Conference Report: Eugenio Pacelli als Nuntius in Deutschland

ACCH Quarterly Vol. 15, No. 2, June 2010

Conference Report: Eugenio Pacelli als Nuntius in Deutschland, March 24-26, 2010, Münster,Germany.

By Mark Edward Ruff, St. Louis University

The most controversial pontiff of the 20th century was the focus of a three-day symposium assembled and hosted by Professor Hubert Wolf and sponsored by the European research network, Pio XI, and the Excellence Cluster, Religion and Politics, at the University of Münster. Bringing together more than thirty researchers between March 26 and 28, this symposium honed in on Eugenio Pacelli’s years as the Nuncius in Germany between 1917 and 1929. Participants came from more than eight nations, including Italy,Germany,Poland, the Czech Republic,Israel, the United States,Austria and Switzerland. All presentations were translated simultaneously into Italian and/or German, the two official conference languages.

Keynote addresses were delivered by Romano Prodi, the former Prime Minister of Italy and current President of the European Commission and Mordechai Lewy, the Israeli ambassador to the Vatican. In very general terms, Prodi underscored the significance of the disastrous interwar years for the creation of the European Union and the importance of the European Union for the European future. Lewy, on the other hand, spoke much more critically of the conference subject. While dismissive of the epithet, “Hitler’s Pope,” Lewy spoke sharply of Pacelli’s own lack of interest in the fate of European Jews, particularly in the postwar era. The Vatican, he pointed out, was opposed to the creation of the state of Israel, regarding it as the dangerous creation of Communist and atheist forces. The curia, he added, was a bastion of anti-Semitic attitudes. Pius himself greeted the news of Israel’s creation “with mixed feelings,” and called for a “crusade of prayer” for “the sacred land.”

The centerpiece of the symposium was the formal presentation of a massive critical online edition of the approximately 7000 reports that Pacelli transmitted from Germany to the Vatican during his years as Nuncius from 1917 through 1929. Based on software  developed through the assistance of the German Historical Institutes in Rome and London, this online edition places these reports into an online databank, allowing scholars to search for documents by name, date or keyword. This software – DENQ  (Digitalle Editionen neuzeitlicher Quellen) – will allow scholars to compare drafts of Pacelli’s reports with the final versions he dispatched to Rome through multiple windows and color-coded texts.  Observing often subtle changes provide valuable glimpses into Pacelli’s thought processes. In one such report, Pacelli altered his description of Kaiser Wilhelm II from “nondeltutto equilibrato” to “nondeltutto normale.” By allowing users to open multiple windows, this software also provides user with valuable biographical information, e.g. birth and death dates, about those to whom Pacelli refers in his reports. To make optimal use of these features, users will need to use browsers based on Webkit or Gecko, including Firefox, Safari and Google Chrome. While it will ultimately take twelve years to bring this project to fruition, the project directors will not wait until then to open up this edition to scholars. Beginning with the year 1917, Pacelli’s reports will be released in regular intervals.

Following the unveiling of this online edition, three papers subsequently examined aspects of Pacelli’s tenure as nuncius.  The German scholar, Klaus Unterburger, described Pacelli’s skepticism vis-à-vis many German theologians as well as attempts to muzzle potentially critical voices. In describing Pacelli’s love for Germany, Phillip Cheneaux, Professor at the Lateran University, underscored the continuities between Pacelli’s years as Nuncios and his later pontificate. The Italian historian Emma Fattorini emphasized the wartime influence of the German Center Party politician, Matthias Erzberger, on Pacelli’s understanding of German politics. Though chronologically far removed from the interwar years, the scandals put in motion by the German playwright, Rolf Hochhuth, in the mid-1960s were at the center of Mark Edward Ruff’s presentation. Ruff focused on the missteps of Catholic defenders of Pacelli and, in particular, of the German Catholic media, whose clumsy counterattacks played into the hands of Hochhuth and his champions.

On the third day of the symposium, a panel of six scholars compared nuncios throughout Europe during the interwar era.  Thomas Brechenmacher, Professor in Potsdam, focused on Alberto Vassallo-Torregrossa (1925-1934) and the better known Cesare Orsenigo (1930-1945).  Rupert Klieber, Gianfranco Armando, Alberto Guasco, Emilia Hrabovec, Stanislaw Wilk provided respective portraits of the nuncios in Vienna, Paris, Rome, Prague and Warsaw. Of these nuncios, the most notable was Achille Ratti, Nuncio in Warsaw between 1919 and 1921 before being anointed Pope in 1922.

A final panel provided an overview of political Catholicism in the 19th and 20th centuries. Urs Altermatt, Professor in Fribourg, sketched the history political Catholicism in Switzerland, while Karsten Ruprecht laid out the trajectory of the Roman Catholic Center Party in Germany. Walter Iber summed up the history of the Christian Socialist Party in Austria: Stefano Trinchese provided the same for the Partito Popolari in Italy. Jaroslaw Sebek, finally, described the papal policies towards interwar Bohemia.

The conveners intend to publish the conference proceedings within the next year. More details will provided here at a later date.