Pope Pius XII (1876–1958)
Pius XII, John XXIII's immediate predecessor, was the first pope to be heard widely on radio and seen on television. Opinions about his possible canonization vary, however, because of some his policies during World War II.
Pius XII was born Eugenio Pacelli. Ordained in 1899, his was not to be the path of the typical Italian parish priest. Just two years after his ordination he entered the papal service, teaching international law to papal diplomats in Rome. He became nuncio to Bavaria in 1917, then to the new German Republic in 1920, and finally, before his accession to the papacy, held the post of papal secretary of state. He admired the strength of German Catholicism. When he became pope on March 2, 1939, he chose Germans for his close advisers.
As Pope Pius XII, he promoted Marian devotion and declared a Marian year, defining the church dogma that is known as the Assumption. The number of dioceses during his papacy grew from 1,696 to 2,048. Pius XII also appointed many native bishops in Asia and Africa and bestowed a cardinal's hat on some bishops from those continents. He also struggled against the growing menace of Communism, which he strongly opposed, during those years. He served as pope until his death on October 9, 1958.
In recent years, however, there has been some controversy as Pius XII has been accused of appeasing Germany during World War II. The Vatican defends the silence from the papacy at that time as discretion: the pope could accomplish more by not facing down the Nazis. He was, after all, a trained diplomat.
But his opponents say the pope could have done much more to save Jews during the Holocaust — he could at least have spoken out against Hitler. On the other hand, some Jewish leaders support the pope, saying he did manage to save Jewish lives during the war, as well as sending financial help to those in need.
Pius XII's canonization is not likely to be soon, because of the controversies that surround him. It is difficult to know what was in the mind and heart of Pius XII during the war.
Did his affection for Germany keep him from recognizing evil in the rise of Hitler? Did it blind him from doing more? Or did he accomplish more than anyone has thought, but quietly? The issue is not likely to be resolved to the satisfaction of both sides in this continuing drama.