Scholars are still struggling to reach a historical verdict on Pope Pius XII.: Saint? Hero? Or too hesitant about the Nazis? The experts are eagerly awaiting the release of the files from that period.
"The next pope must be a saint or a hero." This is what the then Cardinal Secretary of State Eugenio Pacelli is said to have said after the death of Pius XI. (1922-1939) had proclaimed. Whether the tradition is true or not must remain an open question. One thing is certain: Three weeks later, on 2. March 1939, 80 years ago, the 63 cardinals gathered in conclave elected Pacelli as Pius XII. (1939-1958) to the successor of his compatriot.
According to the judgment of the Catholic Church, he can still officially become a saint – a process for beatification has been underway for some time; in 2009, the so-called heroic degree of virtue was established as a preliminary step. He did not go down in the history books as a hero. Among historians, the behavior of Pius XII. in the Second World War is still controversial today – as is the practice of the popes of the 20th century. and 21. The pope of the twentieth century to beatify and canonize each other.
From Secretary of State to Pope
No pope had been elected so quickly for about 400 years: Already in the third round of voting, Pius XII received. the required majority. Pacelli was also the first Secretary of State to be elected Pope since 1667. He chose the name Pius to indicate the bond with his predecessor.
What distinguished him from the latter, however, was not only his fine-boned stature, but also his cautious and deliberative nature. This was also noticeable in their behavior toward National Socialist Germany – even though both deeply rejected Hitler's war policy and racial mania. Pius XI. had to be slowed down at times, Pius XII. an advisor to both once said.
No protest against Nazi regime
With the beginning of the Second World War, Pius XII's highest maxim was. was non-partisanship. In this context, the failure of Benedict XV's peace initiative during the Second World War. Pacelli had played a role in the 1917 "Blue is Taste" campaign, in which he had participated as nuncio in Munich. Therefore, this pope strictly abstained from a public and explicit protest against the Nazi regime. This earned him the accusation from critics that he had been silent about the Holocaust, or at least had not protested enough. However, it is undisputed that Pius XII. saved the lives of thousands of Jews through his help in secret.
Pacelli came from a Roman legal family closely connected to the Vatican. His grandfather was deputy to the papal minister of the interior and his father was a lawyer at the papal marriage court, the so-called Rota. In 1904, Pacelli entered the service of the Holy See and was appointed nuncio in Munich in 1917. After the collapse of the monarchy, he additionally became the first papal ambassador to the German Reich in 1920. In 1930, he was called to Rome and took up the post of Secretary of State.
Many expressions of everyday faith
There is much talk about the Pope's alleged silence, much less about his authenticated statements. Pius XII. wrote 40 encyclicals. Many of these letters are no longer of immediate relevance to the daily lives of the faithful today. However, the liturgy of Holy Week, which dates back to a reform in the 1950s, has remained until today. Until then, for example, the celebration of the "Easter Vigil" was already celebrated on the morning of Holy Saturday.
In the beatification process, the Vatican recognized Pius XII. 2009 the so-called heroic degree of virtue. This pope had lived the Christian virtues of faith, love and hope in an exemplary way for his time, the Vatican clarified. The ecclesiastical judgment on Pius XII. Is thus final, even if he is not yet beatified or canonized. The historical judgment, however, remains controversial so far.
Historical files still under lock and key
Much speaks for the fact that a beatification of Pius' XII. only takes place after the files of the pontificate in the Vatican secret archives are released for science. The Vatican had originally announced this step back in 2015. However, the stocks of 20 to 30 archives of Vatican embassies were still missing, it was said in 2017. The decision on the release was up to the pope alone; and as unduly interested in history is not considered the current Pope Francis.
Experts do not expect sensational discoveries anyway. The Vatican, however, could finally refute the accusation that it is hiding something.