The Pope and the Papers

The Pope and the Papers

What shall we call the new Pope when he dies? That will be something of a problem, since the recently-deceased Pius XII was so regularly hailed as “the greatest” in the American press. Harry Truman at least tried to qualify it: “The greatest statesman in the Vatican in 200 years” he obituarized—which takes us back to the undistinguished Benedicts and Clements of the 18th century but leaves out the great social Pope, Leo XIII, who undid some of the damage done by Pius IX—that infamous reactionary from whom the late Pacelli Pius XII took is name. However, let’s not quibble; I suppose “greatest in 200 years” or “one of the greatest” are phrases which the stream of semi-consciousness produces in a good politician at the drop of a dead.

Phrases, however obbligato, obligate; so the editorialists had to find out why Pius XII was great. By unanimous stream of semi-consciousness, again, the word “modern” invites itself. Had not Pius XII gone so far as to use a typewriter, a telephone, an airplane and an elevator? (And though we were not told so explicitly, we suppose a flush toilet, too.) Moreover, he had cautiously approved hypnosis and psychoanalysis (catching up with the Jesuits) , permitted the use of English in administering the Last Rites (bowing, of course, not to the expiator’s need to understand but to the American clergy’s ignorance of Latin) , and allowed the mass to be shifted from morning to evening hours.

Next to being modern, Pius XII’s most conspicuous qualification seems to have been his anti-Communism. Quoting from one paper for many, “the church is communism’s.., most powerful ideological opponent. To its flourishing condition Pius ‘XII contributed enormously and in all likelihood will rank in history as one of the greatest” (New York Daily News) . That at least has the virtue of placing Pacelli in the political context where he belongs; but the writer might have done 96 a little further research so that the precise nature of Pius XII’s contribution might be known. Did not the Church, at the time when Pacelli was its Secretary of State, sanction the authoritarian Dollfuss-Schuschnigg regime in Austria and the bloody suppression of the Vienna socialists in February 1934? Has he not, in his own pontificate, suppressed all Christian-socialist movements which sprang up after the war, such as the Dominican socialists and the “working priests” in France?

ITEM: “The socially-minded Christian Democratic movements and the progress toward a united Europe both owe much to his intelligent and tactful support” (New York Post; similarly, New York Herald-Tribune) . These “socially-minded Christian Democrats,” of course, are Adenauer, Schuman and de Gasperi. Pius XII receives due credit for “encouraging” and promoting them “whenever they emerged in...