Cardinal Bertone on Pius XII (Part 3)

“Action, Not Lamentation, Is the Precept of the Hour”

VATICAN CITY, JUNE 7, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the final part of a speech given Tuesday by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone. He gave it 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).

* * *

6. “Action, Not Lamentation, is the Precept of the Hour”

Having said this, after having looked at the 11 volumes — in 12 tomes — of the “Actes et Documents du Saint Siège” that cover the Second World War, after having read dozens of folders with hundreds of documents on the thoughts and actions of the Apostolic See during that conflict, one gets a taste of the violent and biased polemics — countless volumes, full of violent and false ideology.

I think that the “Actes,” printed by order of Paul VI — who served as undersecretary of state in the terrible period of 1939-1945, could be usefully completed by the documents that fall under the archival heading of “Ecclesiastical States,” which include documents regarding the obligation of the Holy See and the Catholic Church to take charge of the duty of charity toward all.

It is an area of the archive that has not been sufficiently explored, given that we are dealing here with thousands of personal cases. The smallest state in the world, neutral in the absolute sense, listened to each one individually, acknowledging every voice that asked for help or an audience. Unfortunately, this documentation is unavailable because it is not organized.

It would be nice if, with the help of some charitable foundation, these documents conserved by the archives of the Holy See could be catalogued in a short period of time! The directive that Pope Pius XII gave in 1942 on the radio, in the press, and through diplomatic channels was clear. In the tragic year of 1942 he told everyone: “Action, not lamentation, is the precept of the hour.”

The wisdom of this affirmation is testified to by a myriad of documents: diplomatic notes, urgent consistories, specific instructions — to Cardinal Bertram, to Cardinal Schuster, etc., etc., etc. — to do what was possible to save people, preserving the neutrality of the Holy See.

This neutrality allowed the Pope to save not only Europeans but other prisoners as well. I am thinking of the awful situation in Poland and the humanitarian interventions in Southeast Asia. Pius XII never signed circulars or proclamations. His instructions were given verbally. And bishops, priests, religious, and lay people all understood what had to be done. The countless audience papers with the comments of Cardinals Maglione and Tardini, among other things, were testimony to this. Then the protests or the rejections of the Holy See’s humanitarian requests would arrive.

7. Denounce or Act?

Allow me to recount a little episode that took place in the Vatican in October 1943. At the time, besides the Papal Gendarmes — about 150 persons — and the Swiss Guard — about 110 persons — there was also the Palatine Guard. To protect the 300 or so people of the Vatican and its extraterritorial properties then, there were 575 Palatine Guards. Well, the secretary of state asked the occupying power if the Palatine Guard could enlist another 4,425 people. The Jewish ghetto was nearby …

The editors of “Actes et Documents” could not print all the thousands of personal cases. The Pope, at the time, had other priorities: He could not make his “wishes” known but wanted to act, within the limits imposed by the circumstances, according to his clear program.

For honest people some legitimate questions arise: When did Pius XII meet with Mussolini? He met him in 1932 as cardinal secretary of state but as Pope, never! When did Cardinal Pacelli meet with Hitler? Never! When did the Pope meet with Mussolini and Hitler together? Never! If that never happened, if two states did not consider talking with the Pope, what should the Pontiff himself do: denounce through declarations or act?

Pius XII chose the second course, which is testified to by many Jewish sources throughout Europe. Perhaps we should provide a copy of these abundant expressions of gratitude and esteem by Jews for the human and spiritual ministry of this great Pope. The book, which we can read today, adds another plug not only for the figure of a great Pontiff, but also for the whole silent but effective work of the Church during the life of a shepherd that passed through the storms of two world conflicts — Pacelli was nuncio to Bavaria from 1917 — and the tragic construction of the Iron Curtain, behind which millions of children of God lost their lives. Heir to the Church of the Apostles, the Church of Pius XII continued to work not only by means of a prophetic word but above all by means of daily prophetic action.

8. Concluding Note

In conclusion, I would like to thank Andrea Tornielli for this book, which contributes to a better understanding of the luminous apostolic action of the figure of the Servant of God Pius XII.

This is a useful service to the Church, a useful service of truth. It is right to discuss, delve into, debate, confront. But it is important that one guard oneself against the gravest error of the historian, that is, anachronism, judging the reality of that time with the eyes and mentality of today.

How profoundly unjust it is to judge the work of Pius XII during the war with the veil of prejudice, forgetting not only the historical context but also the enormous work of charity that the Pope promoted, opening the doors of seminaries and religious institutes, welcoming refugees and persecuted people, helping all.

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