He was born Eugenio Maria Giuseppe Giovanni Pacelli on March 2, 1876 in a third floor apartment in the Palazzo Pediconi along the narrow Via degli Orsini in the shadow of St. Peter's across the Tiber. His father had been dean of the College of Vatican Lawyers and when he was a young boy the family moved to a larger home practically a stone's throw from the Vatican in a magnificent villa at 290 Via Aurelia, which today is the General House for the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate. Law had been part and parcel of the Pacelli family since 1819 when Cardinal Caterini had asked his nephew Marcantonio Pacelli to study Canon Law in Rome. It was Marcantonio who, besides being Eugenio's grandfather, founded the official Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, still going strong today. The Pacelli family were robust and lived long. Marcantonio lived to be 102 and his brother Felice lived one year longer. In fact, the latter spanned three centuries, being born in 1799 and dying in 1902. Marcantonio had ten children, one of whom - Filippo followed in his father's footsteps and became a solictor at the Sacra Rota. He took for his wife the diminutive, pious and pretty Virginia Graziozi and together they had four children: Giuseppina, Francesco, Eugenio, and Elizabetta. The family was extremely close and Filippo strongly encouraged his children to follow in the family tradition of law. Francesco took up the calling, becoming the dean of the lawyers of the Holy Rota and playing a significant role in negotiating the Concordat known as the Lateran Treaty which officially recognized Vatican City as a sovereign state during the pontificate of Pope Pius IX. While both Francisco and Eugenio were involved in law and the Vatican, the latter had a higher calling and opted for the seminary, much to his father's chagrin. But after a year of trying to talk him out of it, Filippo gave his blessings to his younger son and Eugenio entered Capranica College, a famous and aristocratic seminary in Rome.
He was ordained Padre Pacelli on April 2, 1899 and stayed in the realm of law by becoming a professor of Canon Law at the Academy of Noble Ecclesiastics in Rome. Pope Leo XIII appointed him Papal Secretariat of State in 1901 and three years later Leo's successor Pope Saint Pius X assigned Father Pacelli and Archbishop Pietro Gasparri the monumental task of working up a new codification of Canon Law which was completed and issued in 1917. Gasparri not only went on to become Cardinal Gasparri but served as Secretariat of State for the Holy See under Pope Benedict XV and Pope Pius XI. Father Pacelli was awarded the title of Monsignor in 1905 and nine years later one of Pope St. Pius X's final appointments was rewarding Eugenio for his tireless efforts by naming him Secretary of the Papal Department of Extraordinary Eccelesiastical Affairs. Three years later Benedict XV consecrated Monsignor Pacelli a bishop, naming him Titular Archbishop of Sardes and assigning him as Apostolic Nuncio to Bavaria. He became the Pope's eyes, ears and voice in an attempt to end World War I through Papal mediation. He was well received by the Kaiser King Ludwig III of Bavaria and German Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg, but peace was delayed when the Russian Revolution gave a false sense of hope to the Kaiser that victory was within reach with the fall of the Czarist regime. Because of this setback, the Kaiser rebuked overtures for peace in 1915. Four years later the Spartacists invaded Pacelli's Nunciature in Munich and angrily pointed their loaded rifles at the future Pope. Pacelli had always longed to be a martyr but God had other plans for this special, chosen prelate and the Holy Spirit inspired him to say to the would-be firing squad in a calm tone, "It is never wise to kill a diplomat." Alarmed at his calmness, they turned on their heels and left with no further disturbance.
In 1920 Benedict XV, pleased with the diplomatic demeanor of Bishop Pacelli, named him the first Papal Nuncio to Germany after the war. During that time he negotiated concordats between the Vatican and the German provinces of Bavaria in 1924 and Prussia in 1929. With that concluded Bishop Pacelli was called back to Rome by Benedict's successor Pope Pius XI who elevated him to the cardinalate and reassigned Cardinal Pacelli as his new Secretariat of State upon the retirement of his good friend and mentor Cardinal Gasparri. In this role Cardinal Pacelli carried out the Pope's policies, acquiring the reputation of being a fair, expert and holy diplomat. He also set a precedent that has since been taken to new heights by our present Pontiff Pope John Paul II - traveling throughout the world. He had already traveled throughout Europe, now his travels took him to Argentina and Brazil 1934 and the United States in 1936 with stops in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. where he met with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The American press dubbed him the "Flying Cardinal."
