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Pius XII, Pope


Pontificate: March 2, 1939, to Oct. 9, 1958; b. Eugenio Maria Giuseppe Giovanni Pacelli, Rome, March 2,1876. He was the second of four children of Filippo Pacelli, a lawyer, and Virginia Graziosi.


He was educated in Rome, studying philosophy at the Gregorian University, and theology at Sant' Appollinare (today the Lateran University). After ordination (April 2, 1899), he studied Canon Law, and won a doctorate in utroque jure (1902). Entering the papal Secretariate of State (1901), he became (1904) the close collaborator of Pietro gasparri in the gigantic task of drawing up the Code of Canon Law. He was professor of ecclesiastical diplomacy (190914) at the Pontificia Accademia dei Nobili ecclesiastici. He became assistant secretary of state (1911), pro-secretary of state (1912), and secretary of the Congregation for Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs (1914).

Nuncio. Consecrated titular archbishop of Sardes by Benedict XV (May 13, 1917), he was at the same time appointed nuncio to Bavaria, representing the Vatican in its peace efforts with Germany. He dealt with the German chancellors Von Bethmann-Hollweg and Michaelis and with Kaiser William II. Pius XII revealed in later years that the absence in the German reply of any assurance that the integrity and independence of Belgium would be reestablished were enough to frustrate papal mediation.

He became nuncio to Germany (June 22, 1920) and dean of the Berlin diplomatic corps. He signed the concordats with Bavaria (March 29, 1924) and Prussia (June 14, 1929).

Secretary of State. Created cardinal (Dec. 16, 1929), he replaced Cardinal Gasparri as secretary of state (Feb. 7, 1930), and concluded the concordat with Baden (Oct. 12, 1932). Cardinal Pacelli went as papal legate to the Eucharistic Congress in Buenos Aires (October 1934), to the jubilee celebration in Lourdes (April 1935), to Lisieux to dedicate the basilica of St. Thérèse (July 1937), and to the Eucharistic Congress in Budapest (May 1938).

He traveled (October 1936) in an unofficial capacity to the United States, mainly to experience at first hand its Catholic life. Covering more than 9,000 miles by land and air, he visited 12 of the 16 ecclesiastical provinces, met 79 bishops, and observed Catholicism at work in education as well as in social and charitable endeavors. He was invited by President Roosevelt to dine at Hyde Park.

Concordat with Germany. Soon after the concordat (June 5, 1933) with Austria, whose chancellor was Dollfuss, another was concluded (July 20) with the German Republic. The Hitler regime had first proposed it at Easter; it was the German government that initiated the proceedings. Previously (March 24), the Center party and the Bavarian People's party, whom German Catholics rightly considered representatives of their interests, had approved the enabling act that gave Hitler unlimited powers. Also the German bishops had declared unequivocally (March 28) that Catholics could cooperate with the new state despite obviously irreconcilable differences between the Catholic Church and National Socialism. Cardinal Pacelli had in no way influenced either of these events; yet he had to take them into consideration. Since the new concordat agreed to all the demands of the Holy See, even to the continuation of Catholic schools and the earlier concordats with the German states, Rome would have put itself in the wrong and placed German Catholics in a dangerous situation by refusing to sign. At this time also German Catholics expected the Holy See to inter-cede in their behalf, because guarantees of their rights had become questionable since Hitler's accession to power (Jan. 30, 1933). The Holy See could fulfill these expectations only by negotiation and a treaty with Berlin. During the negotiations the dissolution of the Center party was not discussed. Cardinal Pacelli regretted very much this party's dissolution of itself (July 5, 1933) during the concordat negotiations, because, for good reason, he wanted to see it survive until the signing of the concordat.

Later negotiations between Pacelli and the Hitler government (193339) are contained in some 60 memoranda, written in Pacelli's own hand, which make clear his struggle to have the German government observe the concordat. The encyclical of pius xi, Mit brennender Sorge (March 14, 1937), climaxed this controversy.


Cardinal Pacelli was elected pope March 2, 1939, and crowned March 12.

