Pope Pius XII (1939-58)

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Who was Pope Pius XII?

Pope Pius XII, born Eugenio Maria Giuseppe Giovanni Pacelli (Italian pronunciation: 2 March 1876 – 9 October 1958), was the head of the Catholic Church from 2 March 1939 to his death in 1958. He is the most recent pope to take the name "Pius" upon his election. His pontificate coincided with the Second World War and commencement of the Cold War.

Before election to the papacy, Pacelli served as secretary of the Department of Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs, papal nuncio to Germany (1917–1929), and Cardinal Secretary of State, in which capacity he worked to conclude treaties with European and Latin American nations, most notably the Reichskonkordat with Nazi Germany, with which the Vatican sought to protect the Church in Germany, and Hitler sought the destruction of 'political Catholicism'.

A pre-war critic of Nazism, Pius lobbied world leaders to avoid war and, as Pope at the outbreak of war, issued Summi Pontificatus, expressing dismay at the invasion of Poland, reiterating church teaching against racism and calling for love, compassion and charity to prevail over war.

While the Vatican was officially neutral during the war, Pius maintained links to the German Resistance, used diplomacy to aid the victims of the war and lobby for peace and spoke out against race based murders and other atrocities. The concordat of 1933, and Pius' leadership of the Catholic Church during World War II—including allegations of "silence" in public about the fate of the Jews—remain the subject of controversy.

After the war Pius XII advocated peace and reconciliation, including lenient policies towards Axis and Axis-satellite nations. The Church experienced severe persecution and mass deportations of Catholic clergy in the Eastern Bloc. In light of the Pope's overt involvement in Italian politics—anyone who voted for a Communist candidate in the 1948 elections was threatened with automatic excommunication—Pius XII became known as a staunch opponent of the Italian Communist Party. Pius XII explicitly invoked ex cathedra papal infallibility with the dogma of the Assumption of Mary in his 1950 Apostolic constitution Munificentissimus Deus.

His magisterium includes almost 1,000 addresses and radio broadcasts. His forty-one encyclicals include Mystici Corporis, the Church as the Body of Christ; Mediator Dei on liturgy reform; and Humani generis on the Church's positions on theology and evolution. He eliminated the Italian majority in the College of Cardinals in 1946.

In the process toward sainthood Pope Benedict XVI declared Pius XII Venerable in December 2009.


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