Pope Pius XII, The Hero and Rescuer of World War II

Pope Pius XII was born Eugenio Pacelli on March 2,1876 in Rome, Italy to Filippo Pacelli and Virginia Graziosi. His family was devoutly Catholic and had ties to the Catholic Church. His grandfather, Marcantonio Pacelli, had been Under-Secretary in the Papal Ministry of Finances and then Secretary of the Interior under Pope Pius IX from 1851 to 1870 and helped found the Vatican’s newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano in 1861. His cousin, Ernesto Pacelli, was a key financial advisor to Pope Leo XIII. His father, Filippo Pacelli, was the dean of the Roman Rota. His older brother, Francesco Pacelli, became a lay canon lawyer and the legal advisor to Pope Pius XI, in which role he negotiated the Lateran Treaty in 1929, the pact with Benito Mussolini, bringing an end to the Roman Question. Eugenio was a religious child, he made his First Communion in 1886 and was an altar boy from 1886. He had a good Catholic education, in 1891, his father sent him to Liceo Ennio Quirino Visconti Institute, a state school situated in what had been the Collegio Romano, the premier Jesuit university in Rome. In 1894, when he was just 18 years old, Eugenio Pacelli began his theology studies at Almo Collegio Capranica, Rome’s oldest seminary, and in November 1894, he registered to take a philosophy course at the Jesuit Pontifical Gregorian University and theology at the Pontifical Roman Athenaeum S. Apollinare. He also enrolled at at the State University, La Sapienza where he studied modern languages and history. In the summer of 1895, after the end of the semester, he dropped out of both the Capranica and the Gregorian University. His sister Elisabetta blamed the food at Capranica. He received a special dispensation to continue his studies from home and spent most of his seminary years as an external student. In 1899, he completed his education in Sacred Theology with a doctoral degree awarded on the basis of a short dissertation and an oral examination in Latin. On Easter Sunday, April 2,1899, he along with all other candidates from the Rome diocese were ordained in the Basilica of St. John Lateran in the private chapel of Monsignor Francesco di Paolo Cassetta, a family friend. After his ordination, he began postgraduate studies in canon law at Sant’Apollinaire. He received his first assignment as a curate at Chiesa Nuova. In 1901, at age 25, he entered the Congregation for Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs, a sub-office of the Vatican Secretariat of State. He worked as an apprentice to Monsignor Pietro Gasparri, by highlighting the necessity of defending the Church from the onslaughts of secularism and liberalism throughout Europe. In January 1901, Pope Leo XIII, chose Father Pacelli to deliver condolences on behalf of the Catholic Church to King Edward VII of the United Kingdom after the death of Queen Victoria. In 1904, he received his doctorate and in 1905, he was named Monsignor. From 1904 to 1916, he assisted Cardinal Pietro Gasparri in his codification of canon law with the Department of Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs. In 1908, he and Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val, served as a Vatican
representative to London, where he met Winston Churchill, future Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (1940-1945, 1951-1955). In 1911, he represented the Holy See at the Coronation of King George V. That same year, Pacelli became under-secretary and in 1912, adjunct-secretary. In February 1914, he became secretary of the Department of Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs. On June 24,1914, he and Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val, represented the Vatican when the Serbian Concordant was signed. 4 days later on June 28,1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie were murdered by Gavrilo Princip of the Serbian Black Hand in Sarajevo. Princip and 5 others were members of the Serbian Black Hand that participated in the murders and were arrested by the police. On July 28,1914, World War I broke out and soon the whole world would be dragged into the conflict. On August 20,1914, Pope Pius X died. He was succeeded by Pope Benedict XV. Pope Benedict XV named Pietro Cardinal Gasparri as Secretary of State and Pacelli was named Undersecretary. During World War I (1914-1918), Monsignor Pacelli maintained the Vatican’s registry of prisoners of war and worked to implement papal relief initiatives. In 1915, he and Monsignor Raffaele Scapinelli di Leguigno, nuncio to Austria, traveled to Vienna and Pacelli assisted in the negotiations with Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria regarding Italy. Shortly later, on May 23,1915, Italy declared war on Austria-Hungary and joined the Allies. On April 23,1917, Pope Benedict XV appointed Monsignor Pacelli as nuncio to Bavaria and was consecrated titular Archbishop of Sardis in the Sistine Chapel on May 13,1917 (coincidentally, the same day