by Anura Guruge
That Pius XII (#261) was camerlengo when elected pope on Thursday, March 2, 1939, his 63rd birthday, is fairly well known. As far as we know he is the only one elected pope on his birthday, and but just one of three on-duty camerlenghi to be elected pope. Two 13th century popes had been camerlenghi earlier in their careers but had relinquished this office by the time they were elected.
Pius XII was also the Secretary of State (S.S.) when elected. Again, just one of three that were ‘S.S.’ when elected pope.
Pius XII was pope for 7,161 days — 19 years, 7 months, 1 week, the 14th longest papacy to date.
During this fairly lengthy papacy, spanning all of WW II, he only had a Secretary of State for 27.82% of the time — and that was his childhood buddy. That was it. One S.S., for 5 years 5 months, and even that a person he had known since his childhood. When this S.S. died, he never appointed a permanent S.S.
So we have the stats for the S.S. What about the Camerlengo?
For what percentage of his 19.58 year tenure did Pacelli have an official Camerlengo (and I stress ‘official’ here because saying that Lehnert was his Vice-Pope (VP) doesn’t count). Have a stab?
9.31%. Yes, 667 days — 1 year, 9 months, 3 weeks and 6 days. That was IT. For the remainder of the 6,494 days, 17.78 years, this office was left vacant.
Ill health was a hallmark of his life. He was quite ill for the last 4 years of his life, hiccuping uncontrollably for much of this time! During this time he had many blood transfusions. But, he still did not appoint a Camerlengo to administer his funeral.
When he died, at Castel Gandolfo, with his quack physician taking pictures of the dying pope (per a commission from the French Match magazine), there was no Camerlengo!
The Dean of the College of Cardinals, the ever impeccable, French, Eugène Tisserant, stepped into the breach and performed the death verification duties of the Camerlengo — though he was probably out-of-order for doing so. What he should have done was to have a Camerlengo elected then and there. In reality they did do that, within the day, giving us then 79.3 year old Benedetto Aloisi Masella who would hold that post until he died in September 1970 aged 91.3. [He would have had to have relinquished the post in 3 months as Paul VI’s (#263), 80-year rules were about to kick-in on January 1, 1971. But, he died before the cut-off was even announced in November of 1970.]
Not appointing a S.S. or a Camerlengo does speak to Pius XII’s weak personality — not to mention his conspicuous reluctance to create cardinals. He was obviously an extremely insecure man. Who he did appoint for short stints as S.S. and Camerlengo are also telling. One was a childhood friend, the other was the Major Penitentiary. The M.P. is one office that the pope has to keep filled. So he makes that the Camerlnego too. Very strange. Very sad.
I am always perplexed when people assert that he was a ‘good’ pope. So today I checked. Richard P. McBrien in HIS ratings of the popes totally omits Pius XII. That alone speaks volumes. He doesn’t even get a mention as a historically important pope. Well in this case I am with McBrien.
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by Anura Guruge