-Pope Pius XI-
During the three year blood feud historians tagged the Spanish Civil War Pope Pius XI after considerable reflection aligned with what he considered the lesser of two evils. The Spanish majority aligned themselves with the Loyalists (liberal Republicans) who were backed by the atheistic Soviet Union while a strong Spanish conservative minority partnered up with Francisco Franco’s pro-Church Nationalists supported by Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini Franco’s forces won the conflict that freed the Catholic Church from Loyalist persecution. Throughout the ensuing decades that followed, critics of Pius’ policies have lambasted the pope’s choice of loyalties (Go to: ‘The Spanish Road to Democracy-Spain after Franco.’). I had a friend who fought in that war on the Republican side; we never discussed his involvement in the carnage that cost over 500,000 lives and left over 43,000 people homeless.
Pius XI was passionate about modern science and technology. He founded Vatican Radio and employed new forms of technology during his long pontificate. The Pope urged Catholics to embrace scientific thought and technological advances both of whom he considered vital to advancing Christianity.
He despised Communism and Nazism both he considered demeaning to the human person. Critics of Christianity are always accusing us of not doing enough to thwart the Second World War. They spout yet say nothing. Pius accused Western democracies as being part of a grand ‘conspiracy of silence.’ He accused them of turning a blind eye to the looming global conflict ahead. In time the Pope would be proven correct after the League of Nations forerunner of the United Nations ignored Ethiopia’s (a League member) plea for help after fascist Italy invaded and seized that country. The Second World War started soon after that.
This pope created the Feast of Christ the King to counter anti-clericalism then rampant in Mexico and the Soviet Union. He canonized Thomas More and Therese Martin and made Albert the Great, a Doctor of the Church.
I read somewhere that the Pontiff sacked two French cardinals over disputes in Catholic doctrine after warning them to tone it down several times before lowering the ecclesiastical boom. Pius XI was all business! He was a man in a big hurry.
The Pope’s crowning achievement should have been his prediction of the Holocaust. In his encyclical ‘Mit Brennender Sorge’ (With Deep Anxiety) he condemned Hitler and the Nazi movement. Somehow Pius managed to slip the document past the Gestapo and SS a miracle in and of itself. The document was read from every pulpit in Germany! It was the German bishops that urged the Pope to draft the document which exposed Hitler’s true intentions for world domination. Again Western political leaders ignored him as they did his predecessor Benedict XV who warned the world of the coming Great War.
The Pope hired American Jesuit priest John Lafarge, Jr. an early pre-Civil Rights Movement activist/author/artist to write a follow-up document to ‘Mit Brennender Sorge.’ The new encyclical was to be called ‘Humani Generis Unitas’ (The Unity of Humankind). The letter was a detailed warning of the evils of America’s mistreatment of Blacks and other marginalized people and Hitler’s intentions/methods regarding his final solution to the ‘Jewish Question.’ The Pope had ordered the document written in secret.
After extensive research the papal letter was completed by Fr. John Lafarge shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War. The landmark encyclical was never promulgated; the priest’s boss Fr. Wlodimir Ledochowski the General of the Society of Jesus was suspected to have been an ardent ‘goose stepper’ a secret Nazi, racist and virulent anti-Semite. Despite having been in the Pope’s confidence Ledochowski and Pius’ successor Pius XII shelved the document which wasn’t heard from again until long after the war.
Why did some of Pius’ superb ideas fall on deaf ears? Considering his caustic bedside manner and no-nonsense approach to life and ministry it could be surmised in the following:
Many clerics equate their ministries as just another job. They forget the sacredness of the Presbyterian ministry. Careerist clerics use their priesthood to gain promotion within clerical ranks. Pope Francis accused Catholic clerics as being more interested in furthering their careers than being caretakers of the people of God. Clerical laziness at all levels from ordinary priests to the august College of Cardinals is a disease that’s driving away Catholic-Christians from the Church in droves. In Chicago it’s been polled that 79% of all Catholics never attend Sunday Mass! Catholics are considered ‘practicing’ if they attend Mass on Christmas and Easter! Much of Pius XI’s Spirit- inspired works got lost in the shuffle of clerical bureaucracy.
