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Symposium attests to Pius XII’s monumental work as Defensor Civitatis

An interview with Professor Pierluigi Guiducci, author of several works on the pontificate of Pope Pius XII during the Second World War.

Pope Pius XII visits the San Lorenzo neighborhood in Rome in this undated photo. (CNS photo/courtesy of Knights of Columbus)

Comitato Papa Pacelli – Associazione Pio XII”, an organization for the beatification of Pope Pius XII, led by Roman Rota attorney Emilio Artiglieri, held a symposium on June 4th to commemorate the great work of charity of the World War II-era pontiff in favor of the eternal city. That date marked the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Rome by Allied troops. What the Venerable Pope Pius XII did in those dramatic circumstances to spare Rome from destruction earned him the title of Defensor Civitatis (Defender of the City).

Professor Pier Luigi Guiducci was a keynote speaker of the event, which was presided over by Cardinal Dominique Mamberti, the Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signature.

Guiducci teaches History of the Church at the Pontifical Lateran University. His many books include Il Terzo Reich contro Pio XII – Papa Pacelli nei documenti nazisti (The Third Reich against Pius XII: Pope Pacelli in Nazi documents [2014]) and Oltre la leggenda nera – Il Vaticano e la fuga dei criminali nazisti  (Beyond the Black Legend: The Vatican and the Flee of the Nazi Criminals [2015]), in which he refuted accusations and innuendos that Pius XII was a supporter of the Hitler regime.

Professor Guiducci spoke with CWR about his research and writings about Pius XII.

CWR: How did Pius XII manage to prevent Rome from being damaged or destroyed during the most devastating horrors of the war?

Guiducci: In the Second World War Pius XII, after having tried in vain to make Italy remain neutral, sought to maintain continuous contacts with the warring parties through the Nunciatures and the diplomatic representations inside the Vatican and in Rome, including those of neutral countries. This action, inconspicuous but persistent, attempted to circumscribe as much as possible death and suffering … among civilians.

Moreover, through his own trustees and humanitarian organizations, he wanted to keep every possible channel of communication open with both sides in the Italian territory itself. This was indispensable for accessing camps for prisoners (who were also from other countries), to mitigate court sentences, to prevent military actions capable of causing further deaths, to support the distribution of food and clothing inside and outside Rome, to receive displaced persons, to support the elderly, the sick, the disabled, pregnant women, minors, to give news to families who were divided by the war.

In addition to these many initiatives, the Pope also addressed the problem of the safety of Rome. This orientation was not an act of preference but a realistic step. The City, in addition to its religious and historical value, was the capital of a country at war against the Anglo-Americans (and their Allies) and therefore particularly serious risks were looming over the “Urbe” (viz. the city of Rome).

CWR: Why was it not possible to avoid some tragedies, such as the allied bombing of San Lorenzo and other neighborhoods?

Guiducci: Unlike the cautious U.S. position, Churchill’s line was openly in favor of bombing Rome, due to the presence of Italian planes in the final phase of the “battle of England”.

Rome was struck for the first time on July 19, 1943. Pilots failed in most cases to hit targets. Densely populated areas and hospitals were destroyed. San Lorenzo was the district mostly damaged, together with  Tiburtino, Prenestino, Casilino, Labicano, Tuscolano and Nomentano. The bombs caused 3,000 deaths and 11,000 injuries. On July 20, Pius XII sent a letter of protest to the U.S. president [Franklin D. Roosevelt].

The raids continued on August 13th. Among the dead was Father Raffaele Melis, a parish priest who rushed to offer religious comforts to seriously injured people. The bombardments continued even in the following days. In this context, the Pacelli’s visit to the destroyed districts (the San Lorenzo area Outside the Walls, Appio Latino, Porta Maggiore and Casilino areas) in order to assist the survivors is difficult to forget. According to most historians it was in these hours that the person of Pacelli looked particularly tried.

Despite the fact that the Pontiff was faced with an incessant number of tragedies ever more extensive, he continued to issue assistance directives, as evidenced by the testimonies of his most direct collaborators.

CWR: And what was happening on the German side?

Guiducci: With the German occupation of a part of the Italian territory, more and more serious events were taking place in the diocese of Rome, such as the house-to-house search for the Jews in Rome (October 16, 1943) and their deportation (more than a thousand people of all ages).

