“On March 2, 1939, Eugenio Pacelli became the 260th Pope. Some journalists described him as the last representative of the Church anchored in the past, emphasizing only the discontinuities with his holy Successor. However, Pius XII is still a personality to be studied, and this will be facilitated by the opening of the Vatican archives on his pontificate,” said Andrea Tornielli, in an editorial published by “Vatican News” and l’Osservatore Romano in Italian on March 3, 2019.
Pope Eugenio Pacelli, who knew perfectly well the dark pages of the 20th century, was a hostage of the Bolshevik revolutionaries. He witnessed the birth of Nazism and, as a young Apostolic Nuncio in Munich, he noted the danger, especially in a letter addressed to Cardinal Pietro Gasparri, writing: “Nationalism is, perhaps, the most dangerous heresy of our time.”
As Secretary of State, he was a loyal collaborator of Pius XI, sharing his aversion to totalitarian ideologies, but also anxious to find a modus vivendi with the most hostile countries, to guarantee a minimum of freedom to Christians. He became Pope exactly 80 years ago, on the eve of a War that would cost the life of more than 50 million people, culminating in the tragedy of the Holocaust, the genocide of six million Jews perpetrated by the Nazis.
He was a much-loved Pontiff during his life. He was honoured with the title Defensor Civitatis, at the beginning of a great charitable activity, for all those who were persecuted during the War. He reigned during the difficult post-War years, pointing out the path for the building of democracy of all the positive things that had been swept away by the conflict. He was a leader of crucial political events for Italy. A certain historiographical debate, fortunately less impassioned today, presented him as the “Pope of silences” for his attitude during the Shoah.
However, a more peaceful and complete judgment of his pontificate helps to understand how through his decisions and magisterium, Pope Eugenio Pacelli was a bridge between two eras, including in the ecclesial realm. It was he who in 1952, during the cold War, was the first to update, in face of Communism, the traditional Christian distinction between error and wander.
Pius XII published very important doctrinal documents and contributed to the desires developed by Vatican Council II, becoming the most quoted Pope: he began the application of the historical-critical method for the study of the Bible; he supported the liturgical movement and renewed the Holy Week Rites. He took into consideration the theory of evolution, and opened himself to natural methods for responsible paternity and maternity. He internationalized the College of Cardinals. In 1946 he created the largest number of new Cardinals in history, which continued to be the largest creation of Cardinals for 55 years. As a percentage of the ceremonies over which he presided, he canonized the largest number of women, more than all his predecessors and successors.