of both Papa Ratzinger’s and Cardinal Bertone’s faith and confidence in him.

And strange as it may seem, Eugenio Pacelli’s demotion from Secretary for Relations with States to Apostolic Nuncio to Bavaria, taking him not so much lower down the Vatican tree as out of it altogether, was an even greater testament to the faith and confidence both Papa della Chiesa and Cardinal Gasparri had in him!

Pope Benedict XV was himself well experienced in diplomatic affairs. He was a former diplomat, official of the Secretariat of State, President of the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy and sostituto, papal chief of staff. He and Gasparri could handle France and the allies. They needed someone they could absolutely rely on to handle the Germans. When the First World War ended, that need became even greater, not less.

Just one example of Pacelli’s diplomatic nous: after WWI, Archbishop Achille Ratti, a diplomatic neophyte, was sent as Apostolic Delegate to Poland. He almost disastrously became involved in the border plebiscite. Pacelli had to intervene to save the day; and, Ratti’s neck. Indeed, by suggesting his recall to Rome and promotion to save face all round, Eugenio Pacelli prepared the way for Achille Ratti to succeed Pope Benedict XV when that good man unexpectedly succumbed to complications of influenza.

It is important to note that from his base in Berlin, for a few years Archbishop Pacelli also had to deal with the Soviets as well as the Germans. He was fluent in Russian. And politics. But the minutiae of his time in Germany is not really worth going into here save to say this. German Catholics, lay or clerical, priest or prelate; Germans of all religions and none; Germans of whatever high or low station in life; Germans of whichever and all of the many and varied political hues; Germans involved in science, the arts, the law and culture: Nuncio Pacelli got to know and came to understand them all in a way no other diplomat of the era did.

When John Cornwell cited as proof of Nuncio Pacelli’s personal anti-Semitism a letter he sent from Munich in 1919 to Cardinal Gasparri, he totally failed to present it in any sort of context. So the least of the very many problems with his thesis of Pacelli as an anti-Semite, as Hitler’s Pope, is that when and where the Nuncio quotes typical German sentiments about, say, the Jewish/Communist revolutionaries, one of whom he had had to face down over the barrel of a gun in his own home, Cornwell ascribes these sentiments to Pacelli himself.

Eugenio Pacelli, after twelve long, hard and at times downright dangerous years in Germany was recalled to Rome and created cardinal priest in the title of Ss. Giovanni e Paolo on December 16, 1929, Two months later, he was appointed Cardinal Secretary of State on February 9, 1930, in succession to his long time mentor, Cardinal Gasparri. On April 1, 1935, he was also appointed Camerlengo.

Such was Pius XI’s faith in Eugenio Pacelli that he was quoted as having said: “When today the Pope dies, you’ll get another one tomorrow, because the Church continues. It would be a much bigger tragedy, if Cardinal Pacelli dies, because there is only one. I pray every day, God may send another one into one of our seminaries, but as of today, there is only one in this world.”

Cardinal Secretary of State Pacelli’s world was still dominated by Germany and the Germans. But, then, so was every other professional diplomat in Europe; and even further afield. And despite all their best efforts, it was clear that war was all but inevitable when Papa Ratti passed away on February 10, 1939. However, as the Romans say: “Pietro non muore”

Peter does not die. On March 2, 1939, his 63rd birthday, after only one day of deliberation and three ballots, the cardinal electors chose Eugenio Pacelli as the new Peter. He was as far as is known only the second serving Camerlengo to be elected Pope (Scotland’s benefactor, Pope Leo XIII was the first). More relevantly, he was the first Secretary of State elected Pope in over 270 years. The last had been Giulio Rospigliosi, Clement IX, elected on June 20, 1667.

This Clement was a man of great culture: a poet, dramatist and librettist, he is credited with having invented the comic opera. The most important task that fell to him during his short pontificate (he died on December 9, 1669) was far from comic. It presaged Eugenio Pacelli’s early days as the principal resident on the third floor of the Apostolic Palace.

In 1668, Clement IX acted as moderator during the Congress of Aix-La- Chapelle. By the so-called “Peace of Aachen” the Triple Alliance of England, Sweden and the United Provinces forced France to abandon its war against the Spanish Netherlands.

On the day following Eugenio Pacelli’s election, from Germany there came clear evidence that they would not accept him as a moderator in any attempt to forestall a conflagration. Berlin’s Morgenpost noted: ‘The election of Cardinal Pacelli is not accepted with favour in Germany because he was always opposed to Nazism and practically determined the policies of the Vatican under his predecessor.’”