World War II. In the following months, until September 1, he sought to prevent war. The climax of these efforts was his diplomatic move (May 3) proposing that existing differences between Italy and France and between Germany and Poland be settled peacefully by a conference attended by these four powers and England. Many considered his proposal premature. Hitler thought it pointless. In August, with war imminent, the pope kept uninterrupted contact with both sides until the last moment, hoping to prevent the catastrophe. His appeal to the world (August 24) declared: "Nothing is lost by peace; everything is lost by war."

Pius XII relayed messages (November 1939February 1940) between the German resistance movement and the Allies. The former wanted to know if the Allies would be ready for an armistice and peace negotiations in the

event of a German general strike. Pius XII had at that time offered to leave nothing undone to end the war. As an important English official observed in 1944, he went as far as a pope could possibly have gone. In these communications it was presumed and understood that Poland would regain its former status, and that Austria would decide its own future, whether of independence or annexation to Germany.

Myron Taylor was named by President Roosevelt as his personal envoy to Pius XII (Dec. 25, 1939).

The meeting between Pius XII and Hitler's foreign minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop (March 10, 1940), could have no bearing on war or peace, since Ribbentrop refused any conversation on this topic.

The pope's efforts to keep Italy out of the conflict kept increasing from late 1939, and included personal meetings with King Victor Emmanuel III (Dec. 21 and 28, 1939) and correspondence with Mussolini. With Italy's entrance into the war (June 10, 1940) Pius XII intervened to save Rome. He wanted it declared an open city, recognized as such by the warring nations, and kept free of troops and commandos. This goal was realized in good part, although not perfectly, and only after the greatest difficulties. When Ernst von Weizsäcker was asked who saved Rome, he replied: "Above all others it was the pope, who merely by staying in Rome forced the opposing armies to spare the city." Pius XII was determined not to leave Rome save under duress. Contrary to rumors, he did not leave Rome during the entire war.

Papal Mediation. The Allies declined to negotiate with Hitler under any circumstances. It was also inconceivable that Hitler would make any move to save the German people. This situation blocked the way to any kind of mediation. Of the two systems, National Socialism and Communist Bolshevism, Pius considered the latter more dangerous. But he never approved Hitler's war with Russia, nor did he consider it a crusade. He regretted very much the unconditional surrender terms promulgated at Casablanca (1943) because they could only lengthen hostilities. On the other hand, Berlin would not agree to let Rome intervene for the cessation or even lessening of aerial warfare because it hoped to develop a more lethal weapon than the enemy possessed. Italian Fascists were responsible for the bomb that fell on the Vatican (March 1, 1943).

Papal Charities. Assistance for needy individuals and countries was organized by the Pontificia Commissione Assistenza (PCA), which since 1952 has operated under the name Pontificia Opera di Assistenza (POA). Aid was extended without discrimination to all suffering persons during the war: prisoners of war, deportees, internees, refugees, the hungry and homeless, the politically and racially persecuted. Sums were also expended for the protection of buildings, especially churches and libraries. Papal kitchens during 1944 served 3,600,000 portions of soup monthly. Of the refugees who poured into Rome throughout the war, the PCA helped 52,000 to return to their homes. The pontifical information service received 9,891,497 inquiries about missing persons and in turn sent 11,293,511 inquiries of its own. Many of these appeals were handled under unusual circumstances.

Help to Jews. Jews received extensive aid. From the very start of his pontificate, Pius XII continued Pius XI's program of aid to Jews, especially to German Jews. Jewish refugees received financial aid, and Pius contributed his total private funds to them in cases of extraordinary urgency. After the German occupation of Rome (September 1943), the pope responded to Jewish pleas by offering them 15 kilos of gold in the event that they were unable to raise the 50 kilos demanded of them, but in this case his help proved unnecessary. Cloister regulations in religious houses were lifted to supply refuge to 4,447 Jews, exclusive of the large number in the Lateran and Vatican along with non-Jews. A special agency of the pontifical information service searched for Jews, especially in Germany, and handled 37,000 cases. Close cooperation existed between the pontifical St. Raphael Society and the Jewish Delasem to help Jews escape overseas. Pius XII's financial aid to Jews far exceeded $4 million. The Catholic Refugees Committee in the United States supplied the pope with plentiful financial means.

