The Nazi Reich feared and hated the Catholic Church and its chief pastor, Eugenio Pacelli, Pius XII. The Reich had a special unit of ex-priests which worked to undermine the Church and do intelligence analysis. One of this unit, Albert Hartl, was in charge of the dossier on the new Pope Pius. They wanted to know what sort of man he was in the case of full scale war between the Reich and the Church.
Hartl summed up Pius in these terms.
Pacelli would not act rashly. His public statements against Nazism reflected Pius the Eleventh’s stormy style more than Pacelli’s. The new pope was not a ranting mystic but a careful watcher, a shrewd perceiver of things that coarser natures missed. “What he does, he hides within. What he feels, he does not show. The expression in his eyes does not change.” Pacelli measured each word and controlled each move. That could make him seem superficial, pedantic, or fussy. Only rarely, with Americans or children, did his eyes glow and his voice rise.
In Church of Spies: The Pope’s Secret War Against Hitler by Mark Riebling.
This book is fascinating, utterly engrossing. It deals with the deep espionage during the War, within and without the Church.
There is a riveting section about how listening and recording equipment was installed in the Apostolic Palace…
Most likely on the night of 5– 6 March, Vatican Radio technicians set to work. To avoid staining the anteroom floor, and to collate their gear for quick exit, they unrolled a rubber mat. On it they set their tools: drills and bits, pipe-pushers, collapsible ladders. Because power tools would draw attention, the team used hand-turned drills. They worked in shifts, each man cranking hard, then resting while another spelled him. At the highest turn rates, however, even hand drills made a telltale din. The techs decided that greasing their bits would reduce the noise. A Jesuit reportedly went to fetch some olive oil, perhaps from the papal apartments. The team then wet its drill heads, and the work progressed quietly. But as the bits warmed, so did the coating oil. Soon the site smelled like fried food. To evacuate the odor, the team had to pause and open a door onto the Cortile del Pappagallo, the Courtyard of the Parrot. Finally, after some tense and tiring hours, they broke through to the library side. Using a small bit, the techs made a pinhole— creating a passage for audio pickup and a wire. Book spines on the library wall presented natural concealment cavities. It remains unclear whether the techs hid a microphone in a hollowed-out book, which Father Leiber possessed, or whether they enlarged their side of the wall to fit the device. In any case, they apparently used a teat-shaped condenser microphone. They plugged it into a portable pre-amplifier that looked like a brown leather briefcase.
From the pre-amp they ran wires to the recording post. A stable link of coaxial cables passed through a tunnel, beneath an oak grove in the Vatican Gardens, and into a ninth-century dragon-toothed tower. There, amid frescoes of shipwrecks with Jesus calming the storm, Jesuits operated the largest audio recorder ever built. Bigger than two refrigerators stacked on their sides, the Marconi-Stille machine registered sound on ribboned razor wire, which could break free and behead the operators. They worked it only by remote control from a separate room. A half-hour recording used 1.8 miles of spooled steel. On the morning of 6 March, the available evidence suggests, an operator flicked a wall switch. A white lamp on the machine lit up. The operator waited a full minute to warm the cathodes, then moved the control handle to the “record” position.
There is a great page in which Pacelli’s coronation is paralleled with Hitler’s state ceremony in Berlin, on the same day that he signed the order to occupy Czechoslovakia.
The stakes were high indeed.
Perhaps no pope in nearly a millennium had taken power amid such general fear. The scene paralleled that in 1073, when Charlemagne’s old empire imploded, and Europe needed only a spark to burn. “Even the election of the pope stood in the shadow of the Swastika,” Nazi labor leader Robert Ley boasted. “I am sure they spoke of nothing else than how to find a candidate for the chair of St. Peter who was more or less up to dealing with Adolf Hitler.”
The Papacy is a horrible burden, but some times are more burdensome than others. A Pope will suffer the consequences of office, if he takes the office somewhat less cavalierly than Leo X, Medici.
At first Pius carried on normally, papally. He shuffled to his private chapel and bent in prayer. Then, after a cold shower and an electric shave, he celebrated Mass, attended by Bavarian nuns. But at breakfast, Sister Pascalina recalled, he probed his rolls and coffee warily, “as if opening a stack of bills in the mail.” He ate little for the next six years. By war’s end, although he stood six feet tall, he would weigh only 125 pounds. His nerves frayed from moral and political burdens, he would remind Pascalina of a “famished robin or an overdriven horse.” With the sigh of a great sadness, his undersecretary of state, Domenico Tardini, reflected: “This man, who was peace-loving by temperament, education, and conviction, was to have what might be called a pontificate of war.”
Friends, we may be living in more dangerous days than those of the 30’s.