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The Catholic Historical Review 93.1 (2007) 200-201

Reviewed by
Paul Misner
Marquette University, Emeritus
Pie XII: Diplomate et Pasteur. By Philippe Chenaux. (Paris: Les éditions du Cerf. 2003. Pp. 462. €28 paperback.)

Chenaux was on the spot when the Vatican archives rendered accessible to researchers its holdings concerning relations with Germany during the pontificate of Pope Pius XI (1922-1939). Since the person most concerned with Vatican relations with Germany was Eugenio Pacelli, first as nuncio in Munich and Berlin, then as Pietro Gasparri's successor as Secretary of State, these archives enabled Chenaux to write the first rigorously scholarly biography of Pius XII, as the book cover boasts. It has one notable advantage over the many treatments of Pius XII and the Shoah: it alone to date can put the silence of Pius XII in the context of his earlier and later years, his formation, experiences, and conduct of office behind and around that silence.

The epilogue states the thesis about the two roles named in the subtitle, "diplomat and pastor." By training and experience a diplomat, with his pastoral orientation sidelined, he confronted the impotence of diplomacy as Hitler prepared his invasions. As pope, then, from 1939, he turned more to the pastoral mode of protecting his flock as best he could, in Rome and elsewhere under Nazi rule. He did this without abandoning for some time the policy of "impartiality" which he had imbibed as Benedict XV's envoy during World War I. He did not conceive his pastoral duties as broadly as Pius XI had, however, and in effect was willing to forgo moral denunciations for the sake of a more pressing [End Page 200] salus animarum (p. 413). Only the war years brought him to opt for a Western victory, though he feared it would favor the Soviets as well.

A chapter (pp. 267-304) is devoted to the "Jewish question" and his silence in regard to the "final solution." This may seem like short shrift, but actually Chenaux seems to cover all the relevant bases, except that he does not wonder more about the failure of Pius to come back to the calamity after the war. When Jacques Maritain asked him to reprove anti-Semitic killings in Catholic Poland after the Nazis left, the pope told him that he had deplored all such acts in 1945, addressing a delegation of deported Jews who had come to thank him for his wartime aid. Chenaux asks, "The pontiff had the feeling that he had done his duty, but did he have much idea of the extent of the tragedy suffered by the Jewish people and above all of the possible partial responsibility of the Church in the unleashing of the Nazi horrors?" Postwar conditions and the imperative of defending Western civilization from Communism, it would seem, "dictated other priorities" (p. 304). Was he suffering any pangs of conscience for not having spoken out for Poland before the war? "The least one can say is that defending the territorial integrity of Poland did not figure among the aims of the Holy See's peace policy in the waning days of August 1939" (p. 237).

Chenaux acknowledges the quality of historical research on the pope's silence by such historians as Michael Phayer, Susan Zuccotti, Giovanni Miccoli, and Renato Moro. Beyond this prevailing question that besets the process for the pope's beatification, Chenaux lays out a wealth of information on the official life of Eugenio Pacelli in all its many ramifications and puts many an episode in a new light. This handsome volume is not a personal or spiritual biography, but a valuable account, based in large part on archival research, that in all likelihood will stand alone as such for a number of years.1


1. Readers of The Catholic Historical Review will note with chagrin that it is dubbed The Historical Catholic Review (HCR) and that Cardinal Stritch becomes "Stricht" (p. 376).



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