Some alerted the Jews of the imminent danger but the alarm was neglected by those responsible for the community. Others (the Allies) did not reveal that they had known of the upcoming drama for several days (having been able to decrypt the Nazi dispatches). The partisan units also lacked any military initiatives.

Despite these evidences, in later times all attention was focused only on Pius XII, who was accused of “passivity”. However, in recent years, several authors—including myself—have published more documents that attest to the activation of a network of contacts to stop the Nazi operation in Rome and to try to save the persecuted. In particular, there is still silence on the connections between the Pope’s nephew Carlo Pacelli, Father Pancrazio Pfeiffer and General Rainer Stahel, and on contacts between Stahel and Heinrich Himmler.

Following this articulated action, Berlin ordered the roundup to be stopped. It should be added that some authors continue to not include in the number of Jews rescued those who managed to hide before October 16 because they were informed by many Catholics (including police officers), and those who managed to escape capture on the very October 16, nor those who after October 16th were protected by ecclesial institutions and by Catholic sectors.

The Holy See’s decision to circulate to the Roman religious institutions a letter to be presented in case of German raids, immediately after October 16, 1943, has to be seen against this background.

The text read that the specific Institution was a section working for the Sacred Congregation of the Religious, at the service to the Holy See, and as such could not be subject to search or requisition without prior agreement with the Ecclesiastical Superiors of the said Sacred Congregation. The certificate was issued by the Governor of the Vatican City State, “on behalf of the Most Eminent Cardinal Luigi Maglione, Secretary of State of the reigning Supreme Pontiff Pope Pius XII”. This document is the proof of the order orally given by Pacelli to protect every institution present in Rome that hid persecuted people (especially Jews).

CWR: Meanwhile the situation in Rome was getting worse and worse…

Guiducci: Yes. The confrontation between opponents and occupiers was becoming increasingly violent in the city, as shown by the March 22, 1944 attack on Via Rasella by communist partisans, in which 33 German soldiers and two civilians were killed. The German retaliation at the Cave Ardeatine caused the death of 335 people. Among these, the figure of Don Pietro Pappagallo stands out. Although he himself was a prisoner, he succeeded in giving the last blessing to the condemned. Anyhow, there are documents on the attempt by the Holy See to reach the German commands through Father Pancrazio Pfeiffer, but the religious could not speak with some military commanders because the entire operation was completed within 24 hours and because the German offices had been closed.

But Pius XII was also well aware of other dramas, not only related to hunger, such as the phenomenon of the black market and the ruthlessly suppressed popular protest demonstrations, but also concerning the wicked actions of those who profited from the sufferings of the persecuted, denounced hidden Jews (leading to 747 arrests), and collaborated in espionage actions. But the Pontiff could also hear reports on the heroism of many Catholics (some of them later declared “Righteous among the Nations”), including priests and religious.

In this context, Pacelli, with his own trustees, was able to protect those who defended the persecuted of the time in Rome. In other cases his voice remained unheeded. The papal initiatives also helped to avoid a tragedy. On the evening of June 3, 1944, the German troops began to leave Rome, while on June 4th the allied forces entered the city: the possible war inside the city had been avoided thanks also to the moderating action of Pius XII.

CWR: In light of the above, what conclusions do you draw?

Guiducci: The most recent research, such as the study of the documents of the Vatican Secret Archive and the investigations carried out by myself with reference to Nazi espionage in the Vatican, and the relationship between Pius XII and the Roman parish priests in 1943-1944, not only confirmed the humanitarian work of Pacelli (the only authority not to flee from Rome) and the presence of active networks of solidarity in Rome, but they also provided further data:

1] the de-facto isolation that the Pope had to endure from the conflicting nations (despite  all appearances of the contrary);
2] the continued reprisals that undermined the peace initiatives of Pius XII., especially in Germany, Poland, Holland, and in Italy itself.
3] the Nazi blockade on every Vatican humanitarian aid in favor of internees, with some drivers of Vatican humanitarian convoys killed by bombing.

Ultimately, every historical analysis must be well-thought, especially if you are in the presence of continued unpleasant facts. An example concerns the use of sorters, tabs, and printers of the American IBM in support of the Third Reich, in use in the central offices of the Shoah and in the extermination camps. Only the U.S. entry into the war, in 1941, partially stopped this synergy. Nor can we forget the fact that, although they knew the location of the extermination camps, the Allies did not want to bombard the lines of communication to prevent convoys packed with Jews from getting there.