In his appeals for the humanizing of war and abolishing its brutalities and atrocities, Pius XII twice condemned unequivocally the exterminating of Jews, in his Christmas message (Dec. 24, 1942) and in his speech to the college of cardinals (June 2, 1943). One reason for a certain caution on the pope's part was the belief, which proved ill-founded, that a class of European Jews, for example those in Theresienstadt, would merely be restricted to their ghettos, but not exterminated. He did not want to endanger these people. All qualified judges, even those less favorably disposed to the pope, deny that any further formal papal move would have deterred Hitler from annihilating the Jews.

With the appearance of Rolf Hochhuth's play The Deputy in 1963 began the practice of distorting the actions of Pius XII with regard to the Nazis. A pope whose extraordinary efforts on behalf of Jews during the Nazi hegemony had hitherto been universally praised was now portrayed as the secret sharer of Nazi antisemitism if not an actual participant in the holocaust. Such libels were more than adequately addressed by Pincas Lepide in his magisterial The Last Three Popes and the Jews (1967). It was the careful calculation of this Jewish author that 860,000 Jews had been saved from certain death at the hands of the Nazis thanks to the efforts of Pius XII. No one has been able to refute the number given by Lapidehe thought the number could be as high as a million. Nevertheless, criticism of Pius grewmuch of it fueled by popular books that distorted the historical record, but some prompted by a desire to give a responsible answer to the question whether the pope could (and should) have done more on behalf of the Jews.

Vatican Excavations. During and after the war Pius XII promoted the excavations under st. peter's basilica. Msgr. Ludwig kaas and the archeologists Bruno M. Apollonj Ghetti, Antonio Ferrua, SJ, Enrico Josi, and Engelbert Kirschbaum, SJ, were in charge. Their excavations resulted in discoveries important for Christian and secular archeology. Among other things they fixed with certainty the location of the original grave of the Apostle St. peter (see vatican).

Pius XII as Teacher. In volume and scope the teachings of Pius XII surpassed those of any of his predecessors. His oral allocutions alone numbered nearly 1,000. He spoke 36 times to Catholics from the United States, and on five occasions asked help for hungry children from Catholic students of the United States. The fundamental theme of his principal speeches was the confrontation of contemporary civilization and culture with the Catholic outlook on life. He defended Catholic schools strongly. Topics common to the medical profession and Catholic moral theology received thorough treatment. Although disinclined to be hyperspiritual, he opposed the opinion that politics has nothing to do with religion. He held it a moral obligation, and a serious one under certain conditions, to exercise the right to vote.

Social Questions. In his numerous promulgations on social questions, Pius XII maintained the traditional Catholic social doctrine. He insisted that if the objectives of social reform and social policy are to be realized, then the social question must concentrate on preserving the dignity, freedom, and eternal value of the human person, and consequently on the proper functioning of the three indispensable divisions of social structure: the family, private property, and the state. The individual and the family take precedence over the state. The state cannot dispose of a guiltless individual's body and life, or sacrifice his moral or physical integrity in the interest of the common good, or compel him to act contrary to the dictates of his conscience. It is the purpose of society to serve the individual and not the contrary (see social thought, papal).

War and Peace. Pius XII gave a classic definition of the religious, psychological, and legal structure of a lasting peace, especially in his Christmas messages between 1939 and 1942. As a realist, he did not favor peace at any price. Presupposing these principles, he insisted on bilateral, controlled disarmament as the only effective means to prevent war. However, he maintained that as long as disarmament was not a reality, and any government could use an offensive war as a means of attaining an international political goal, then peaceful nations could not be denied the right to coordinate a system of defense, which, through its very existence and corresponding strength, might prevent enemy aggression (see war, morality of).