None deterred, Pope Pius XII issued an immediate impassioned plea, telling the world: “Nothing is lost by peace, everything may be lost by war!”

Pius offered to put the Apostolic Palace at the disposal of plenipotentiaries from the major powers: Great Britain, France, the USA, Germany and the Soviet Union. He would personally welcome them and then, as per the Lateran Treaty provision, leave them to their deliberations with all of his staff, and especially his Secretary of State, Luigi Cardinal Maglione, at their service should they so wish.

This was all to no avail.

But for a consummate diplomat of the calibre, character and intelligence of Eugenio Pacelli there was always going to have to be a Plan B. No one was more aware than he of the true nature of the threat to humanity posed by the Nazi regime. When as Cardinal Secretary of State he had signed the Reichskonkordat on July 20, 1933, he was under no illusions as to the likely manner in which it would be regarded by Hitler’s regime.

Fifty-five letters of protest later, Mit Brenneder Sorge, which clearly and unequivocally condemned National Socialism as incompatible with Christianity, was authored, in German rather than Latin, on behalf of Pius XI to be read from every pulpit in Germany on Palm Sunday, 1937. And, more or less, it was despite the best efforts of the Gestapo. No civil government had anywhere so far condemned Nazism in such an out-of-hand manner!

In his 1942 Christmas Eve radio broadcast Pius XII spoke of his passionate concern “for those hundreds of thousands who, without any fault of their own, sometimes only by reason of their nationality or race, are marked down for death or progressive extinction.”

Again, no civil leader in any Allied country had uttered such a condemnatory rebuke nor made the facts so publicly known. The Nazis themselves recognised it for what it was: a very public denunciation of the Nazi extermination of the Jews. A newspaper editorial said it all for Hitler: “His speech is one long attack on everything we stand for… he is clearly speaking on behalf of the Jews… he is virtually accusing the German people of injustice toward the Jews, and makes himself the mouthpiece of the Jewish war criminals.”

However, Pius spoke as a religious and not a political leader. He began by stating that “the message of Jesus… is a message which lights up with heavenly truth a world that is plunged in darkness by fatal errors.”

Later he said: “He thus proclaimed and consecrated a message which is still, today, the Word of Eternal Life. That message can solve the most tortuous questions, unsolved and insoluble for those who bring to their investigations a mentality and an apparatus which are ephemeral and merely human; and those questions stand up, bleeding, imperiously demanding an answer, before the thought and the feeling of embittered and exasperated mankind.”

He then went on: “The watchword ‘I have compassion on the multitude’ is for Us a sacred trust which may not be abused; it remains strong, and impelling in all times and in all human situations, as it was the distinguishing mark of Jesus.”

While the Church must by needs stand aside from political, national or international conflicts, nonetheless she “cannot renounce her right to proclaim to her sons and to the whole world the unchanging basic laws, saving them from every perversion, frustration, corruption, false interpretation and error.”

The Nazis, and the world, knew full well what Pastor Angelicus, the subject earlier that year of the first ever film documentary on the life of a Pope, meant to convey. It was, indeed, “one long attack on everything we [the Nazis] stand for.”

After the war was ended, Pius XII wrote to an old friend, Bishop von Preysing of Berlin, whom he would elevate to the Sacred College in 1946. He explained: “We left it to the [local] bishops to weigh the circumstances in deciding whether or not to exercise restraint, ad maiora mala vitanda [to avoid greater evil]. This would be advisable if the danger of retaliatory and coercive measures would be imminent in cases of public statements by the bishop. Here lies one of the reasons We Ourselves restricted Our public statements. The experience We had in 1942 with documents which We released for distribution to the faithful gives justification, as far as We can see, for Our attitude.”

That he was absolutely correct to be generally circumspect is witnessed to by the many tributes paid to him by prominent Jews active in Jewish welfare throughout the war, amongst them Golda Meir, both at the end of the war and at the time of his death. Which death fortuitously gave us Good Pope John, a radical readjustment of the structure of the Sacred College of Cardinals, the first Scottish Cardinal since the Reformation, and Vatican II.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Pius XII (Part One)

“Hitler’s Pope commemorated by the Pope of the Hitler Youth!”

Pope Benedict celebrated Mass in St Peter’s Basilica on Thursday, October 9, the 50th anniversary of the death of his illustrious predecessor, Pope Pius XII.