Meanwhile on the home front back in Italy, the Italian Catholic clergy were, for the most part, pro-Fascist in their leanings and this had been very advantageous for the overall plans of Benito Mussolini who had convinced King Victor Emmanuel III, king of Italy, to turn over parliamentary control to "Il Duce" in 1922 in order to avert civil war. The same time Pacelli was visiting Roosevelt, Mussolini was following his Roman predecessor Julius Caesar. He was invading Africa, conquering Ethiopia. His popularity was at an all-time high and Pacelli had to tread carefully. In 1931 extreme Italian Fascists called "Black Shirts" attacked the organizational clout of "Catholic Action" by trying to curtail the powerful voice of L'Osservatore Romano. They seized news stands and burned the papers in the streets. Pius XI reacted vehemently to such an act of aggression and issued his encyclical Non Abbiamo Bisogno on June 29, 1931. However, the Church was in a ticklish situation at that time, balancing politics and prelates; besides, Pacelli had even more pressing matters with another organization in his own Nuncio - the Third Reich.
Part of Pacelli's priesthood had been taken up with the turmoil in postwar Germany. As Papal Nuncio to Bavaria, Prussia and then Berlin he was very aware of another up-and-coming leader, one who had also had a calling to the seminary, but chose otherwise, overcome by the world, the flesh and the devil to such a degree that he was indeed, to the people of this era, the antichrist incarnate. This man was, of course, Adolf Hitler who had spread his gospel of racial hatred as he worked his way up the ladder of post-war Germany's political structure. In 1930, his Nazi Party gained an unprecedented 95 seats in the Reichstag, the German Parliament and the destruction was underway. He fed the frenzy of fear to the people by stirring up hate against Jews, Communists, homosexuals and even Catholics who were Jewish sympathizers. The anti-Semitism and anti-Catholic sentiments bothered Cardinal Pacelli greatly. He had developed a deep friendship for the German people, especially for the German Catholics and feared reprisal of them by Hitler if he spoke out too strongly. In addition, the more he did speak out against Hitler's tactics the more the people objected. He knew in his heart that Hitler was pure evil, but try to tell the people that. Once Hitler landed the title of chancellor in 1933, it was only a short matter of time before he established himself as dictator, passing laws without going through the normal legislative process. This enabled him to tilt the scale in favor of his agenda. Those who protested he squashed with the help of his secret police known as the Gestapo. As he intensified his buildup of arms, he opened more and more factories, employing thousands upon thousands of formerly unemployed Germans. They were now mesmerized by his leadership and would follow him anywhere...even into war.
That is exactly where he led them and it was the rumblings of war that ushered in the pontificate of Pius XII. With Pius XI's death on February 10th, 1939 the cardinals convened to elect Cardinal Pacelli on the third ballot on the first day of conclave. It was practically unanimous for he received 48 out of 53 total votes. The only opposition came from the Nazi sympathizers which speaks volumes to Pius' loyalties to the Church and the Jews. Choosing to honor his predecessor he chose the name "Pius XII." From his first day he was elected - his 63rd birthday on March 2, 1939 - he strove to be the "Pope of Peace," endeavoring to avert war through all the diplomatic prowess he could muster. But he was dealing with the devil and he realized that only too well. Sadly he was helpless to stop Hitler from invading Poland, then other countries and soon Mussolini had drawn Italy into the fray on Germany's side. He was heartbroken for his strengths were diplomacy and, to his way of thinking, he had failed. To avoid further bloodshed he realized, as evil as the Third Reich was, he had to remain "neutral" in the eyes of the world but worked tirelessly behind the scenes, secretly advising cardinals and bishops to extend every courtesy and shelter possible to their Jewish brethren to escape detection. It is estimated that through his actions hundreds of thousands of Jews were saved from the Holocaust. When you compare that to the millions gassed at Auschwitz and other Nazi death camps, it might pale in comparison but it is unrealistic to think one man could have stopped the carnage. After all, John Paul II has spoken out strongly against the killings in East Timor, Africa, Kosovo and other trouble spots throughout the world and still the slaughter continues. To use Pius XII as a scapegoat is a grave wrong that has been refuted by World War II archivists - both Catholic and Jew.