Like their lay counterparts many clergypersons don’t want to rock the boat. Reader when was the last time you heard a really good homily on the virtues, sexual purity, Hell, Purgatory, church law and other core teaching of the Catholic-Christianity? Most homilies I’ve listened to focused around ‘the goodness and mercy of God’ (That’s good!); rarely do they preach core Catholic doctrine. Aforementioned in a previous article I questioned a presider immediately after Liturgy to explain why many homilists avoid controversial every day issues? He replied people verbally attacked him whenever he did. Pastors fear offending their congregations and water down doctrine; human respect or simple complacency?
Like many saints Pope Pius XI wasn’t a diplomat. The Papacy isn’t a popularity contest but it doesn’t hurt to practice workplace diplomacy. His staff hated his ultra-aggressiveness. Some deliberately derailed his projects. Pius made too many enemies.
Pius preached a social gospel that was half a century ahead of its time. He knew that hatred never dies easy.
Pope Pius XI died at 5:31 am Roman time of a third heart attack on February 10th 1939. He was 82. He played the tough guy even on his death bed. His final words were spoken with clarity and great firmness; “My soul parts from you all in peace.” After his funeral the pontiff was buried in the crypt of St. Peter’s Basilica on Valentine’s Day today at the time of this writing in 1939 close to the tomb of the Apostle Peter. Vatican construction crews modified his tomb in 1944 to make it more ornate.
Vatican City can be bad for your health. History is strewn with the wreckage of dead popes murdered by enemies, rivals, quack doctors and discontented cardinals. Many believe this pope was murdered; his primary physician was Dr. Francesco Petacci the father of the beautiful Signorina Claretta Petacci Italian dictator Benito Mussolini’s main mistress. The dictator hated the pope. Both men were bitter enemies. When the fascist found out about Pius’ death he jumped for joy and said “thank God that troublesome old man is dead!” Was Pius XI poisoned? Maybe. Some say St. Pope John Paul II told his brother Pope John Paul I may have been poisoned; he brought his own cook staff from Poland. The current revolutionary pontiff Francis refuses to live in Vatican City!
Why wasn’t activist-pope Pius XI canonized? Is the saint-making ‘business’ a popularity contest? To this day most canonized saints are ‘professional’ virgins priests, nuns but hardly any married people like Blessed Anna Maria Taigi who had scores of children, was very pretty (Go to: ‘Blessed Anna Maria Taigi-Image Results.) married to a soldier who nearly beat a policeman to death after he pushed her. Despite his hair-trigger temper and rough personality this tough guy loved his family.
And again there’s the controversial canonization of Fr. Junipero Serra whom historians accused of abusing Native Americans. Then there’s WWII era Pope Pius XII supposed complacency in the face of Nazism aforementioned the pope who shelved his predecessor’s landmark encyclical that condemned racism and anti-Semitism, St. Pope John XIII initiator of Vatican Council II which opened a Pandora’s Box full of issues that’s eating at the entrails of world Catholicism today, Pope Paul VI author of ‘Humane Vitae’ (Of Human Life) which emptied the Church of some of its brightest and dynamic minds. The fallout caused by the ban on contraceptives is still dividing Catholics today.
Pope Pius XI called the Axis’ card long before their war wagon rolled. He also freed the papacy from Italian governmental domination with his concordat with Italy. No longer were popes ‘Prisoners of the Vatican’ a political situation resulting from the seizure of the Papal States (See: ‘Donation of Constantine.’). Despite all Pius accomplished he was never canonized. Reader, you figure. Till next time GOD bless you and have a spiritually profitable Lent.