Government. Although Pius XII was legalistic by natural inclination and by training, he viewed governments and political systems with strict objectivity. His outward reserve toward the choice of the Italian people (May 5, 1946) between a monarchical or republican form of government was necessary, and in no way a "Vatican revenge on the House of Savoy." The general principles that Pius XII supplied for the new order, during and after the war, excluded totalitarian systems. The democratic state, for its part, to be equal to its task, must make great demands on the moral responsibility of its people (Christmas message, 1944). He indicated to the Roman nobility (Jan. 14, 1952) that the age of privileged classes was past, and that they should place themselves at the service of the new state. The Prussian Concordat, which dealt with the rights of the Catholic Church in Prussia at the time of the Weimar republic, was the work of Pacelli as nuncio and the socialist minister President Otto Braun. The concordat with Spain (Aug. 27, 1953) permitted closer cooperation between the Church and State, and a stronger governmental influence in episcopal appointments than in the other concordats concluded since 1918; yet it did not mark a return to the patronato real of the old Spanish monarchy. Pius XII was a man of the Church, who always strove to realize the Church's mission as well as possible under given circumstances.

Doctrinal Topics. The encyclical humani generis (Aug. 12, 1950) combated some recent theological trends. munificentissimus deus (Nov. 1, 1950) defined the assumption of mary, while intentionally avoiding the question of the Blessed Mother's physical death. The encyclical Ad caeli Reginam (Oct. 11, 1954) dealt with the sublime dignity of Mary (see mary, blessed virgin, queenship of). Purposely he left the question of her mediation and coredemption open to theological discussion. The encyclical mystici corporis appeared June 29, 1943.

On the subject of tolerance, Pius XII stated (Dec. 6, 1953; Sept 7, 1955) that the Church, in its awareness of its divine mission to all men, practices tolerance toward other religious-ethical confessions mindful of the good faith of those living in invincible ignorance, and attentive to the common good of Church and state within individual nations, and also of the entire Church. On Sept. 7, 1955, he characterized as a product of the times the "medieval concept" that all temporal authority comes from God through the pope as Christ's representative.

In an address concerning man's nature and origin (Richiamo di gioia, Nov. 30, 1941), Pius XII insisted that the spiritual soul elevates man above all other living creatures, but that, on other questions regarding man's nature, nothing up to now has been positively ascertained. Concerning evolution, he declared in Humani generis that Catholic teaching holds the immediate creation of the soul by God and finds polygenism evidently irreconcilable with the testimony of Holy Scripture on original sin. The encyclical divino afflante spiritu (Sept. 30, 1943) affirmed that the time, the character, and the literary style of the inspired writer can and should be considered by the Catholic exegete in establishing the literary meaning.

His important address to Italian midwives, Vegliare con sollecitudine (Oct. 29, 1951), supplemented the marriage encyclical of Pius XI, Casti connubii. On Sept. 29, 1949, the pope condemned any kind of artificial insemination. The natural performance of the marital act, he said, must remain an entirely personal function.

Pius condemned the concept of collective guilt (Nessuno certamente, Dec. 24, 1944; L'ardua missione, Feb. 20, 1946; Oct. 3, 1953).

The apostolic constitution Sacramentum ordinis (Nov. 30, 1947) dealt with the validity of ordinations of deacons, priests, and bishops, exclusive of the necessary matter and form. For theological inquiry, this was one of the most important decisions since the Council of trent (154563).

The motu proprio In cotidianis precibus (March 24, 1945) concerned the new translation of the Psalms by a commission of the pontifical biblical institute, undertaken at the direction of Pius XII for use in the divine office. The encyclical mediator dei (Nov. 20, 1947) was of great importance for the liturgical movement. The encyclical Musicae sacrae (Dec. 25, 1955) summarized the norms for the lay participation in liturgical functions. Pius XII was willing to compromise with new musical trends and did not exclude instrumental music from liturgical ceremonies.

Disciplinary Matters. New regulations on the Eucharistic fast appeared March 19, 1957.