Doubtless by the time you will have the opportunity to read this, you will already have been exposed somewhere in the media to the sort of headline I anticipate above. But, then, the rank anti-Catholic bias of certain sections of the media should surprise no-one.

So, let us first of all deal with the present Holy Father’s purported membership of the Hitler Youth.

On September 30, Il Giornale, an Italian newspaper, published an interview with Msgr Georg Ratzinger, Pope Benedict’s older brother. Msgr Georg explained to Andrea Tornielli that they were both “forced to join the Hitler Youth because the State ordered all school-age kids, according to their age, to be signed up for certain youth groups. When it was obligatory, we were registered (by the school) as a block. There was no freedom to choose, and not showing up would have brought very negative consequences.”

But despite this, his brother Joseph “did not attend the meetings” and that had “brought economic harm to my family because by not doing so we could not receive the discounts for school tuition.”

Their father was a policeman who considered Nazism to be “a catastrophe and not only the great enemy of the Church but also of all faiths and of human life in general.” As a police officer antipathetic to the Nazi regime, their father was on a sticky wicket. He was in a position to help his local community, but only in so far as he kept his job. For his son to not attend the meetings of the Hitler Youth put his job in jeopardy, but he supported Joseph’s dissent; to assist his neighbours, he had to be circumspect in his dealings with the Nazis, but he supported Joseph’s open defiance.

Papa Ratzinger’s papa’s position was analogous to that of Papa Pacelli. The head of the household could openly do what some might consider to be but little, but he could and did support his sons in their doing as much as they could. Likewise, for Pius XII and his priests and prelates.
However, before considering Pius’s allegedly being “Hitler’s Pope” and his supposed “great silence”, it is first necessary to consider his pre-Papal career in order that we might properly assess how his background and training, as well as his experience and knowledge of the German people, their political masters, their spiritual leaders, their history and their country, may have shaped his attitudes and actions towards the Jews and their persecutors.

Pius XII was born in Rome on March 2, 1876, the son, grandson and great-grandson of lawyers, canon and civil. Eugenio Maria Giuseppe Giovanni Pacelli’s boyhood ill-health dictated that he be educated privately at home. Later, Eugenio was able to attend a local state-run secondary school before going on to study for the priesthood whilst still living at home. As a student for the Diocese of Rome, he enrolled at the Capranica and studied at the Gregorian University.

At the “Greg” the students of the Capranica traditionally sat just in front of the students from the Scots College. The Capranica was the alma mater of Pope Benedict XV and such did its reputation become during the 20th century that each year the Scots students would pick out from amongst this group of Italian classmates the one they thought most likely to become Pope.

His Scottish classmates could hardly miss with Eugenio Pacelli. They would early have become aware, for even student priests gossip, that his grandfather, Marcantonio, had founded L’Osservatore Romano, the Pope’s newspaper. They would also soon have come to know that Marcantonio Pacelli had been Pope Gregory XVI’s Minister of Finance and that it was he who, on November 16, 1849, the day following the murder of the Papal Minister, Count Pellegrino Rossi, on the steps of the Cancelleria, had accompanied Pius IX as he fled Rome to Gaeta disguised as a humble priest. Grandfather Pacelli later served Pio Nono as Deputy Minister of the Interior (1851-70).

Eugenio Pacelli, as per family tradition, but not necessarily because of family tradition, also became a canonist, adding a Doctorate in Canon Law to those in Divinity and Philosophy. I say “not necessarily because of” since it would seem that he had early set his sights not on parish ministry, but on working for the Holy See. If that meant the Diplomatic Service, a qualification in canon law was a prerequisite. Those whom the Vatican sends abroad to represent its interests must be deemed unlikely to foment schism, or to inadvertently declare war. For some reason those who run the Vatican have always believed that such rashness, or incompetence, would be less likely in a canon lawyer than in a theologian. (Good Pope John, himself a former nuncio, once jocularly said: “Show me a theologian and I can’t help thinking I’m looking at the enemy.”)

Ordained in April of 1899, Fr Eugenio Pacelli entered papal service in 1901. In 1904 he was appointed personal secretary to Archbishop Pietro Gasparri, Secretary of the Sacred Congregation for Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs since 1901. (Now the Second Section of the Secretariat of State; with responsibility for diplomatic relations with States, it supervised negotiation of Concordats or similar agreements.)