There is so much that has been written on Pius XII during the war and which space simply doesn't permit here. Suffice it to say. Pius did everything humanly possible to save the Jews and all other of God's children. All the diplomatic efforts of Pius XII were silenced by the deafening sound of the roar of guns and bombs as the war spread to the Pacific rim with the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Though the Pope pleaded with a world gone mad to stop this senseless killing, the slaughter continued as proud men gone berserk maintained their course of destruction. Pius XII established diplomatic relations with Japan, China's Chiang Kai-shek, and Finland, in an effort to gain support for peace. But it wasn't enough. Japan was on a kamikaze mission, Finland had no clout and China was embroiled in their own internal turmoil. Italy paid the brunt in 1943 when the Nazi Luftwaffe strafed the Vatican but thankfully most of Vatican City was miraculously preserved.
To stop this the Americans invaded Italy from the south and sent wave after wave of bombers. In trying to weaken the Germans and discourage Italian participation they sent wave after wave of bombers on Rome and vicinity, leaving a trail of destruction, especially the famed Benedictine Monte Cassino Monastery that had stood the test of time for nearly 15 centuries. Pius penned a protesting letter to Roosevelt while at the same time King Victor summoned Mussolini and had the Fascist dictator placed under house arrest on July 25, 1943, appointing in his stead the peace-oriented Marshal Badoglio. Three weeks later America had Italy on their knees both in prayer and surrender when allied bombers again strafed Rome. Pius demanded of Badoglio and Roosevelt that Rome be declared an open city by all nations. Rome was liberated as the Americans marched proudly into Rome and Pius was hailed by Romans in the same traditions of Pope Saint Leo the Great who similarly saved Rome in the fifth century from Attila the Hun.
Mercifully the war came to an end two years later and the period of reconstruction began all through Europe. But Pius realized it was out of the frying pan, into the fire for on the horizon loomed another threat - Communism. He took very seriously the Message of Fatima for he had dedicated the entire human race to Mary's Immaculate Heart, assigning a special feast day to her honoring the Queenship of Mary. He had done this while war was raging in 1942 on the 25th Anniversary of the first Apparition at Fatima on May 13th. Yet his condemnation of the hammer and sickle was portrayed by many of his enemies as an approval of Hitler's attack on the Soviet Union and consequently, an approval of the Nazi way. The poor man, no matter what he did or said, he would suffer during his papacy and today forty years later still suffers the stigma unfairly placed on him. It is totally unfair, for six years later on May 14, 1948 Pius released his encyclical Auspicia quaedam seeking public prayers for world peace and a solution to the problems in Palestine where the Arabs threatened to totally annex that land. It was another testament to Pius's love for the Jews and his blessings that the state of Israel be proclaimed, thus fulfilling Sacred Scripture. It was a sign that the world was entering that time foretold in Divine Revelation. Behind Jewish leader David Ben Gurion, the Jewish forces were victorious over the Muslims. Israel had become a Jewish state, the first time in 1,878 years that they could make that claim and Pius had played a part in it. Why do so many Jewish radicals forget that?
Pius published nearly 40 encyclicals and in many of his writings was ahead of his time, condemning any kind of artificial insemination or birth control, speaking out strongly against communism, stressing missionary work by establishing a hierarchy in China, Burma and numerous emerging African nations. Throughout his papacy he boldly promoted the Blessed Mother, her messages of Fatima and Lourdes and her role in all of these modern times often referred to as the "end times." He tried to reopen ecumenical relations with the schismatic Eastern Orthodox Church and was the first Pontiff to utilize the medium of radio and television and could envision it for evangelistic purposes with his encyclical Miranda prorsus on September 8, 1957 and which John Paul II has continued, elevating communications to a higher level. It was Pius whose dogged determination to excavate the bowels beneath the main altar of St. Peter's Basilica led to the identification of the tomb of Peter. He canonized the first American saint Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini as well as Saints Louis Marie Grignon de Montfort, Catherine Laboure, Maria Goretti, Anthony Mary Claret, Dominic Savio, and Pope Saint Pius X to name a few.