At this point, looking at a Pope—Pius XII—who lived in the midst of colossal tragedies, from the Holocaust to the explosion of two atomic bombs and terrible massacres with millions of civilian and military deaths, we can only take a double stance on Pope Pacelli: first of all of respect, and then of objective understanding.

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About Alberto Carosa 42 Articles
Alberto Carosa is a Catholic journalist who writes from Rome, especially for US Catholic newspapers and periodicals.


  1. Will the beatification of Pope Pius XII and probably then his Canonization, give glory to God or will it undermine the credibility of the Church even further as

    “ Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this world’s darkness, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” Ephesians 6:12.

    Was not this a mocking by the forces of Darkness to the reality of Popery in

    ‘The Year of Four Popes’

    As Pope Frances assisted by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI officiated in the ceremony of the canonization of Pope John XXIII & Pope John Paul11 on 27 April 2014 (Divine Mercy Sunday)

    Three days prior to the canonization of JP2 and Pope John XIII the image in the link below was circulated by the media to the majority of mankind, Christians and others would have looked at it, for its significance.

    Prior to the collapse of this structure, with the statue (Image) of Jesus attached (nailed) to the cross (tree) we would have seen that it was significantly different to what we are accustomed to seeing, as normally in the representation of the Crucifixion, we would see Jesus held high between heaven and earth with the top (crown) of the tree directed upwards to heaven, with his beloved Son Jesus Christ in total obedience submitting to our Fathers Will.

    But on this representation we see the cross (Tree) was initially bent acutely downwards, now seen fallen, with shattered ‘broken’ body parts of Jesus Christ ‘scattered’ upon the earth, while noting that it fell upon a young disabled man, crushing and killing him. Scrutinize the details of this image than scrutinize it again and understand.

    If you still do not understand consider this.

    Journalist and others in the media do not just use words to convey information, especially that which is covertly directed towards the powers of darkness. And this can be seen in the photo of the fallen crucifix, which fell upon a disabled man and killed him. As we see a stake/lance conveniently placed, as in, the side in the body of Christ, with the finger (authority) of God separated from His body, now laying upon the earth, accompanied by two black, obscure figures stood to the side of a Temple/monument, looking down upon the said broken image of Christ, and by implication His church, with the shattered stone, representative flags/tablets of the Commandments, broken, as in made worthless, also the steps (Degrees of advancement/involvement) leading up to the Temple/monument, with the symbolic (Separated) foot of those who refuse to take part, etc.

    Was this mocking justified?

    Yes! if you consider that The elite within the Church refused to look at themselves with the penetrating eyes of Truth in regards to the abuse crisis cover up, and acknowledge its historical culture within the Church, in their own self-righteousness they staged a jamboree before all of mankind, to project their own sacrosanct image of themselves, in an act of arrogance before God, by making two of their own a personification of themselves, an intellectualized Pharisaical IMAGE of worldly goodness (Beauty).
    It was the same jamboree they gave to mankind a decade previously in bestowing on the Church the present Divine Mercy Image, a self-serving blasphemous image a worldly image of themselves.

    As they paraded (Swaggered) themselves in Rome before mankind in the canonizing process, it is fair to say that he Pope Francis and his Bishops would have been fully aware of the tens of thousands of derogatory articles and comments on the Canonization of John Paul 11 over the previous years and especially those made by the victims and they families of the child abuse scandal, was not their pain enough reason to delay the Canonizations of these two popes and facilitate the justifiable concerns of so many families and organizations that have assisted victims, their concerns were total disregarded, why?

    As Pope Francis and his Bishops callously continued with the Canonization process which only Pope Francis had the authority to stop, he and the Bishops would have been fully aware, that victims who have been traumatized need closure, and this closure for the majority of the abused and their families can only be achieved by the perpetrators or their accomplices (those who facilitated The Papacy to cover up this scandal) showing TRUE contrition for what they have done.

    The canonization of John Paul 11 before the world media by Pope Francis and the Bishops was an act of emotional violence on those who have been abused and their families, by having to watch (relive) and see again the hypocrisy of so many of the elite in our Church who the majority of mankind believe contrived in the cover up and then to be seen participating in bestowing its highest Honor on the one man, who so many believe could have averted the untold suffering of so many innocent and vulnerable victims, this action has to call into question the integrity of the leadership of the Church and to some degree our Shepherds who stood by and permitted this act to happen.