Archbishop Gasparri was the finest academic jurist of his day and Fr Pacelli’s arrival in his office coincided with his additional appointment as Secretary to the Pontifical Commission for the Codification of Canon Law. In 1907 he was named Cardinal and appointed Chairman of the Commission. For thirteen years, in addition to his other duties, Pietro Gasparri was the driving force behind the production of the Codex for the whole Latin-rite Church. Naturally, Eugenio Pacelli assisted him in this work. Moreover, Eugenio’s father, Filippo, then Dean of the College of Consistorial Advocates (and as such a Monsignor, though a layman) was the only lay canon lawyer involved in the production of this new code.

However, his father’s appointment had nothing to do with Eugenio. On the contrary, it was likely due to Filippo’s influence that his son had in the first place obtained such a favourable appointment as that of Gasparri’s secretary. Favourable? Even before being rewarded with the sacred purple, Gasparri was a man of great influence. With his support, and on his coat tails, there was no knowing where an ambitious young prelate might go.

And look where Pacelli did eventually go!

For a time he had combined his duties as Gasparri’s right-hand man with lecturing to the Church’s trainee diplomats in the Pontifical Academy for Noble Ecclesiastics, now the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy. (Oddly, despite his future career as a diplomat, Pacelli was not an alumnus of the Academy; neither was good Pope John, also a nuncio before becoming Pope). However, he had to give this up when he was appointed Undersecretary for Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs on March 7, 1911. Subsequently he was promoted to pro-Secretary (June 20, 1912) and then Secretary (February 1, 1914).

And he always bore with him the effects on his outlook and thinking that were the products of the overwhelming influence of Pietro Gasparri.

Gasparri, who had for twenty-eight years been a member of the law faculty of L’Institut Catholique in Paris, 1870-1898. Gasparri, who from Paris had urged the Pope and the Curia to reconcile themselves with the French Republic. Gasparri, who when in 1898 he was nominated titular archbishop of Cesarea di Palestina so loved France, its people and Church that he elected not to return to Rome for his Episcopal consecration, but to celebrate it in Paris, at the church of Saint-Joseph des Carmes, with François Cardinal Richaud, archbishop of the city as the principal Consecrator, assisted by two other French prelates: Louis François Sueur, archbishop of Avignon; and, Charles Turinaz, bishop of Nancy.

Could such a thoroughly Francophile man have a protégé who was pro-German, never mind pro-Nazi, when the first daughter of Holy Mother Church was likely to go to, and subsequently was at, war with Germany? Twice! To borrow a technical legal phrase from Rumpole of the Bailey: pull the other one, it’s got bells on!

Cardinal Gasparri was appointed Secretary of State in 1914 by the newly elected Pope Benedict XV and was named Camerlengo two years later, but his work on the new code did not end until 1917. It was promulgated on May 27 of that year and came into force on May 19, 1918.

In the weeks before the launch of the Code of Canon Law, it was announced on April 20, 1917, that Eugenio Pacelli was to be Papal Nuncio to Bavaria. He received Episcopal ordination on May 13, 1917, in the Sistine Chapel at the Hands of Pope Benedict XV and was provided to the titular See of Sardes. Aged 41, he finally left the family home and the comfort, care and cooking of his mother to fend for himself (I speak figuratively here) in Munich.
This appointment, and things which would flow from it, are of crucial importance when considering the criticisms made of Pius XII after the publication of Rudolph Hockhuth’s play Der Stellvertreter, The Representative, in the early 1960s.

Benedict XV dispatched a seven-point peace plan to the Allies on August 1, 1917. As Nuncio in Munich, Archbishop Pacelli was closely involved in trying to sell it to the German Government and General Staff. As it was, since it was a plan based on principles of justice, and ignored military realities, it was unattractive from the start to the Allies and although the German’s originally were not overtly hostile to it, they, too, soon cooled.

In 1922, Benedict XV died and was succeeded by Cardinal Ratti, Pius XI. On the death of the Pope, the post of Secretary of State, in effect the Pope’s closest and most influential adviser, falls vacant. However, Pius XI reappointed Cardinal Gasparri to the job. He became the first Secretary of State to serve two Popes.