The most shining jewel in his papal tiara, for he was the last Supreme Pontiff to wear it, came on November 1, 1950 when he declared as a Doctrine of Faith the Dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven. After testing the waters with the world's bishops through his encyclical Deiparae Virginis Mariae he knew the time had finally come to proclaim what many refer to as the "next-to-last Dogma." Like John Paul II, Pius was totally dedicated to Our Lady. He was also a stickler for details, a hands-on Pope who knew the pulse of the Church. This alienated many cardinals within the Roman Curia who were used to running things their way and set in motion the changes that would be wrought at Vatican II. They began the rumor mill that the Church was in trouble, but Pius ignored the nay-sayers. In retrospect, was this a mistake on his part? Was he aware how satan had convinced many of the Church's own prelates to undermine her? They worked insidiously and deftly, spreading the word that Holy Mother Church was weak and in need of a transfusion. Was she really? Some will say yes, but most Church scholars, historians and theologians feel in restrospect, that contrary to what some progressives may think, Vatican II was not necessary. On further review, many feel it was ill-advised.
Many also feel if Pius XII knew what lay ahead he would have instituted measures to assure it would not happen, possibly reaffirming Pope Saint Pius V's proclamation that the Latin Mass would be said, as established at the Council of Trent, "in perpetuity." We'll never know. But his encyclical Humani generis on August 12, 1950 warned of false opinions that threathened to undermine the foundations of Catholic doctrine. Also, many believe he did know of the troubles ahead for Holy Mother Church with his final encyclical on July 14, 1958 Meminisse juvat which asked for prayers for the persecuted Church. He took great pains to warn against changes in the rubrics with his encyclical Mediator Dei in 1947. He had even taken measures to guard against those who would attempt to subvert the Faith under the pretext of a return to primitive practices, such as Holy Communion in the hand which had been condemned by the Council of Rouen in 650. But, try as he might, the seeds for dissent and change for the worse had already been sown in the fifties.
To make matters worse the Holy Father fell very ill in March 1954 and from that time on had no choice but to pass on much of his power and hands-on expertise to a small band of Roman Curia, being forced to depend on others within this close-knit circle of cardinals who were not always scrupulous and this played right into the evil one's hands as they floundered around trying to keep the papal ship above water. Even though he recovered, the precedent had been set. One of those given power to was Monsignor Domenico Tardini who would go on to become Secretary of State under both Pope John XXIII and Pope Paul VI. Many attribute Tardini's behind the scenes dealings with allowing the liberal factions to take a firm hold, though no documentation can positively confirm this.
During the late summer of 1958, with Pius dying at the papal summer home of Castel Gandolfo, the Church was left in the hands of that small covey of cardinals whose actions or inactions, as the case may be, left the window cracked, if you will, allowing satan to slither through the narrow opening until, as Paul VI pronounced on his deathbed twenty years later, "satan is now in the sanctuary." In the early Thursday morning hours of October 9, 1958 the world went into mourning when it was announced that the eighty-two year old Pontiff had passed on to his Heavenly reward. The people of the world had been through a lot with this diminutive man who was a giant in the eyes and hearts of the poor, the destitute and, like John Paul II today, many of athe world's non-Catholics. In fact, he was loved by all except those within the Roman curia who vowed they would elect someone they could control, who would allow them free reign in their effort to overhaul the church to their way of thinking, rather than the right way - God's Way!
This tall, slender and aesthetic Vicar of Christ, whose pontificate was the 12th longest in papal history was one of the few men able to keep the flames of love and hope flickering during the Second World War and in the aftermath of war when the hammer and sickle would clean up the spoils before an unsuspecting world. Pius and few others realized the great danger ahead - both in the the world and within Holy Mother Church herself. To strengthen the Church he began the fifth decade of this century by proclaiming the Assumption of Mary as infallible dogma. It would be the last great act of the Pius administration. With his passing would end an era that had begun at Trent for Pius XII was the last of the Tridentine Popes.
As Denver's shepherd for ten years he coordinated the highly successful World Youth Days and Papal Visit during August 1993, indicating to the Sovereign Pontiff the tremendous potential and grasp of the laity necessary to head the Pontifical Council for the Laity. The Pope remembered and appointed him directly to that post as President on August 20, 1996 and then surprised many Church prognosticators by including him in the most recent Consistory of February 21, 1998 for the cardinalate. He received the titular church of the Church of Jesus the Good Shepherd at Montagnola. For a more detailed profile on Cardinal Stafford, see 27th selection of the TOP CATHOLICS OF THE CENTURY.