Pope Pius XIIFATHER GEORGE W. RUTLER
As a child, Eugenio Maria Giuseppe Giovanni Pacelli was moved when an uncle told him of a missionary who been crucified. He said that he wanted to be a martyr but "without the nails."
In dire days of the last dark world war, one man said after a papal audience: "Pius XII judges everything from a perspective that surpasses human beings, their undertakings and their quarrels. . . . Pious, compassionate, political -- such does this pontiff and sovereign appear to me because of the respect that he inspires in me." That was the assessment of General Charles de Gaulle, who was thrifty in his praise of men. To the outrage of the Vichy government, the pope had received him as head of the new provisional government in June of 1944, even before the liberation of France.
His crucifixion without nails began when the mannerly diplomat met face-to-face with Evil, who has two faces and hides one. Through trials Pacelli learned that the strengths of diplomacy can weaken the apostle, which is why the only one of the Twelve to destroy himself was all diplomat and no apostle. Forged in earnestness by Pius XI, who was no friend to subtlety, Pacelli constantly mortified his aesthetic desire to imagine things that should be as if they were.
The faulty architecture of human history is postwar and prewar at the same time. Pius XII never doubted that, after a hot war, a cold war would be long. Jozsef Cardinal Mindszenty was a symbol of the affliction of a new darkness, and the pope defended him with an uncompromising zeal that sustained the cardinal in later years when he felt bereft. The pope was satisfied that tyrants should die and closely followed attempts on the life of Hitler. As an incarnation of the tradition of immutable natural law, he concisely explained capital punishment: "Even in the case of the death penalty the State does not dispose of the individual's right to life. Rather, public authority limits itself to depriving the offender of the good of life in expiation for his guilt, after he, through his crime, deprived himself of his own right to life." His simultaneous impulse of mercy could be startling, as when he twice pleaded for clemency for the convicted spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg -- and, in an unprecedented act, published his appeals to President Eisenhower in L'Osservatore Romano.
It is dangerous to play Monday-morning quarterback when taking the measure of a man's soul. In American-Indian lore, you can only know a man if you have walked in his moccasins. With a pope, this means walking in the Shoes of the Fisherman, and only a pope can do that. His was a rare voice in a world of immoral silence. Today that silence is deafening in those same institutions that, in those war years, ignored the progress of evil: the universities, the media, and the courts. No one who lives is subhuman: no baby, however young, and no invalid, however old. To say that in our generation is to indict the academics, journalists, and jurists who stammer when the voice of God calls out, as in Eden: "Where are you?"
Rev. George W. Rutler. "Pope Pius XII." Inside Catholic (October 14, 2008).
Reprinted with permission of InsideCatholic.com. The mission of InsideCatholic.com is to be a voice for authentic Catholicism in the public square.
Father Rutler contributes to numerous scholarly and popular journals and has published 14 books on theology, history, cultural issues, and the lives of the saints, and also one book on sports, as a member of the U.S. Squash Racquets Association. Among his books are: A Crisis of Saints: Essays on People and Principles, Brightest and Best, Saint John Vianney: The Cure D'Ars Today, Crisis in Culture, Adam Danced: The Cross and the Seven Deadly Sins,
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