Pius XI chose as his motto “Christ’s peace in Christ’s kingdom” By his choice of motto he sought to indicate to the faithful, and to their spiritual and temporal rulers, his belief that the Church must be active in, and not isolated from, the world in which it exists. Even before the world learned of his determination in this matter from his motto, he demonstrated it in dramatic form scarcely an hour after his election when he delivered his traditional blessing, Urbi et Orbi, from what had ceased to be, in 1870, the traditional spot, the central loggia, balcony, of St Peter’s Basilica.

In 1870, the States of the Church had been seized by the Italian Government. The Church subsequently refused to accept the Law of Guarantees on the grounds that the seizure was unjust. The Popes became “prisoners” within the Vatican Palace. By his dramatic gesture, Pius XI signalled his determination to resolve the matters alienating Church and State in Italy. In 1926, after the government withdrew a Bill from Parliament in recognition of the Church’s objections to it, Pius XI agreed that secret talks should be entered into with the Fascist government of Benito Mussolini.

The talks began on August 5, 1926. The Italian Government was represented by Domenico Barone, whilst the Church was represented by another son of Filippo Pacelli, Francesco. As per family tradition, Francesco Pacelli was a lawyer, both civil and canon, at the service of the Holy See. In 1924 Archbishop Pacelli had been responsible for negotiating a favourable concordat with Catholic Bavaria, and in 1929 he would negotiate a less advantageous one with Prussia. Important as these were in themselves, they had nothing like the impact of his brother’s successful negotiations with Il Duce’s representative.

On February 11, 1929 within the Lateran Palace Benito Mussolini and Cardinal Gasparri signed the Lateran Pacts which comprised a treaty (consisting of a preamble and 27 articles), a financial agreement, and a Concordat between the Holy See and the Kingdom of Italy. Italy accepted that the Holy See was entitled to full proprietary rights over the patriarchal basilicas outside of the Vatican: St John Lateran, St Mary Major, and St Paul’s-outside-the-Walls. The Church’s proprietorial rights over several other important churches and buildings in Rome and over the papal palace at Castelgandolfo were also recognised. The Popes need no longer be prisoners in the Vatican.

For its part, the Holy See averred its desire to remain aloof from inter-governmental disputes and stated its intention to absent itself from all international congresses called to resolve such disputes unless requested by the contending parties to act as honest broker. This was to come to lie at the very heart of the problems faced by Pius XII during WWII, giving rise to his supposed “great silence”.

Some important anniversaries

Beijing: the opening ceremony for the Olympic Games was deliberately timed by the Chinese organising committee to begin at exactly 8 seconds after 8 minutes past 8 o’clock on the 8th day of the 8th month in the year two thousand and 8.

By jings, the Chinese must have a thing about that number 8!

And so, too, should we of the Catholic Church here in Scotland. For, was it not in the year 1878 that on the morning of Monday, March 4, as the very first official act of his pontificate, on the day following his papal coronation, His Holiness Pope Leo XIII restored the Scottish Episcopal Hierarchy? In the Apostolic Constitution Ex supremo Apostolatus apice Leo wrote: “What, therefore, our predecessor (Pope Pius IX, Pio Nono) was hindered by death from bringing to a conclusion, God, who is plentiful in mercy and glorious in all his works has granted us to effect, so that we might, as it were, inaugurate with a happy omen our Pontificate, which in these calamitous times we have received with trembling.”

Thirty years later, in 1908, the 19th International Eucharistic Congress was held in September, in London. Not only was this the first time that the Congress was held in an English-speaking country, it was also, and perhaps even more importantly, the first time since the Protestant Reformation that a Papal Cardinal Legate was welcomed on British soil.

It is also to this 1908 Eucharistic Congress that we in Scotland can trace the practice of frequent reception of Holy Communion. One of the greatest advocates of this was the founder of Carfin Grotto, Canon Taylor; and, it was he who organised the presentation of a paper on frequent reception of Holy Communion at the Congress.

But the Eucharistic Congress is not the only important event the centenary of which falls this year. 1908 was also the year in which the Catholic Churches of Scotland and of England and Wales were removed from the supervision of the Congregation de Propaganda Fide. We were no longer regarded by Rome as mission territory (sic transit Gloria mundi).

And on the debit side, this 1908 Eucharistic Congress was also the occasion of His Majesty’s Government offering the grossest insult to the 12,000,000 plus Catholic citizens of Great Britain and Ireland – not North or South, for in those days there were no parts of Ireland – and the then British Empire since the one delivered from the throne in the House of Lords following the death of Queen Victoria.

