Pius XII (#261) is said to have refused French Cardinal Eugène Tisserant [1884-1972] permission to leave the Vatican at the outbreak of WW II when Cardinal Tisserant expressed his desire to return to France and serve in the French army.
Tisserant, in a similar fashion to Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli [future John XXIII (#262)], served as an French army intelligence officer during WW I, though he had been ordained a priest in 1907. [Angello Roncalli, ordained in 1904, was drafted into the Royal Italian Army as a sergeant, serving in initially in the medical corps as a stretcher-bearer before being made a chaplain. Pius XII did not serve in WW I since he was a relatively senior curial official by then.]
I was doing some research into cardinal bishops yesterday when I came across this statement of Pius XII’s alleged reluctance to let Cardinal Tisserant go back to France.
At face value one could immediately dismiss this as being one of brotherly love between humans, with the pope wanting to keep another human (very gifted at that) away from the dangers of war. But, I got to thinking.
There could have been another reason. Having a relatively senior cardinal, who had held curial office, serving in the French army could have had a negative impact on the German forces – nearly half of whom were devout Catholics! This was one of Hitler’s biggest fears. The potential of the Catholic church to influence his troops. In reality this never came to pass.
But, what would have been the case IF Cardinal Tisserant left the Vatican and started working for the French army?
It is something to think about – my motto in life being ‘Think Free, Or Die.’
Pius XII Definitely Had German Connections
Pius XII’s apparent inaction during WW II has by now been widely discussed and debated, particularly so after John Cornwell’s ‘not-as-detailed-as-I-would-have-liked’ Hitler’s Pope book of 1999. I have no desire to rehash those topics.
From my perspective, as a hopefully objective, with really no axe to grind papal historian, I do, however, invariably come across four hard-and-fast, irrefutable, facts about Pius XII’s relationship with Germany that always give me pause. These are:
- He was a nuncio to Bavaria (essentially ‘German Empire’) and then Germany as of 1917 to 1930 – a total of 29 years.
- The German Sister (later Mother) Pascalina Lehnert, his ‘housekeeper’ for 41 uninterrupted years, in Germany and at the Vatican, was a very close and trusted confidant despite what most would have to contend was a rather incongruous relationship.
- Next to Pascalina Lehnert, the Pius’s two closest confidants were both German, the Jesuit Robert Leiber and Ludwig Kass. Around 1936 Kass, exiled from Germany, took residence in the Vatican. During Pius’s papacy Leiber, Kass and Lehnert constantly revolved around the pope, like Mercury, Venus and Earth around the Sun. < Enough said. >
- Pius XII’s greatest achievement prior to becoming pope was the concordat that he executed with Germany, with Hitler’s support, when he was the Secretary of State.
Since this posting is mainly about the French Cardinal Tisserant, I will let him have the last word about this pope. Prior to the 1939 conclave that would elect him Pope Pius XII, Cardinal Tisserant talking to the French ambassador to the Holy See had this to say about the soon to be pope: ‘indecisive, hesitant, a man more designed to obey orders than to give them.’
< Some do say, in his defense, that this was the real reason for his lack of overt leadership during the War. >
Eugène Tisserant Was Special
Between 1900 to 1961 Eugène Tisserant was to be the only non-Italian Cardinal Bishop.
He would be the Dean of the College of Cardinals from 1951 to his death in 1972. He was an acknowledged scholar, who had studied in Jerusalem, who was fluent in many languages, including Arabic, Hebrew, Russian, Assyrian, Persian etc. He became associated with the Vatican Library as of 1919 and would eventually be the Librarian and Archivist of the Holy Roman Church (1957-1971).
He was made a Cardinal Deacon in June 1936. He was consecrated a titular archbishop a year later. Six months later, per the jus optionis rules of that time, he opted to become a cardinal priest – albeit with his deaconry temporarily elevated to that of a ‘titular’ church. He, yet again using jus optionis, opted to be a cardinal bishop in February 1946. Thus, he had gone from being a cardinal deacon to a cardinal bishop is just under 10 years. He became the Sub-Dean of the College in 1948 – mainly due to Pius XII’s hesitancy to create cardinals during his near 20 year papacy.
Tisserant was atypical in sporting a beard. Unlike the current Cardinal Seán Patrick O’Malley, of Boston [USA], Tisserant was not a member of a religious order – this eliminating the assumption that he was unshaven per the precepts of his order.