Page 4, 27th September 1963

27th September 1963
Page 4
Page 4, 27th September 1963 — THE TRUTH ABOUT PIUS XII

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Locations: Munich, Rome


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13, Cannily lligks

TT is a common thing for A" the reputation of a great man to suffer a de

cline once the forceful presence of his personality is removed.

It is just five years since Pope Plus XII died., and his personality has not been im mune from the usual process. But there is a stage beyond which legend correctives degenerate into unworthy and valueless denigration. In the ease of Pius that stage has now been reached and in some instances well passed. It is high time to call a halt to the process, and to take a fresh look at a pontificate which was not only great in its own right but a seedbed without which the revolution of Pope John would have been unthinkable. Of all the attacks on the memory of Pius XII. the most notorious has. of course. been that of German playwright, Rolf Hochhuth. So much has now been written that more discussion here would be superfluous.

The Curia

This attack, however, though brutal and misguided, can hardly make much impression against the weight of history. Far more insidiously damaging, in my view, are the attacks on Pius from within the Church.

One might have expected Curial reaction once he was dead. For years many Curial officials repressed under a cloak of sycophancy their contempt for a Pope who was so impatient of their tardiness that he carried on alone, over their heads.

The strength of their hostility. though shocking in the extreme when first encountered in Rome, is at least comprehensible. He had spent so much of his life in Rome that he knew all too well what went on in the Curia, and so made numerous efforts to appeal direct from the Pope to the world—hence his instant availability to the world and his inaccessibility to the clerical bureaucrats of Rome. It was his way of coping with the problem of the Curia.

But if Curial hostility is comprehensible, it is very odd to hear similar denigration from the lips of those who have jumped on to the progressive bandwagon. It has become the fashion in certain circles to interpret Pope John's renewing of the Church as an implied criticism of his predecessor.


The nadir of such denigration was reached recently in one of those passages of rank bad judgment that mar the brilliant reporting of Inside the Council. There is an evident tendency to criticise Pius XII for not being Pope John. The Pope who was described by the Sunday Times as "a man of saintly character and generous humanity, which made their impress. perhaps unbeknown, upon millions not of his own faith", is characterised by Mr. Kaiser as "a small town aristocrat".

It does Pope John no service to belittle his great predecessor, the more so as John himself was clearly aware that Pius's pontificate had formed an indispensable prelude to his own.

First and foremost. Pius XII brought the Church and the papacy into a totally new relationship with the world. His unstinting rotund of audiences and appreciative use of radio and television made him a more widely-respected figure than any previous pope and created large reserves of good-will. Yet this beloved figure is too often referred to nowadays as a recluse, an ascetic remote from the world. Could there be a greater travesty?

Teaching For the ordinary Catholic Pius XII is entitled to share the title 'Pope of the Blessed Sacrament'. His provision for the needs of industrial man allowed evening Masses, and by relaxing the fasting rules he increased opportunities for receiving communion, without which attendance as Mass is virtually incomplete.

But his greatest achievement was the steady stream of teaching coming from the papal throne for 19 years. Cardinal Godfrey put his finger on the hallmark of the reign when he wrote of "the remarkable zeal of the Pope for the spoken and written word".

The denigrators, faced by the sheer volume of Pius's efforts to teach all nations. take a new line. They complain that there was so much, and in Si) prolix a style, that no one took any notice. It simply is not true. Specialists in many fields studied his pronouncements with close attention.

It is admittedly true that his preoccupation with teaching caused him to leave day-to-day administration too entirely in Curial hands. But on the other hand his use of a :select band of highly competent German Jesuit scholars resulted in an everincreasing raising of intellectual standards.

His love for Germany is an underplayed keynote to his reign, and the papal court did not thank him for it. He was not only a mystic and saint among too many earthbound professionals, but a German among Italians. For many years his close friend was Mgr. Ludwig Kees, former leader of the German Central Catholic Party and later the Vox Germaniae in Pacelli's ear.

Kass was a bluntly outspoken adviser. a strong personality whom Pius admired because he was never afraid to speak his mind. (So much incidentally for that strange story that Pius so feared the presence of strong personalities that he sent Mgr. Montini away from him to


This friendship with Kaas was but one of the fruits of Pacelli's nunciature in Munich. Those years left him with much sympathy for German thoroughness and capacity for hard work-meticulous qualities which he shared, and a sensitivity for the movement of ecclesiastical thought in Germany.

As Pope he lived aloof and remote in a small German island. His loyal and discreet little 13 avarian nun-housekeeper, Mother Pasqualina Lehnert, supported on the domestic side the German atmosphere provided hy his secretary. Father Leiher; his research assistant Father Heninch, and his confessor, Father Bea. all Jesuits. The bureaucrats lauded the "Angelic Pastor" and by-passed his wishes, but hi a German team fostered his work. and others were studying and absorbing his range of teaching. not least of them Giuseppe Angelo Rontalli. Indeed this teaching was crucial. The intensity of incompatibility between the 'Semper !dem' school and those theologians more abreast of modern research had by 1950 reached such a pitch that only the Pope stood between the new men and a new Pascendi. But Harnani Getteris, issued in August 1950, was a very different proposition. While mollifying the Idemitee by advising prudence, it nevertheless refrained from any censure and actually encouraged fresh research and thought.

Bible 11 is as protector and director of biblical studies that Pius XII merits the fullest gratitude of those who understand that Vatican II "has the task f renewal according to the Gospel, and thus Of preparing for reunion." Fr. Bea was appointed Rector of the Pontifical Biblical Institute in 1930. but then as now its work was regarded with considerable suspicion by those who remembered all too well the snares of modernism. In 1943, however, in the encyclical Divitto Afflaitte Spirit u. Pius XII gave what amounted to a papal mandate to the biblical scholars to delve with every resource at their command into the IleilsReschichte the history of divine intervention in hunian affairs, the special insight given by the Scriptures into the mystery of the Incarnation, that delving into the Word upon which the Ernetterting depends.

And having rescued the biblical movement within four years of his accession, Pius gave it continued papal encouragement and protection for the remainder of his pontificate.


Pius XII extended his arms to the whole world in war and peace with a willingness that brought thousands to him in Rome. and a grasp of modern communications that took him to millions beyond, familiarising the tuitions with the Pope as the Good Shepherd. For teachers and scholars he provided an unprecedented corpus of teaching to be mined; for the laymen he opened the way to deeper understanding with Mediator Del and the new Holy Week Liturgy. And with the careful attention he gave to the fragile seedling Of biblical studies he made his pontificate one of the most germinative in the Church's history. preparing it for the blossoming of Pope John's spring. 1 hese things should not he forgotten.

1.ike all men he made errors of judgment, like all men he had faults. Certainly the over-adulation accorded him while he lived needed modification. But when the historians come to give their overall picture and to assess the significance of Pius Xll's pontificate, they will not see him as a small town aristocrat. More and more one thinks of him as Pius the Great.

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