Born in Italy in 1876, Eugenio Pacelli entered the priesthood in 1899. The majority of his career in the Catholic Church was centered within the administrative hierarchy of the Vatican until 1917, when, as a Bishop, he served as nuncio to Bavaria. He spent the next two decades serving in various capacities throughout Germany and Prussia. As cardinal, Pacelli negotiated with the Nazi government after it gained control of the country. Pacelli was named Pope in 1939, the first Roman candidate in two centuries.
Throughout the tumult of World War II, Pius XII sought to retain open communications with all of the nations involved in the conflict, even if their wartime policies overtly contradicted the principles set forth in Church doctrine. Pius took the position that maintaining a diplomatic and political relationship with all governments was more expedient than severing ties in symbolic protest. Although Pius was largely praised for his actions during this period, future generations have been less sympathetic to him. In recent years, the reassessment of Pius’ legacy has been the subject of heated controversy among Catholics, historians, Jews, and members of the general public.
Essentially, by choosing to concentrate much of the authority of the world’s most powerful religious institution in one individual, the Catholic Church ceded its purported commitment to ensuring moral political and diplomatic relationships. Whenever the decision-making scope of an organization is reduced, the potential for error increases exponentially. In the case of Pius XII, the combination of Pacelli’s personal anti-Semitism, pro-Germanic sentiment, and power hunger, paired with the overarching trend of the Vatican towards centralized authority, resulted in a devastating loss of human life.