The 20th Century was barely three weeks old when Victoria died on Tuesday, January 22, 1901. When another three weeks had passed, Hansard recorded one of the details of the succession on Thursday, 14 February 1901. It reads:

The King’s Speech
The King being seated on the Throne, and the Commons being at the Bar with their Speaker, His Majesty made and subscribed the Declaration against Transubstantiation pursuant to the Bill of Rights and afterwards made a Most Gracious Speech.

The speech may indeed have been gracious, but the Accession Oath most definitely was not. King Edward VII swore:

“I, Edward, do solemnly and sincerely, in the presence of God, profess, testify, and declare, that I do believe that in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper there is not any Transubstantiation of the Elements of Bread and Wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, at, or after, the Consecration thereof by any person whatsoever; and that the Invocation or Adoration of the Virgin Mary, or any other Saint, and the Sacrifice of the Mass, as they are now used in the Church of Rome, are Superstitious and Idolatrous.”

William Redmond would later say of this that the Catholic grievance in relation to it “never merely was that the language employed against ourselves and our religion was violent, abusive, and vulgar. Our great grievance was that our religion, and our religion alone of all the various beliefs in the world, was singled out by the King at the most solemn moment of his life for vehement and violent repudiation.”

The notable and noble Catholic, Lord Herries − who died in 1908 − later publicly stated that he had been present in the House of Lords that day seated close to the King when he made the Declaration. It is to Edward’s great credit that Lord Herries was able to assert that he had never seen anyone “so embarrassed and so confused” as the King had been that day. He had “run over the language of the declaration as if it hurt not only his own feelings, but the feelings of everyone around him.”

Difficult as it may seem, Henry Herbert Asquith, the Prime Minister in 1908, even managed to exceed this for grossness.

The detailed planning and organising of the Eucharistic Congress had taken eight months. The senior prelates from around the world who came to London were led by the papal legate, His Eminence Vincenzo Cardinal Vanutelli, Bishop of Palestrina. Other members of the Sacred College of Cardinals present were their Eminences: Michael Logue, Archbishop of Armagh; James Gibbons, Archbishop of Baltimore (who famously replied when asked what he thought of papal infallibility: “All I know is that every time I have met the Pope he called me Jibbons!); Cyriaco Maria Sancha y Hervas, Archbishop of Toledo and Patriarch of the W. Indies; Andrea Ferrari, Archbishop of Milan; Desire Mercier, Archbishop of Mechlen, Belgium; and, Francois Mathieu, the former Archbishop of Toulouse, but then of the Roman Curia. Sadly, Cardinal Mathieu took ill while in England and died in hospital in London shortly after the Congress ended.

With the eyes of the Catholic World on London, and the Eucharistic Congress already underway, HH Asquith banned the closing Eucharistic Procession!

Astonishingly, he did so citing the Roman Catholic Relief Act (10 George IV, c. 7 {13 April 1829}). Fifteen years earlier, in 1893, when it was proposed to hold a Eucharistic procession in Chorlton, the Protestant Alliance raised objections and tried to have it banned citing this very same Act. This was regarded as so serious by some that it was referred to in a question tabled in Parliament for answer by the then Home Secretary. Having, in the quaint expression of the day, “scouted” the matter, the Home Secretary announced that Her Majesty’s Government “did not intend to take any action.”

That then Home Secretary was as the Eucharistic Congress opened, the Prime Minister, HH Asquith. Since the closing Eucharistic procession was early agreed to between all concerned − the Eucharistic Congress organising committee, the Westminster City Council and the Metropolitan Police Commissioner – no one who mattered expected Asquith’s administration not to adhere to his earlier principles which were predicated on the belief that the penalties envisioned in the 1829 Catholic Emancipation Act were a dead letter.

But obviously fifteen years was a very long time in politics. And so, too, was less than a week; because at the start of the week Asquith was evidently, if not in favour, then, at least, not opposed to the procession. By the Thursday, he was. But, of course, he tried to get Archbishop Francis Alphonsus, later Cardinal, Bourne to say it was all his idea.
A decade later, and 1918 is not only remembered for an end being brought to the First World War, there was also the no small matter of the Education (Scotland) Act.

I could go on, but of all the 8th years going back over all the decades of the 130 years history of the Catholic Church in Scotland in the modern world, perhaps the most important, and not just for us but also for the Universal Church, was 1958.

