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Pius XII

Pope from 1939. Ordained priest in 1899, Eugenio Pacelli had his first taste of life in the Vatican in 1901 when he entered the secretariat under Leo XIII. He held a succession of important posts before being created a cardinal and the papal secretary of state by Pius XI in 1930. He served as a papal legate to the Eucharistic Congress in Buenos Aires and at other important events in the USA and Europe. Never before had a secretary traveled outside Italy. Pius XI unofficially made it known that he wished his secretary to succeed him, and at the conclave following his death his wishes were realized and Pius XII appeared to give his blessings Urbe et Orbi.

According to his admirers he was a very able statesman, a great teacher, a custodian of sound doctrine, a champion of neutrality and internationalism, a follower of Pius XI’s policy of concordatory relations, and a militant anti-Communist. To his detractors he was a gifted politician who skillfully adapted traditional curial practice to the circumstances of World War II and its aftermath. On internal church affairs it seemed at first that Pius XII would respond to the call for renewal. This is seen, for example, in the encyclicals of 1943—Mystici Corporis (which emphasized the church as mystical body of Christ) and Divino Afflante Spiritu (which gave the hope of a return to biblical studies in the church)—and that of 1947, Mediator Dei, on the Liturgy. But in 1950 he issued Humani Generis, which revoked some concessions made in the sphere of biblical studies, and thereby prepared the way for the proclamation of the dogma of the Assumption* of the Virgin Mary (1950), and the promulgation of the Marian Year for 1954.

His conservatism also was revealed in his project to discover the tomb of Peter beneath the Vatican and his zeal to canonize his predecessors. He elevated Pius X and Innocent I, revived the cause of the sanctification of the Blessed Innocent V and Gregory X, and initiated the cause of Pius IX. He died at his villa in Castel Gandolfo, and his death seems to have been the end of an epoch in the history of the papacy.

Bibliography: O. Halecki, Eugenio Pacelli: Pope of Peace (1951); J.R. Mc Knight, The Papacy: A New Appraisal (1952); K. Burton, Witness of the Light: The Life of Pope Pius XII (1958); S. Friedlander, Pius XII and the Third Reich (1965); C. Falconi, The Silence of Pius XII (1970).