New Light on Pius XII Cause?

Pope Pius XII talks with Count Enrico Galeazzi, the director of the Knights of Columbus in Rome, in this undated photo in an exhibit at the Capitoline Museum in Rome on the activities of the Knights of Columbus in the eternal city.
Pope Pius XII talks with Count Enrico Galeazzi, the director of the Knights of Columbus in Rome, in this undated photo in an exhibit at the Capitoline Museum in Rome on the activities of the Knights of Columbus in the eternal city. (photo: CNS photo/courtesy of Knights of Columbus)

I will be posting an interview this weekend with the archeologist at St. Peter’s Basilica necropolis, Pietro Zander. He was at the Knights of Columbus Museum in New Haven, Conn., last week for the opening of an exhibit of Marian images from the Vatican.

Zander graciously gave me a personal tour through the exhibit and explained the significance of some of the paintings. He also talked a bit about his role in the beatification ceremonies for Blessed John Paul II a few days earlier.

Translating for us was Count Enrico Demajo, who heads the Knights of Columbus office in Rome. Count Demajo’s uncle was Count Enrico Galeazzi, an architect who was both the Knights’ representative in Rome and acting governor of Vatican City during World War II. Galeazzi was a friend of Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, who became Pope Pius XII and whose cause for canonization has been hampered by continuing controversy over his alleged inaction in protecting European Jews during the Nazi Holocaust.

Accompanying Zander and Demajo to New Haven was Salesian Father Agostino Corbanese, who oversees an archive of the Vatican Secretariat of State. Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Holy See’s Secretary of State, asked Father Corbanese to inspect the Knights’ New Haven archives of Count Galeazzi’s papers.

I sat down for a few minutes with Father Corbanese, and we discussed what the Galeazzi papers might reveal about Pius XII and the controversy over his cause.

What brings you to New Haven?

The superiors in the Secretariat of State, Cardinal Bertone and the sostituto [assistant Secretary of State] … asked me to come and see, especially from the point of view if, due to the closeness of Count Galeazzi with, at the time, Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, who later became Pope Pius XII, and they had close links of friendship, just to see whether there were documents, hand-written documents, or documents of any kind, coming from the desk of Cardinal Pacelli, or Pope Pius XII. And I went through all this material.

What did you find?

I found, interestingly enough, due to the difficulties of the time…Count Galeazzi was asked to bring with him a letter signed by Pope Pius XII addressed to President [Franklin D.] Roosevelt. We were more or less at the end of the war, and diplomatic channels were difficult to follow, and so on. And since Count Galeazzi was a man to whom Pope Pius XII gave much relevance and attention, he was asked to do that. ...

[The letter, which asked for a halt to the Allied bombing of Rome, was not delivered because the Italian government signed an agreement with the Allies while Galeazzi was on his way to Washington.]

Count Galeazzi died [in 1986], and the heirs — Enrico Demajo and, I suppose, the family — gave all this material to the Knights of Columbus, and they went through a tremendous amount of work in ordering all this material. Let’s say that 90%, 80% of the material there are plans, reports on what Count Galeazzi did. He was the engineer, he was the man responsible for building and restoration of the papal palace. He was in charge of a special commission created by the newly-elected Pope Pius XII to look after the maintenance and restoration of the buildings. The buildings are so old that they need continuous care. So, many of his papers are requests for restoration, how restoration was carried on, what the expenses were, what colleagues were involved in these works of the restoration, and this has nothing to do with the life of the Pope himself.

One letter carried the signature of Pope Pius XII, and it was a permit, an invitation to authorities of one country in Europe, to let Count Galeazzi go through, deliver what he had to deliver, and come back with something he was supposed to collect and bring it to Rome. So, it was a visa — let’s call it that.

What was it that he had to deliver?
The little card, bearing the autographed signature of Pope Pius XII, the size of an ordinary postcard, carried no indication whatsoever about the identification of what the envoy was supposed to carry with him through the boundaries of the neighboring country, in the terrible and frightening wartime in Europe.

Was there anything that you discovered here that might have some bearing on the cause of beatification of Pope Pius XII?

Yes. I know that the archives have been opened and will continue to be opened. The material may be of this kind: reports sent to Count Galeazzi from various people — articles, commentaries — not many — picking up criticisms, explaining situations, backgrounds, problems. They may be useful. There are a few hints to what the Pope did to help the Jews in Rome and in Europe, but, as I said, the purpose of the archives and the purpose of the collection of these papers by Count Galeazzi was not to make a study of that particular…he received letters to bring them to the attention of the Secretariat of State, and some of these letters had this kind of content. A number of these letters were typed — as they used to do in those times — in two or three different copies, carbon copies. Of course the original is not here because the original was meant to go to the pope’s office or the cardinal’s office, wherever. But they kept the copy. And they may be of some interest.

You have here in the States Sister Margherita Marchione, and she came, I was told by the archivist. The archivist told me unfortunately she remained only one day. ... And some of these materials were, can be, or will be, useful to her, because she continues to study and to present, to understand where these criticisms against Pius XII originated: where they came from, why, who picked them up for granted. That is her particular idea. That is her enterprise, and she wrote piles of books, collecting material, demonstrating that what was brought about like a flag — Pius XII didn’t do enough, he did too little, he kept silent, things like that — they’re not true because she goes on discovering witnesses and testimonies. So this material can be related to this kind of study she continues to carry on.

What is holding up the cause? Is there any movement on it?

I think that while the cause is going on, Pope Pius XII has already been proclaimed a venerable — meaning that his life, what he did, his attitudes, are ones of a real strong Christian — the virtues as they say have been studied and approved….There are some miracles being studied at the moment.

One of the major difficulties is the opposition against Pius XII from a number of Jewish groups, individual people, associations, who are still imbued with that kind of criticism: Pope Pius XII didn’t do enough, he kept silent, he didn’t defend the Jews.


Besides this, as I mentioned, is the fact of concretely, deeply, with serenity, with capacity, historical understanding, study the material, and of course the material dealing with the Second World War is as immense as the world is.

So I think any time, for any reason around the world, there is a discussion you have to take the points and calmly, nicely, with strength you have to analyze them, you have to come to a conclusion. You cannot say yes or no from the very beginning.

Especially since this seems to have stemmed from this play by Rolf Hochhuth, and who knows that that was not a smear campaign begun by the communists.

It would be extremely useful to go back to one of the latest books by Sister Margarita…. She maintains that, let’s call it, the “enemy” of Pius XII was the communist regime. Some people used to say that it was the Germans. She maintains it was not the Germans who put their loud voices and criticisms; it was the communists, it was Moscow — Moscow which tried to demolish the figure and authority of Pius XII, which was taken up by plays, by writers, media agencies and so on, for granted. Now Sister Margarita has clearly indicated that historical line of the Russians being behind the scenes because they saw in Pius XII the great enemy of the expansion of their power all over the world.

And, according to George Weigel, they tried to do the same with Pope John Paul II.

Exactly. Things keep repeating.



A 2020 procession of the Most Holy Eucharist takes place outside during the COVID-19 pandemic in Overland Park, Kansas. By the Solemnity of Corpus Christi on June 6, many dioceses in the U.S. will be reinstating the Sunday obligation
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