Pope Pius XII, 1939-1958
Gerald Darring

Pope Pius XII was Bishop of Rome from 1939 to 1958. His tenure coincided with World War II and its aftermath, and he had much more to say about peace than about any other topic of the social justice agenda. He did not issue any encyclicals that were socially oriented or were accepted into the tradition of Catholic social teaching. He did, however, leave behind a large body of teaching on social, economic, and political issues. Most notable are his radio address of June 1, 1941, commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of Rerum Novarum, and his Christmas radio addresses during the war years.


John F. Cronin. Catholic Mind (1951) 686. Pius XII wants the structure of economic society to be an inherent bulwark of freedom. This means diffusion of power through diffusion of ownership, and herein lies the great contribution of Pius XII. Pius XI envisioned a social order based on cooperation for the common good. He concentrated upon the functioning of economic life, with important modifications of structure needed to achieve sound and harmonious action. The present Holy Father has probed even deeper, wishing the very structure of society to be a foundation for man's dignity and freedom.

Liam Brophy. Social Justice Review (1958) 263. "Those who conceived that, because of his frequent castigations of atheistic communism, the pope was thereby an uncritical upholder of capitalism, were disconcerted when he condemned that form of capitalism which was 'without any other aim except the enjoyment of ephemeral goods, without any other norm but that of the fait accompli'.... He condemned the ruthless ethics of unlimited competition and the social injustices of lingering liberalism as sternly as he condemned communism."

R.F. Cour. Review of Politics (1960) 483. "A person with isolationist or nationalistic leanings will find little of comfort in the writings of Pius XII. More than any other pope in history he emphasized the basic teaching on human solidarity and the implications of this doctrine for the community of nations."

Pietro Pavan. The Place of Mater et Magistra in Papal Social Teaching. Christus Rex (1962) 233. "Pius XII embraced the whole economic world within the sweep of his teaching, treating of a series of relationships: between employers, directors, furnishers of capital; between enterprise and enterprise; between various professional classes; between producer sectors: agriculture, industry, social services; between private enterprise and state intervention; as well as between national economies themselves on a world plane. His teaching is, indeed, vast--a veritable mine in which precious minerals abound--though inevitably beset with the difficulties of a mine: it is not always easy to find the mineral, or to assess its worth. The social teaching of Pius XII is often an incidental pronouncement, which inevitably suffers from any attempt at systematization."

America (27 April 1963) cover page. "There is a myth here in Rome, as well as elsewhere, by which Pope Pius XII is being downgraded, and his ideas and policies made to appear in conflict with those of Pope John. Pacem in Terris explodes that myth. I count 32 references to Pius in the 73 footnotes to this encyclical--explicit points on which Pius supports John. A highly qualified source told me yesterday that it is certain that Pius XII, if he were living today and had thus experienced historical developments since 1958, would have written substantially the same document we now possess in Pacem in Terris."

E.E.Y. Hales. Pope John and His Revolution. London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1965, pp. 32-33. "Pius XII believed that the world had gone desperately astray since the time of the Reformation and that the source of such evil lay in that great act of infidelity, that breaking away from the allegiance to Rome, which had led on, in due course, to secularism, to liberalism (in the continental sense of laicism, politics without reference to God and his law) and to atheistic socialism on the one hand and monopoly capitalism on the other."

Francois Refoule. The Church and the Rights of Man. New York: The Seabury Press, 1979, pp. 78-79. Without the Christmas messages of Pius XII during the war years, and particularly those of 1941 and 1942 and that of 1944 on democracy, without the same pope's profound reflections on the state, economic and social affairs, the encyclical Pacem in Terris would be scarcely thinkable. There is a clear line of continuity between Pius XII and John XXIII. But John XXIII's encyclical was original and bold when compared with the corresponding attitude of Pius XII, for in the whole of Pius XII's vast output, there is not the slightest reference to the UN's 1948 Declaration of Human Rights.

Christine E. Gudorf. Catholic Social Teaching on Liberation Themes (1981) 76. "For Pius XII the task of the Church was to teach the Gospel and to indicate the principles in the Gospel under which a better social order could be built. These principles comprise the social teaching of the Church, but the task of doing the building belongs to individuals, not to the Church as such."

James V. Schall, S.J. O. F. Williams and J. W. Houck, eds., The Judeo-Christian Vision and the Modern Corporation (1982) 122. "Pius XII, in particular after World War II, devoted a good deal of attention to the kind of society that ought to result from what he considered the tragic results of earlier economic theories. He was primarily concerned with the question of the meaning of property and its relation to social policy as the key tool of analysis.... In his later years, Pius XII was concerned with the problem of the 'masses' as that idea was philosophically argued in critiques of totalitarianism."

