With all the talk last month about the impending canonization of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II, only a few are still discussing the interesting news that Pius XII, the last Pope prior to the Second Vatican Council, may also be raised to the altars and by the same dispensation as his successor, Papa Roncalli. One wonders why?
Rome's eagerness to canonize John XXIII and John Paul II reflect a desire to canonize the Second Vatican Council and the "Spirit" of the Second Vatican Council respectively. But what would make them want to canonize Papa Pacelli? Francis has been compared to John Paul II for his liturgical praxis, but at least this observer finds him more analogous to Paul VI than to the Pope from Poland. Which brings us to a potential answer. Pius XII made Paul VI, and in a great many ways.
As the Rad Trad has said before, Pius XII is the least understood Pope in centuries. He is condemned for the good he did and lauded for the ills of his pontificate. Traditionalists and liberals alike see him as the tiara-wearing, Thomistic, Latin Mass-defending bastion of orthodoxy that preceded the radical changes that began with "Pope John's Council" in 1962. This is romantic (or horrific, depending on one's perspective) rubbish. As previously stated on this blog, Pope Pius was a modernizer, neither a liberal nor a conservative, so his canonization would not necessarily vindicate either side's view. In more sensible times his cause would have had ecumenical implications with the Jewish people, but the media have blemished his reputation since the play The Deputy in 1966 and have painted him as a seething anti-Semite or passive Nazi-enabler; neither characterization could be further from the truth.
Yet his work on behalf of the Jewish people in the face of their extermination might be the only clear cut good on Papa Pacelli's part. His primary duty, to preserve the Catholic Church through the Second World War, was less than successful. Most of the Church hierarchy was disbanded, understandably, in Germany and Poland—less so in the lower countries which had Catholic Italy as a cultural boundary against too much Nazi secularism. The rebuilding of the European Church after the War was unsuccessful. Sure, American money—provided by Americanist bishops like Cushing and Spellman—restored the physical plants, but no revival of the faith took place in Europe. Poland had withstood secularism during the War and continued to do so, far from American influence, nestled behind the Iron Curtain. Perhaps one reason the Traditionalist movement began in France is because Church influence and Mass attendance had been declining since the reign of Louis XVI. French Catholics had no illusions, no glass house like American and English Catholics. One rarely heard Pius XII speak on matters of Church-State relations in a theological context. His concerns always seemed more practical and concerned with rights rather than public religion. More Paul VI than Pius XI in my opinion.
|Pope Pius XII with his protégé some time after 1956, when|
the Pontiff's health was in rapid decline.
Which brings us to one point too long overlooked: Pius XII made Paul VI. Sure, there are the stories of Msgr. Montini, a secretary in the Vatican, celebrating Mass with university students huddled around his altar—a forerunner to the modern day Newman center if there ever was one, which Pius XII's aristocratic nature did not meet well. And yet we find from his days as a cardinal, Eugenio Pacelli raised Giovanni Battista Montini through the ranks with startling efficiency, almost to denote his successor. Pacelli, as Vatican Secretariat of State under Pius XI, hired Montini for prestigious diplomatic work. Aside from a minor assignment in Poland, Montini worked under Pacelli's tutelage for the better part of three decades, including during the War, a time when other members of the Vatican diplomatic core, like Archbishop Angelo Roncalli, were engaged in active field work. There is, of course, the tale that Montini furtively held negotiations with Russian communists during the War, inciting the fury of his superior, by that point Supreme Pontiff, who promptly exiled him from the Vatican to the archdiocese of Milan. We should not be surprised if there had been contact between Rome and the Soviets, given the ease with which John XXIII acquired Orthodox observers at the Vatican Council a few years later, but this would indicate that the connection between the two parties was well-developed. Which causes us to re-examine the canard of Montini's exile: Msgr. Montini, a priest, was transferred from an under-secretarial position in the Vatican to one of the most important episcopal sees in the world (which had produced the previous pope at the time) and received his consecration from the Pontiff himself. If anything, Pius was denoting his eventual successor. Much is made of the fact that Montini did not get the red hat. Neither did Cushing and many others. Montini was raised to the episcopacy in 1956, three years after Pius XII's second and last consistory. Interestingly, Pope Pius also gave Frs. Suenens, Wojtyla, and Cushing their first episcopal work.
convert to the faith, novelist, and
lay liturgical critic.
Lastly there is the liturgical question. Pope Paul stated explicitly in his bull Missale Romanum, which introduced the new ordinary of the Mass to the Roman rite of the Church, that this new praxis was the culmination of a renewal process which began under Pius XII. Given Montini's daily first hand knowledge of Papa Pacelli, one would be hard pressed to dispute this claim. Novelist Evelyn Waugh once wrote "many of the innovations, which many of us find so obnoxious, were introduced by Pius XII." Waugh's tone aside, he hits the "nail on the head" here. Evening Masses, vernacular Masses, people muddling through spoken responses, the new Holy Week, and other novelties came about with official approval from Pope Pius. He certainly was not a fan of other novel practices, like the lay offertory procession—which he condemned in Mediator Dei, but he did very little to stop other innovations such as Mass versus populum.
Depending on one's perspective, all of this could be good or could be bad, but, as the saying goes, you are entitled to your own opinion, not your own facts. Pope Francis is an enthusiast of Paul VI, the Pope of his seminary formation and early priesthood. He knows that Pius XII, far from being a 19th century stuff-shirt, was in fact a very modern Pope who set the stage for Council and the liturgical renovations of the 1960s and 1970s which formed the modern hierarchy. It is the Rad Trad's opinion that Pope Francis, God love him, may be seeking to canonize Pius XII for the same reason he intends to canonize John XXIII and John Paul II: to canonize the what people perceive as the changes associated with the Second Vatican Council.