Pope Pius XII

Pope XII

Eugenio Pacelli was born in Rome on 2nd March, 1876. He attended Capranica Seminary and was ordained in 1899. As well as carrying out parish work he took a degree in Canon and Civil Law at the Apollinaris.

During the First World War he was involved in organizing humanitarian relief. In 1917 Pope Benedict XV sent him to Germany where he had a meeting with Kaiser Wilhelm II but the peace plan was rejected.

When the Weimar Republic was established after the war Pope Benedict XV created a nunciature and Pacelli was sent to Berlin. He remained in Germany until 1929 when he was made a cardinal.

In 1929 Pope Pius XI signed the Lateran Treaty with Benito Mussolini which brought into existence the Vatican state. The following year Pacelli became Secretary of State. This involved him in diplomatic work and included a visit to the United States.

Pope Pius XI condemned the Nuremberg Laws in July, 1938, and was preparing an encyclical against anti-Semitism, when he died on 10th February, 1939. Pacelli now became Pope Pius XII.

After the outbreak of the Second World War Pius XII issued a five-point peace programme. When this failed he organized humanitarian work for prisoners of war and refugees. However, he did not openly speak out against the atrocities being carried out in Nazi Germany. Nor did he do very much to save the Jews in Rome.

Pius XII refused the request of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in September 1942 to denounce the Nazi persecution of the Jews in Europe. The nearest he came to public condemnation of the Holocaust was in his Christmas message of 1942 when he said: "Humanity owes this vow to those hundreds of thousands who, without any fault of their own, sometimes only by reason of their nationality or race, are marked down for death or gradual extinction." However, he resisted mentioning the Jews by name.

Pius XII was also criticised for his failure to act in Croatia during the Second World War. Croatia, a Catholic state, was responsible for the killing of 487,000 Orthodox Serbs, 27,000 Gypsies and around 30,000 Jews between 1941 and 1945.

After the war Pius XII gave his support for the United Nations. He also introduced reforms that made it easier for Catholics to attend Mass and receive Holy Communion. Pope Pius XII died on 9th October, 1958.