Cardinal Bertone on Pius XII (Part 1)

“The Victim of a ‘Black Legend'”

VATICAN CITY, JUNE 5, 2007 ( Here is a translation of the first part of a speech given today by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone at the presentation of a book by Andrea Tornielli, “Pio XII: Un Uomo Sul Trono di Pietro” (Pius XII: A Man on the Throne of Peter).

* * *

1. The “Black Legend”

For decades now the figure of Eugenio Pacelli, Pope Pius XII, has been at the center of some volatile polemics. The Roman Pontiff who guided the Church through the terrible years of the Second World War and the Cold War is the victim of a “black legend,” which has proved difficult to combat even though the documents and testimonies have amply shown its complete inconsistency.

One of the unpleasant “secondary” consequences, so to speak, of this black legend — that falsely portrays Pope Pacelli as indulgent toward Nazism and indifferent to the fate of the victims of persecution — has been to sideline the extraordinary teaching of this Pope who was a precursor of Vatican II.

As has happened with the figures of two other Popes of the same name — Blessed Pius IX, who is discussed only in relation to topics linked to the politics of the Risorgimento, and St. Pius X, often only remembered for his strenuous battle against modernism — there is the risk that the pontificate of Pacelli will be reduced to his supposed “silences.”

2. The Pastoral Activity of Pius XII

I am here this evening, therefore, to give a brief testimony to a man of the Church, who, by his personal holiness, shines as a luminous witness of the Catholic priesthood and of the papacy.

It is not as though I have not already read many interesting essays on the figure and work of Pope Pius XII, from the well-known “Actes et Documents du Saint Siège,” to the brief biographies of Nazareno Padellaro, Sister Marchione, and Father Pierre Blet, among the first ones that come to mind.

There are also the “wartime addresses” of Pope Pacelli, which, if you would like to read them, are available in an electronic format. Even today I find these speeches quite interesting for their doctrine, pastoral inspiration, literary sophistication; they are perforce human and civil.

All in all, I already knew not a little about the man called the “Pastor Angelicus” and “Defensor Civitatis.” We must nevertheless be grateful to Dr. Tornielli who, in this massive and well-documented biography, drawing from much unpublished material, restores for us the greatness and completeness of the figure of Pius XII.

He allows us to delve into his humanity, he allows us to rediscover his teaching. He brings again to our minds, for example, his encyclical on the liturgy, his reform of the rites of Holy Week, the great preparatory work that would flow into the conciliar liturgical reform.

Pius XII opened up the application of the historical-critical method to sacred Scriptures, and in the encyclical “Divino Afflante Spiritu,” established the doctrinal norms for the study of sacred Scripture, emphasizing the importance of its role in Christian life.

It is the same Pope Pacelli who, in the encyclical “Humani Generis,” takes evolutionary theory into consideration, albeit with care. Pius XII also gave notable impetus to missionary activity with the encyclicals “Evangelii Praecones,” 1951, and “Fidei Donum,” 1957 — this year is its 50th anniversary — highlighting the Church’s duty to proclaim the Gospel to the nations, as Vatican II would amply reaffirm.

The Pope refused to identify Christianity with Western culture or with a particular political system. There is more. Pius XII is still the Pope who gave the most room to women in his canonizations and beatifications: 54.4% of canonizations and 62.5% of beatifications.

Indeed, this Pontiff spoke often about women’s rights, affirming, in a 1957 radio message to a congress of the Italian Center for Women, for example, that women are called to “resolute action” even in the political and judiciary fields.

3. Unjust Accusations

These are only examples that show how much there is to discover, or rather, to rediscover, in the teaching of the Servant of God Eugenio Pacelli.

I was struck by the many allusions present in Tornielli’s book, from which emerge both the lucidity and the wisdom of the future Pontiff in the years that he was papal nuncio, first in Munich and then in Berlin, along with many traits of his humanity.

Thanks to the unedited correspondence with his brother Francesco, we are made aware of some clear judgments that he made on the nascent National Socialist movement and the great and grave interior drama he lived as Pope in regard to the attitude to maintain in the face of the Nazi persecution during the war.

Pius XII spoke of it several times in the course of his radio messages — and so it is completely out of place to speak of his “silences” — choosing a prudent approach. In regard to the “silences,” I happily advert to a well-documented article of professor Gian Maria Vian entitled “Il Silenzio Pio XII: alle origini della leggenda nera” (The Silence of Pius XII: At the Origins of the Black Legend), which was published in 2004 in the journal Archivum Historiae Pontificiae.

In this article Vian says, among other things, that the first to ask about the “silences of Pius XII” was the French Catholic philosopher Emmanuel Mounier in 1939, just a few weeks after the election of the Supreme Pontiff and in relation to Italian aggression in Albania.

A bitter polemic, of Soviet and communist origin — and, as we shall see, revived by certain exponents of the Russian Orthodox Church — grafted itself onto these questions. Rolf Hochhuth, author of “The Deputy,” the play that contributed to the creation of the black legend against Pius XII, has in a recent interview defined Pope Pacelli as a “demonic wimp,” while there are historians who only promote anti-Pius XII research and even call those who do not think as they do and dare to propose a different view on these matters “The Pacelli Brigade.”

It is impossible not to denounce this attack on good sense and reason that is often perpetrated on the pages of the newspapers.


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