Pius XII – santo presto?

Recently we discussed the impending expedited canonizations of the blessed popes John XXIII and John II, and the difficulties raised by the haste involved (not by any doubts regarding their sanctity). Two principal areas of concern were noted:that it might appear to be a case of popes looking after their own; and that their expedited canonizations might be part of an agenda to canonize Vatican II by canonizing the conciliar popes, which struck an atheist observer as a dubious strategy given the conflict that has riven the Church in the Council’s wake. Such an agenda gains a little more plausibility when we remember that Paul VI is also being considered for canonization. So it was with a mild sense of startlement that I read today the assertion that Pope Francis is considering canonizing Pope Pius XII, the last pre-conciliar pope, the bane of progressivist Catholics and often calumnied as “Hitler’s Pope” ( a charge historians are debunking with hearteningly increased frequency). The report cites an anonymous source in the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. The import of the piece is that not only is Francis considering canonizing the Venerable Pius XII, but doing so in the same way as with Bl John XXIII: without the validation of any miracles, but as a pure act of papal authority, invoking “scientia certa (certainty in knowledge), thereby jumping over the step of beatification”.

Ven Pope Pius XII

The mixed feelings with which I read this article take some sorting through. One the one hand, it is cheering to see Pius XII being accorded the attention he deserves, given the calumny his reputation has endured over his policy towards the Nazi regime and its persecution and genocide of the Jewish peoples of Europe. History will prove, and is proving, that Pius XII charted a highly difficult path through the murkiest of waters during World War II, balancing his concern for the welfare of the Church (surely a primary responsibility of a pope) and the need to afford assistance to the victims of Nazi persecution. He was never going to please everyone. In the end he opted to refrain from public and explicit condemnation for fear of a backlash against the Church in Nazi-controlled Europe, including the Vatican itself (as actually happened in Holland after its bishops spoke out too explicitly, a victim of which was Edith Stein, now St Theresa Benedicta of the Cross). Instead he used the resources of the Church in Italy and elsewhere, especially convents, to hide thousands of Jews and help them to escape. He was a brave, prudent pope, who loved the Church dearly and manifested a pastor’s heart, and suffered from the misunderstanding (and deliberate misrepresentation) of his policy of public silence and private assistance. His encyclicals are exceptional, and in them we can see the birth of the modern style of papal encyclical. He is yet another of a remarkable series of holy popes in the last 150 years.

On the other hand, if true, this intended course of action suggests yet again an easily misconstrued preference for papal canonizations, reinforcing the sense that popes look after their own. In Pope Francis’ case it is probably completely unjustified, and the possibility that an action could be misrepresented is no adequate reason for not doing it. Of more concern is the haste. Not haste post mortem, since the normative 50 years have now elapsed since Pius XII’s death, but haste in the completing of the process, bypassing miracles and beatification to bring Pius XII straight to sainthood. Again, this is not to doubt either Pius XII’s sanctity nor the legitimacy of such an act of papal infallibility. Rather, more consideration should be given to the public perception of yet more corner-cutting for papal canonizations. If they are holy men (and I feel they are) their causes can withstand the rigorous process of investigation normally employed by the Vatican.

Of course, if Pope Francis does act to expedite Pius XII’s advance to sainthood, it will be for a reason. Would it be to balance the post-conciliar popes with a pre-conciliar one, one indeed whose policies many see as having been rebuffed by the Council? In other words would he be seeking to show a symbolic impartiality towards both progressive and traditionalist? Could it be to raise the controversy over Pius XII’s papal policy to fever-pitch (an example of that making of “noise” he commended to youth in Rio) so that it might also finally be dealt with by such an act of approbation? (Would the secular world be impressed by such an exercise of papal authority, given that it rejects such papal authority except when it suits them?)

Given Francis’ reluctance to call himself “Pope”, preferring “Bishop of Rome”, it would be a striking example of papal power. Whatever the pitfalls, problems and implications, one thing is sure enough: Pius XII is worthy to be raised to the altars of the Church. Surely all Catholics could agree with that.

5 thoughts on “Pius XII – santo presto?

  1. Hi Father—thank you for the lovely insight…I am such a fan of John Paul II—a hero, albeit a spiritual hero, to me—with lots of weaving of paths during his time as pope and even after his death…small little coincidences to a casual observer, but much more to me….
    Regarding his holiness Pius XII–I’ve read two very good books about his time as pope–The Scarlet and the Black: The True Story of Monsignor Hugh O Flaherty, Hero of the Vatican Underground by JP Gallagher which provides a vivid account of the dark days of Nazi occupation in Rome and of the risk to life of the brave Monsignor O’Flarhery—always with the watchful eye of Pius in the background as he, Pius, did indeed walk a fine line…..
    the other book is La Popessa by Paul I. Murphy, R. Rene Arlington which is the story of Sister Pascalina who was a german nun and the right hand woman to Pius—leaving me with somewhat conflicting feelings regarding Pius.
    I am sure that there are many with conflicting feelings concerning John Paul, given the child abuse nightmare coming to light just as he was dying. I just can’t in my heart believe that he would have known of such and not acted, not in his younger days—but as he grew weary and feeble I am certain there was much “governing” he was not privy too—which seems to be a problem in the Vatican—-at any rate, I just wanted to share with you those two very good books and thank you for your candid clarity regarding these fast tract saints–
    blessings and love—Julie


    1. Hi Julie – a much delayed reply, I am sorry.

      La Popessa is more a figure of folklore than fact much of the time. She certainly did guard and support Pius XII with great devotion; and I have no doubt she exercised much influence over him, especially in later years. But Pius XII was no fool no dupe wither, and knew well how the Vatican worked. I suspect that most popes have had trusted aides and advisors wielding greater or lesser influence than the good sister. Perhaps what secured her a place in the history books, or rather the tabloid histories, is that this advisor was a woman. It must have been sinister! If it had been a priest, he would not now be remembered, of that I am certain.

      Pius XII was a magnificent pope in a most trying age: the worst war in human history and systematised national inhumanity, and then the onrush of the gales of change in their wake. He did amazingly well. God was with him, the latter’s weaknesses notwithstanding.



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