Donal Dorr. Option for the Poor (1983) 86. "The kind of deep concern that was aroused in Leo XIII by the plight of the mass of the industrial workers crushed by economic poverty was awakened in Pius XII by the thought of masses of ordinary people deprived of the possibility of taking personal responsibility for many aspects of their daily lives." He was on the side of the poor in the sense that he addressed this powerlessness, as Leo had addressed economic poverty. But he could do little more than protest. He saw what was wrong but he did not focus attention on any really practical and effective steps that could be taken towards the overcoming of powerlessness. "Had he done so his words would inevitably have been taken by many as a challenge to Western-style democracy--and possibly as an encouragement to its enemies. That was a risk that Pius XII felt he could not afford to take."

John J. Mitchell, Jr. Journal of Church and State (1985) 470. Pius was caught in a dilemma that he was unable to resolve. On the one hand, he was willing to enter into a dialogue with the socialist movement of his day; on the other hand, he was convinced that conditions within Western capitalism would cause more people to embrace a socialist alternative. "Although he refrained from detailing a plan for a new economic order, Pius saw the need for an alternative that would overcome the inadequacies of both the socialist models of his day and the abuses of capitalism. Because he was restricted by a pre-aggiornamento theological imagination, he was unable to go further."

William Au. C.J. Reid, Jr., ed., Peace in a Nuclear Age (1986) 100. "Pius XII stands as both a classic expositor of just-war theory and an articulator of major themes to be developed by his successors: the unprecedented danger of modern war, the need to establish a world authority to eliminate the right and need to resort to war, and the reconstruction of the world economic order to ensure mutual prosperity and eliminate the major causes of war."

John T. Pawlikowski, O.S.M. B. Grelle and D. A. Krueger, eds., Christianity and Capitalism (1986) 13. Pius XII's call for a new social order had profound implications. Putting to rest any attempt to preserve the old social barriers and aristocratic privileges, it contained a subtle revolutionary spirit. "Nothing short of a fundamental rethinking and redesign of the international economic order can bring about human dignity for all peoples, a dignity which is their birthright and whose ultimate source is God."

Ernest Bartell, C.S.C. O. P. Williams and J. W. Houck, eds., The Common Good and U.S. Capitalism, (1987) 183. Pius XI says that natural law morality determines independently where economic objectives fit in the universal order of purposes. "Pius XII is more generous to economics and economic life and anticipates later social teaching of the Church by stressing the possibilities for creativity in economic activity and by identifying a functional economic dependence with a violation of human rights."

"The Enormity of 'Real World' Capitalism's Myth." National Catholic Reporter (29 March 1991) 28. "Pius XII gave the papacy writings that provide a world scale for social examination, for he saw worldwide problems, not least through World War II and its aftermath."

George E. McCarthy and Royal W. Rhodes. Eclipse of Justice (1992) 167. "Pius appeared to settle for what would at best be, in place of a restructuring of the social order, only the practical expedient of a less bureaucratic free-enterprise system with state authority as an overseer of the common good to guard against capitalistic wealth concentration and socialistic nationalization."


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Connally, Michael. "Pope Pius XII on Democracy." Irish Monthly 73 (October 1945) 407-17.

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Cronin, John F. "Pope Pius XII on Labor in Management." America 83 (5 August 1950) 461-63.

Cronin, John F. "Social Economics of Pope Pius XII." Catholic Mind 49 (October 1951) 674-693.

Dorr, Donal. Option for the Poor. Maryknoll: Orbis, 1983, pp. 76-86.

Gonella, Guido. A World to Reconstruct: Pius XII on Peace and Reconstruction. Translated by T. Lincoln Bouscaren, S.J. Milwaukee: Bruce, 1944. Also published as The Papacy and World Peace: A Study of the Christmas Messages of Pope Pius XII. Translated by past and present students of the Venerable English College, edited and abridged by A.C.F. Beales and Andrew Beck. London: Hollis and Carter, 1945.

Hassett, J.D. "Pius XII and the Political Order." Catholic Mind 60 (December 1962) 4-15.

Kammer, Fred, S.J. Doing Faithjustice. New York: Paulist Press, 1991, p. 81.

Masse, Benjamin L. "Pius XII and the Social Order." America 100 (1 November 1958) 130-32. Reprinted in Masse, ed., The Church and Social Progress, Milwaukee: Bruce, 1966, pp. 39-43.

Masse, Benjamin L., S.J. "Pope Pius XII Demands Economic Reforms." America 84 (30 December 1950) 378-81.

Masse, Benjamin L., S.J. "Pope Pius XII on Capitalism." America 84 (2 December 1950) 277-79.

McCarthy, George E., and Royal W. Rhodes. Eclipse of Justice. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1992, p. 167.

Mitchell, John J., Jr. "Embracing A Socialist Vision: The Evolution of Catholic Social Thought, Leo XIII to John Paul II." Journal of Church and State 27 (1985) 469-70.

Murray, John Courtney. Morality and Modern War. New York: Council on Religion and International Affairs, 1959.

O'Connor, Daniel A. Catholic Social Doctrine. Westminster, MD: Newman Press, 1956, pp. 91-191.

Ward, Leo. R., C.S.C. "Pius XII and Man's Rights." Ave Maria 88 (25 October 1958) 5-7+

"L'Osservatore Romano Comments." Review of Social Economy 8 (March 1950) 137-38.

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