that the Marian apparitions began at Fátima). After he was consecrated, Monsignor Pacelli left for Bavaria. At the time, there was no nuncio to Prussia or Germany and Pacelli was basically nuncio to all of the German Empire (Deutsches Kaiserreich). Once he arrived in Munich, he began the papal initiative to end the war to German authorities. On May 29, he met King Ludwig III of Bavaria, who was a devout Catholic. He later met with Kaiser Wilhelm II and Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollwegg, who responded positively to the Papal initiative. However, on July 13,1917, Theobald von Bethmann-Hollwegg was forced to resign and the German High Command, delayed the German response until September 20, hoping for a military victory. Monsignor Pacelli was saddened that his initiative got nowhere and for the rest of the war he concentrated on Pope Benedict XV’s humanitarian efforts especially among Allied POWs in German custody. He was disconcerted after the German surrender on November 11,1918 and asked Pope Benedict XV for permission to leave Munich due to the fact that Kurt Eisner, a Communist leaning leader formed the Free State of Bavaria. When he returned to Munich in February 1919, after Count Anton Arco-Valley, a German nobleman and devout Catholic shot and killed Kurt Eisner. Bavaria soon turned into a scene of chaos by German Communists. Monsignor Pacelli was threatened by leaders of the Bavarian Soviet Republic with with “guns, daggers, and even hand grenades” and struck with a revolver to the chest. The assault was so forceful that the metal cross Pacelli wore around his neck was damaged. They even attempted to confiscate his car at gunpoint. This alarmed supporters of the Weimar Republic and soon the Reichswehr troops along with the Freikorps defeated and toppled the Bavarian Soviet Republic on May 3,1919. On June 23,1920, Monsignor Pacelli was named Apostolic Nuncio to Germany and in August 1925, his nunciature was moved to Berlin after the completion of a Bavarian concordant. During the Weimar Era, he was aided by Father Ludwig Kaas, who was known for his expertise in Church-state relations and was a politician active in the Catholic Centre Party which he led since 1928 after the resignation of Wilhelm Marx. He also entertained politicians such as President Paul von Hindenberg, Chancellor Gustav Stresemann, and many members of the Cabinet at his home in the Tiergarten area of Berlin. Also during the period of 1917 to 1929, he 44 speeches and 40 of them denounced some aspect of the emerging Nazi ideology which was present in Germany beginning in 1919 and in 1923, it’s leader Adolf Hitler and his followers attempted to overthrow the Bavarian Government and was met with resistance by the Bavarian State Police, who opened fire on Hitler and his followers. The event was known as the Beer Hall Putsch. On October 29,1929, the stock market on Wall Street in New York City collapsed and it affected many countries including Weimar Germany. This was the beginning of the Great Depression. On December 10,1929, Monsignor Pacelli left Germany and on December 16, was made a Cardinal by Pope Pius XI. Later on February 7,1930, he was appointed Secretary of State by Pope Pius XI. In his position as Secretary of State, he was instrumental in Concordants with Austria, Germany (both 1933), and Yugoslavia (1935). On July 20,1933, he and representatives by Nazi Germany signed the Reichskonkordant. Nazi Germany guaranteed to the Church that her civil liberties would be protected and that the Church would have role in the new government. The Reichskonkordant was ratified on September 10,1933. However, the Nazi government did not keep its promise and began to persecute Catholic priests and laypeople who opposed Nazi ideology. He was also supportive of Erich Klausener, a devout Catholic layman who was President of German Catholic Action since 1928 and an opponent of the Nazi regime. On June 30,1934, Klausener was killed by the SS during the Night of the Long Knives, the political purge initiated by Adolf Hitler to execute members of the SA and political opponents. Monsignor Erich Klausener, the son of Erich Klausener, confirmed of how Pacelli and his father were good. In 1935 he wrote a letter to the bishop of Cologne describing the Nazis as “false prophets with the pride of Lucifer.” and as “bearers of a new faith and a new Evangile” who were attempting to create “a mendacious antimony between faithfulness to the Church and the Fatherland”. Also in 1935, he became Camerlengo of the Holy Catholic Church. Between 1933 and 1939, Pacelli issued 55 protests of violations of the Reichskonkordat. In 1937, Pacelli asked several German cardinals, including Cardinal Michael von Faulhaber to help him write a protest of Nazi violations of the Reichskonkordat; this was to become Pius XI’s 1937 encyclical, Mit brennender Sorge (“With burning concern”) in which it condemned the regime’s anti-Catholic attitude, it’s neopaganism, and it’s racism. The encyclical was