Fifty years ago, in October 1958, His Eminence Angelo Cardinal Roncalli, Patriarch of Venice, noted in his diary: “Sister death came quickly and swiftly fulfilled her office. Three days were enough. On Thursday, October 9, at 3.52 am Pius XII was in Paradise.”

On Monday, September 29, at the papal summer residence, Castelgandolfo, His Holiness Pope Pius XII suffered a recurrence of a problem which had afflicted him in the past, hiccoughs. The following day found him so unwell that he was unable to speak to the pilgrims he received in audience. On the Thursday he seemed better and was able both to receive and address a large group of pilgrims. He gave special audiences to the Oratorian Fathers in Rome for their congress and to a party of railway-bookstall proprietors and newsvendors. This latter group he cautioned to be ever “vigilant about the quality of the publications” they put on display.

On Friday, October 3, Cardinal Spellman led 700 American pilgrims to Castelgandolfo. They had come from Lourdes. The Holy Father spoke to them about the Feast of the Guardian Angels which had been celebrated on the day before (Thursday, October 2). Of the month of October, Pius said to them that it “checks the vision for a moment, reminding one’s inner spirit that there is another world, a world invisible yet as real as the one you see, and quite as close to you.”

Perhaps he sensed that the hand of God already lay unkindly upon his shoulder.

Saturday brought the participants of an international congress of plastic surgeons. Whenever the Pope prepared a lengthy allocution for groups such as this, it was customary for it to be printed in advance and distributed among the group after the Holy Father had read out the concluding part. So nothing need have been read into Pius doing precisely this here. However, to their professional eyes it was evident that the Holy Father was unwell.

On that Saturday afternoon, Pius XII received a few notable lay pilgrims in special private audience. The last he greeted and spoke to was the actor (later Sir) Alex Guinness. On the Sunday an open air audience was held in gusty weather and in the afternoon the Pope walked in the gardens. In the evening he appeared at the window and blessed the pilgrims gathered in the courtyard below. However, at 3.30 on the Monday morning it became clear that His Holiness was very seriously ill.

Dr Riccardo Galeazzi-Lisi, the Medico di Sua Santità, was summoned from Rome, arriving within half an hour. The Pope’s sister, Elisabetta, and his nephews came soon after. In the morning those cardinals present in Rome began to arrive, as did also Msgr Domenico Tardini, effectively Pro-Secretary of State and who would soon become the real thing. Cardinal Tisserant, Dean of the Sacred College of Cardinals, was enjoying a brief holiday in his native Nancy, France, but immediately flew back to Rome on learning of the serious nature of the Pope’s condition and wasted no time in getting to Castelgandolfo.

On the Monday afternoon Pope Pius was given the Last Rites and received the viaticum. The Cardinal Vicar of Rome, Cardinal Mircara, called for prayers pro re gravi to be said in all the churches of Rome. A medical bulletin was issued saying in part: “the Pope was stricken with cerebral circulatory disturbances, the development of which is now under observation.”

The following afternoon saw the arrival of the Pope’s gerontologist, the Swiss Dr Paul Niehans, a medical charlatan of the highest order. Peter Hebblethwaite, biographer of John XXIII and Paul VI, wrote of him: “By 1958 Pius was clearly dying despite the best efforts of Dr Paul Niehans of Montreux, who believed he could rejuvenate the Pope by his controversial ‘living cell’ therapy – injections of finely ground tissue taken from freshly slaughtered lambs. The fact that Dr Niehans was a Protestant was sometimes taken to prove that Pius XII had ecumenical dispositions.” He adds that Pius’s recourse to such quack medicine (my description, not his) was “not the only example of Pius XII’s bizarre behaviour.”

At 6.30 on the Wednesday morning, the Pope, who had “spent a night without hiccoughs” was “stricken with a slight circulatory disturbance, similar to the one of last Monday.” That Wednesday was spent in a coma and according to The Tablet (which went to press that day) death was “delayed by an indomitable physical fortitude.”

Just before four o’clock on the Thursday morning, leaning over his seemingly lifeless body, three times Cardinal Tisserant called him by his given name, Eugenio. Three times Eugenio Maria Giuseppe Giovanni Pacelli failed the call. Hopefully he was, indeed, as the Cardinal Patriarch of Venice was confident he was, in Paradise. At least his death could be formally notarised and his signet ring could be defaced, the papal apartments sealed, and the cardinal electors not present in Rome summoned.

So what manner of man presented himself before the recording angel at 3.52 that October Thursday morning fifty years ago?