Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Pius XII - co-workers - Luigi Maglione 1877-1944

The most cursory glance at Actes et Documents will reveal a group of names appearing on a frequent basis. Among them is the name of Cardinal Luigi Maglione, Secretary of State from March 1939 to August 1944. For the first five and half years of Pius XII’s papacy, Maglione was his “right hand man”, but little is known about this very important and pivotal Vatican official.

Maglione was born a day short of one year after Eugenio Pacelli, that is, 2 March 1877, in the town of Casoria near Naples in southern Italy. He studied for the priesthood at the Collegio Capranica in Rome along with Pacelli, and was ordained priest in July 1901 for the archdiocese of Naples. Until 1903 Maglione worked in parishes in Naples.

Following a career trajectory similar to Pacelli, Maglione began studying for the diplomatic corp and attended the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy from 1905 to 1907 before entering papal service in the Secretariat of State in 1908. At the end of World War One he was appointed by Benedict XV as papal representative at the League of Nations before being made Nuncio to Switzerland in September 1920. As was customary, the new nuncio was ordained a bishop and created Titular Archbishop of Caesarea in Palestine. In June 1926 Maglione moved to Paris where he was nuncio until mid-1938. His reception by the French was cold; they considered him pro-German, but he used his considerable personal skills and charm to win over his opponents. Time reported that Maglione was involved in the Hoare-Laval Pact (1935) that attempted to provide an amicable end to the Italian invasion of Ethiopia. (Time 20.03.1939) Pius XI elevated him to the College of Cardinals on 16 December 1935.

Maglione was recalled to Rome in July 1938 and appointed Prefect of the Congregation of the Council which was responsible for the diocesan clergy (today known as the Congregation for the Clergy). His time there was short. Pius XI died on 10 February 1939 and his successor, Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, was elected Pope on 3 March 1939. A week later, the new Pius XII named his old friend Maglione, Secretary of State. (New York Times 10.03.1939) By this time the new Cardinal Secretary had a reputation for being anti-fascist, and followed the initiatives set out by the pope, namely to steer a course that would do everything possible to avoid another European war.

Pius XII did not want creators of policy. He wanted implementers. Maglione had been trained in the same late-Tridentine understanding of the Catholic Church that Pacelli had. He knew it and understood it. Thinking independently was not part of the practice of a Secretary of State to the Pope, just as independent thinking was not part of the role description of the Secretary of State to the President of the United States of the Foreign Minister to the Australian Prime Minister.

What then do we learn of Maglione’s style? He was an able diplomat, a skilled negotiator, unfailingly polite and reserved, who faithfully implemented papal policy from March 1939 until his death in August 1944. He could also be quite blunt. In January 1943 Maglione wrote to the exiled bishop of Wloclaweck, Charles Radonski defending the pope’s decision not to make his letters to the Polish bishops public:

If you ask why the documents sent by the Pontiff to the Polish bishops haven not been made public, know that it seems better in the Vatican to follow the same norms, the Polish bishops themselves follow...Isn’t this what has to be done? Should the father of Christianity increase the misfortunes of Poles in their own country? (ADSS 3 Part 2 Doc 460, translation from Blet p 84)


On rare occasions, such as in December 1942, we glimpse the man in a slightly unguarded moment, sending New Year greetings to Nuncio Gaetano Cicognani in Spain in an attachment to an official document, marked “Personal”. (ADSS 7.78)

What did Maglione know of the extermination of European Jewry? The simple answer is, “as much as the Pope did, and the Pope knew a lot”. It would have been unthinkable for Maglione not to pass on to Pius anything of significance; and the murder of the Jews was the most significant event occurring in Europe during the war year. Perhaps the most puzzling thing remains the evidence of muddled reactions to the ever-growing reports of German atrocities.

By August 1942 the Vatican, and that included Pius and Maglione, had as clear a picture of the mass-murder of the Jews as did Churchill, Roosevelt and, had he been particularly interested, Stalin. On 26 September 1942, Myron Taylor, the personal representative of President Roosevelt to the Holy See, presented Maglione with an account of atrocities beyond anything heard of before. The document was part of what has become known as the Riegner Telegram. It disclosed in considerable detail what was happening in Poland. Did the Cardinal pass the memorandum from Taylor onto the Pope? I presume he did. If he did not, it would constitute a major breach in policy and behaviour. What happened after? We do not know – yet. Perhaps the Archives will reveal how these men reacted to this news.

Maglione was a heavy smoker which probably hastened his death 22 August 1944 at the age of 67. (New York Times 23.08.1944; Time 04.09.1944). Pius did not replace Maglione, but took on the responsibilities of the Secretariat himself with the assistance of Monsignori Domenico Tardini and Giovanni Battista Montini.

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