    The REALITY is that all who serve Truth/Love can see this act for what it was. It is comparable to Pontus Pilate who by washing his hands in public separated his public responsibility (High Office) from his personal self, while he murdered innocence. To his compatriots he would be still seen as a man of Honor. It now appears, that his example is been taught to the laity, in these words, “Personal Holiness has nothing to do with one’s responsibility held in high office” The Church has now through the authority of Pope Francis washed its hands in public in regards to the cover up of the child abuse scandal, as it has now attempted to separate the responsibility of those who hold high office from the man himself.

    It will not wash.

    Rather than embrace the wounded Christ and suffer for the cause of Truth, he Pope Francis with his Bishops were prepared to act in callousness and use the authority of the Holy Spirit (Truth) to belittle and inflict further pain on these who cry out for justice from Gods holy church on earth.

    It now appears that ‘honorable’ (Worldly) men in the Church will now be able to confer Sainthood on each other, as from now on an IMAGE of personal holiness will suffice.
    For me this was a defining moment for Pope Francis, I had hoped to see an heroic and impatient struggle for renewal (and still do) in seeing a man holding the bright flame of Truth (Love) before all of mankind, by stopping these contentious Canonizations in confronting CLERICALISM and embrace the failings of the papacy (Cover up of the child abuse scandal), under John Paul 11. Teaching by EXAMPLE, in been prepared to suffer (in Joy) for the Truth, embrace the wounds (Sufferings) of Christ and in so doing ask all of us to do the same, be an EXAMPLE serve and be prepared to suffer for the Truth in humility, acknowledging our own human frailty and in so doing expose the evil that enslaves mankind, our own sinfulness.

    How can our shepherds ask (lead) the flock to embrace humility, there is only one way they must vigorously embrace it themselves and to do this they have to confront the trappings of Clericalism, that spider that has caught so many in its web of deceit and arrogance. The True Divine Mercy Image has the power confirmed by God within its self to bring the arrogance of Clericalism to its knees and draw the Church into a new splendour.

    kevin your brother
    In Christ

      • Thank you Peter (Fr Peter Morello) for your comment

        I pray that I am a brother to all damaged and broken people, as I am one of them, and I thank God that I know it. You are also broken/damaged but sadly you cannot face that reality within yourself.

        “I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent.” (Change of direction)

        May His Peace be with you
        kevin your brother
        In Christ

        • Kevin I am with you insofar as what you suffer and your admission is commendable. You make judgment without knowledge in my instance and similarly regarding prelates, pontiffs you make preconceived judgment of some who also have struggled, imperfect men but men of God. Your personal introspection must not be used as a lever to judge the Church and the entirety of its prelates. There are saintly men better than myself that I recognize and seek to emulate. Bringing everyone down to what you perceive in yourself is actually self ingratiating. True humility requires that admission. There are men holier and better disposed than ourselves. Kevin that truth will set you free to be at peace.

          • Thank you Peter (Peter F Morello) for your comment

            Yes Peter The Truth will set us free. “You make judgment without knowledge in my instance”

            No I do not, we had a discussion two years ago on another site
            To reacquaint yourself, click Oldest first:
            Your comments directed at me have been deleted and my responses directed at you have been amended and now read
            Kevin Walters Guest • 2 years ago • edited. Where previously they read, from my copies Kevin Walters Fr. Peter Morello (3 months ago)

            Either you or someone else has removed all trace of your evolvement in the discussion, with myself and others. They can only be one reason, you defended the indefensible (As anyone reading my posts under the article will clearly see) and in doing so your credibility was at stake, so a coverup was stage.

            “True humility requires that admission.

            Yes! absolutely Peter, this is your moment, as you now have the opportunity to build on mere words (Your words)

            “There are saintly men better than myself that I recognize and seek to emulate”

            May God grant you the grace to do so, now, in the present moment.

            kevin your brother
            In Christ

  2. Undoubtedly, Eugenio Pacelli, Pope Pius XII, is a saint. The question is, why is his canonization (not to mention that of Pius IX) being held up? Everything is in order for both canonizations; everything has been in order for decades.
    May I humbly suggest that Pope Pius XII’s own way of getting a canonization done be implemented? [See THE GODMOTHER: Madre Pascalina; chapter explaining Padre Antonelli and the swift canonization of Pope Pius X.]

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