The establishment of secular institutes was treated in the apostolic constitution Provida Mater Ecclesia (Feb. 2, 1947) and in the motu proprio Primo feliciter elapso (March 12, 1948). In an allocution (Dec. 8, 1950) dealing with the relationship between religious and diocesan clergy, the Pontiff noted that Christ instituted one priesthood. The difference between the two forms of priestly life he attributed to the historical growth of the Church.

Pius XII terminated (Feb. 1, 1955) the long dispute concerning the knights of malta, and the reconciliation of their claim to sovereignty with their status of a religious order.

A decree of the Holy Office against communism appeared July 1, 1949. In the apostolic letter Carissimis Russiae populis (July 7, 1952) the pope distinguished between the communist-bolshevistic system and the Russian people.

Radio, television, and motion pictures were the subject of the encyclical Miranda prorsus (Sept. 8, 1957).

Pius XII called two consistories (Feb. 18, 1946; Jan. 12, 1953) to create 56 cardinals. The college numbered 57 at his death. He canonized 33 saints. Dioceses, excluding titular sees, increased from 1,696 in 1939 to 2,048 in 1958. Hierarchies were established in China (1946), Burma (1955), and several parts of Africa.

Conclusion. A man of genuine classical formation, extensive historical knowledge, level-headed realism, remarkable exactitude, and industry, Pius XII was highly esteemed in the ecclesiastical circles in which he had held office since 1900, as well as in the diplomatic and political world. He was well prepared to lead the Church through World War II and the postwar years, and did so with such wisdom that respect for the papacy reached an all-time high.

Bibliography: pius xii, La personalità e la territorialità delle leggi specialmente nel diritto canonico (Rome 1912); documents in Acta Apostolicae Sedis (193958); Discorsi e radiomessaggi di Sua Santità Pio XII, 20 v. (Vatican City 193958); L'Osservatore Romano (193958); The Pope Speaks 15 (195459); Documents pontificaux de Pie XII, 19391958, ed. s. delacroix and r. kothen, 20 v. (Paris-St. Maurice, Switz. 195062); Relations humaines et société contemporaine: Synthèse chrétienne; directives de S. S. Pie XII, ed. a. f. utz and j. f. groner, tr. a. savignat, 3v. (Fribourg 195663); Major Addresses of Pius XII, ed. v. a. yzermans, 2 v. (St. Paul, Minn. 1961). m. c. carlen, Guide to the Documents of Pius XII (193949) (Westminster, Md. 1951); Dictionary of Papal Pronouncements: Leo XIII to Pius XII (18781957) (New York 1958). Catholic Periodical Index (1939). p. cattin and h. t. conus, eds., Sources de la vie spirituelle: Documents pontificaux, 2 v. (2d ed. Fribourg 195861) v.2. c. c. clump, ed., The Social Teaching of Pope Pius XII (Oxford 1956). i. giordani, Pio XII (Turin 1961). d. tardini, Pio XII (Vatican City 1960). o. halecki and j. f. murray, Eugenio Pacelli: Pope of Peace (New York 1951). The Wartime Correspondence between President Roosevelt and Pope Pius XII, introd. and notes by m. c. taylor (New York 1947). r. coste, Le Problème du droit de guerre dans la pensée de Pie XII (Paris 1962). a. giovannetti, Il Vaticano e la guerra, 193940 (Vatican City 1960). r. leiber, "Pius XII as I Knew Him," Catholic Mind 57 (1959) 292304. r. c. pollock, ed., The Mind of Pius XII (New York 1955). Pio XII. Pont. Max. postridie kalendas martias, 18761956 (Vatican City 1956). j. s. conway, "The Silence of Pope Pius XII," Review of Politics 27 (1965) 105131. p. lapide, The Last Three Popes and the Jews (London 1967). m. marchione, Pope Pius XII Architect for Peace (New York 2000). p. blet, S.J., Pius XII and the Second World War, Eng. tr. (New York 1999). r. mcinerny, The Defamation of Pius XII (South Bend, Indiana 2001).

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