released on March 10,1937. It was later followed by Divini Redemptoris (Of the Divine Redeemer) in which it condemned Communism as atheistic. It also expresses concern at the growth of Communism in the Soviet Union, Spain, and Mexico, and it condemns the Western press for its apparent “conspiracy of silence” in failing to cover such events in those countries. Both encyclicals were released when Pacelli was still Secretary of State. On February 10,1939, Pope Pius XI died after he served as Pope since 1922. On March 1,1939, the Papal conclave began to name a new Pope and on March 2,1939, Eugenio Cardinal Pacelli was elected Pope on his 63rd birthday. After he was elected, he chose the name “Pius XII” in honor of his predecessor and his coronation took place on March 12,1939. Six months after his election, on September 1,1939, Nazi Germany invaded Poland and two days later, Great Britain and France declared war on Nazi Germany. This began World War II. Also during this time, Josef Müller, a Catholic Bavarian lawyer and a resistance member with the Abwehr, acted a messenger between the German Resistance and the Catholic Church. The German Resistance consisted of Josef Müller, Abwehr chief and general Wilhelm Canaris, Abwehr second-in-command Hans Oster, jurist Hans von Dohnányi, and General Ludwig, all of whom were devout Christians and opposed to Hitler’s tyranny and the murder of Christians and Jews. They told Müller, to ask Pius XII to ascertain whether the British would enter negotiations with them since they wanted overthrow Hitler. The British agreed as did British envoy D’Arcy Osborne. Pius XII had contacts with the Resistance throughout the war. The Resistance asked the Pope not to openly condemn the Nazis as it would cause German Catholics to be persecuted by the Third Reich. In 1940, Pius XII criticized Nazi Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop for the murders and persecutions of Christians and Jews in Germany and Poland. Pius XII was staunch anti-Communist and used Divini Redemptoris, an encyclical of Pope Pius XI, which forbade Catholics to help communists, as not applying to military assistance to the Soviet Union. Also during this time, Pius XII was instrumental in saving 897,000 European Jews and many of them were hidden in Italian monasteries. On July 25,1943, Italian fascist leader Benito Mussolini was ousted the Fascist Grand Council in a vote for 19 to 8 as having no confidence in “Il Duce”. The Council voted to give power back to King Victor Emmanuel III and negotiate an Armistice with the Allies. After Mussolini was overthrown and an Armistice was signed, Hitler had his forces invade Italy and began to round up Italian Jews for deportation to the Nazi death camps. Pope Pius XII along with many brave Italian clergy and others protected many Italian Jews from the Nazis. Of Italy’s 50,000 Jews, 42,000 survived thanks in part to the heroism of Italians and the Catholic Church. On September 13,1943, SS general Karl Wolff was ordered by Adolf Hitler to kidnap the Pope. Wolff instead sneaked into the Vatican and warned Pius XII. He later confirmed this when he testified at the Nuremberg Trials. Also, Erwin von Lahousen, an Austrian official with the Abwehr testified in a deposition for the Nuremberg Trials that Hitler ordered the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (Reich Main Security Office) to devise a plot to punish the Italian people by kidnapping or murdering Pope Pius XII and King Victor Emmanuel III. Wilhelm Canaris, informed General Cesare Amè, during a secret meeting in Venice on July 29 to July 30,1943. Lahousen and Colonel Wessel Freytag von Loringhaven were also present at this meeting. Amè apparently spread the news and the plot was dropped. Pope Pius XII also condoned the plot to assassinate Nazi leader Adolf Hitler and make peace with the Allies. The main conspirator was Colonel Count Claus von Stauffenberg, a 36 year old German army officer and devout Catholic who felt that he had to kill Hitler to free Germany from what he believed was a tyrant. He was also disturbed the murders of Jews and the persecution of Poles. Also, St. Thomas Aquinas might have influenced him as St. Thomas Aquinas justiced tyranicide if it benefited the good of humanity. On July 20,1944, Stauffenberg attempted to assassinate Hitler with bomb in a briefcase. Sadly, Hitler survived as if Satan protected him. Stauffenberg was executed for his attempt. Before he was executed, as a devout Catholic, his last words were “Es lebe das heilige Deutschland!” (“Long live our sacred Germany!”). In the wake of the plot, many people involved in the plot were arrested and executed. Also, documents were found with the name Eugenio Pacelli on them and it was believed by SS official Ernst Kaltenbrunner was somehow a conspirator. He also met Winston Churchill in August 1944, who was visiting Rome and asked that the people of Italy would not be punished, preferring that they be made “full allies” in the remaining war effort. In 1945, as