“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”.