the war was approaching its end, he pushed for a lenient policy by Allied leaders in an effort to prevent what he perceived to be the mistakes made at the end of World War I. The war ended on May 8,1945, when Nazi Germany surrendered. Many Jews thank Pope Pius XII for his humanitarian efforts in protecting European Jews from the Nazis. These Jewish intellectuals included scientist Albert Einstein, Chief Rabbi Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog, and Israeli Prime Ministers Golda Meir and Moshe Sharett hailed Pope Pius XII as a righteous gentile for his work in saving thousands of Jews from Nazi death camps. In 1945, the general secretary of the World Jewish Council, Dr. Leon Kubowitzky, presented an amount of money to the pope, “in recognition of the work of the Holy See in rescuing Jews from Fascist and Nazi persecutions”. Also, Harry Greenstein from Baltimore, a close friend of Chief Rabbi Herzog of Jerusalem, told Pius how grateful Jews were for all he had done for them. The pope replied, “My only regret is not to have been able to save a greater number of Jews.” The Chief Rabbi of Rome, Israel Zolli took refuge in the Vatican following the Nazi occupation of Rome in 1943. After the war he converted to Catholicism and took the name “Eugenio” in honour of Pope Pius XII. Even Pinchas Lapide, a Jewish theologian and Israeli diplomat to Milan in the 1960s, wrote in Three Popes and the Jews that Catholics were “instrumental in saving at least 700,000 but probably as many as 860,000 Jews from certain death at Nazi hands. Pope Pius XII congratulated many anti-Nazi Catholic prelate by promoting them to Cardinals on February 18,1946, German Bishops Joseph Frings of Cologne, August von Galen of Münster and Konrad von Preysing of Berlin. From elsewhere in the liberated Nazi Empire Pius selected other resistors: Dutch Archbishop Johannes de Jong; Hungarian Bishop József Mindszenty; Polish Archbishop Adam Stefan Sapieha; and French Archbishop Jules-Géraud Saliège. Then on September 18,1946, Alojzije Stepinac, Archbishop of Zagreb was arrested on manufactured charges by the Communist officials of Yugoslavia and was convicted in a show trial. Pope Pius XII delivered retribution by excommunicating all Catholics who participated in the show trail against the Archbishop who heroically stood up against Nazism and saved many Croatian Jews and Orthodox Serbs from murderous Croatian fascists. In January 1948, he was instrumental in getting Italian Catholics to vote against Communists and left leaning politicians. On December 26,1948, József Cardinal Mindszenty, Archbishop of Esztergom was arrested on fabricated charges by Communist official of Hungary. Like Stepinac, Mindszenty was put through a show trial and was convicted on February 12,1949. On February 20,1949, Pope Pius XII excommunicated all Catholics who participated in the show trial against Mindszenty. In July 1949, he approved a move by the Holy Office to threaten with excommunication anyone with known Communist affiliations. In 1952, Pius XII stated that the war against communism was a holy war and excommunicated members of the Communist Party. Pope Pius XII continued preaching against Communism. On May 29,1954, he canonized Pope Pius X as a Saint. He died on October 9,1958, he died at age 82 of acute heart failure brought on by a sudden myocardial infarction in Castel Gandolfo, the papal summer residence. At the time of his death, he was still praised by many Jews for his heroic efforts during the Holocaust. Soviet leader Nikita Khruschev in 1960 authorized a smear campaign against the Vatican and Pope Pius XII to discredit the Church’s role in World War II and portray Pius XII as a Nazi sympathizer. The reason for this evil deed was because Pius XII opposed Communist ideology. General Ivan Agayants, chief of the KGB’s disinformation department, orchestrated the outline for what was to become a play portraying the Pope as a Nazi sympathizer. It should be noted that Agayants was the son of a priest of the Armenian Apostolic Church and he turned against Christianity in favor of atheistic Communism. In 1963, his reputation was tarnish by the fictitious play, The Deputy, in which it portrays Pope Pius XII as a Nazi sympathizer. The play was written by Rolf Hochhuth. Hochhuth had a not so savory past. He was a member of the Deutsches Jungvolk of the Hitler Youth and later defended notorious Holocaust denier David Irving. Because of these revelations, Hochhuth it not credible. Hochhuth was fed these lies by the KGB and the play’s producer Erwin Piscator, was a Communist and had long established ties with the USSR. This was confirmed by Ion Mihai Pacepa in 2007. Pacepa was a former three-star general in the Securitate, the Communist Secret Police in Romania. Pacepa defected to the United States in 1978. On December 19,2009, Pope Benedict XVI declared Pope Pius XII a Venerable. Hopefully, Pope Pius XII will be Beatified and Canonized a Saint.


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