The firmness and diplomacy of the future Pius XII in the papers of the Congregation for Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs
and the Second Spanish Republic
Unpublished documents confirm the difficult relations between Church and Government in the 1930s
The cardinal members of the Congregation for Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs met five times in 1931 to examine in-depth the complex situation of the Church in Spain after the proclamation of the Republic. The first plenary was held on April 23rd to discuss the recognition of the provisionary government of the Republic, which had been declared just a few days before. Cardinal Pacelli was in favor, although he considered it’s origins illegitimate. The cardinals opposed to recognition of the Republic maintained that it had been a coup d’etat. The Church immediately respected the new regime and showed itself to be open to collaborating for the common good. In the plenary of June 1, Pacelli announced the news that the government had expelled the bishop of Vitoria, Mateo Mugica from Spain on May 17. In his opinion, “Catholic Spain” was, unfortunately, only a myth, because the religiosity of the people, with the exception of the three Basque provinces and of Navarra, was scarce. The bishop maintained that the restoration of the monarchy seemed impossible at that moment and very difficult in the future. Nothing good could be expected from the provisionary government, even if there were three Catholic ministers, who however had quickly been shut out of the cabinet. All the others were atheists and enemies of the Church. Nothing good could be expected from the coming elections of the Constituent Courts at the end of June, because it would take place amidst threats and violence, without allowing citizens to freely express themselves. The government was preparing for the expulsion of religious orders and said that it was the will of the people.
The political-religious situation became more complicated during the summer due to inopportune actions by Cardinal Segura and the demands of the government for his resignation. So the cardinals met again on September 3rd and 15th to study the government proposal and make new decisions. In the plenary there were strong tensions between Segura and the nuncio Tedeschini, whose work was once again censured by some cardinals, while Gasparri and Pacelli defended him. The “Segura case” was resolved when the cardinal offered to resign, an offer immediately accepted by the Pope.
The fifth plenary of 1931 took place November 12th to examine diplomatic relations and the proposal to nominate Luis de Zulueta as Ambassador to the Vatican, which had already been rejected in May. The cardinals opposed his nomination because it would have been humiliating for the Holy See to accept an ambassador who had formally been denied the placet and whose situation was further aggravated by the speech pronounced in the Cortes (Parliament) at the end of August which had openly criticized the Church. Pacelli asked the government not to insist further with a candidate who had already been rejected and to propose another. Only after the government’s response could the cardinals decide whether to keep the nuncio in Madrid or replace him with a charge d’affaires.
Some cardinals were in favor of a hard line approach to the increasingly unacceptable demands of the government, while others preferred negotiation. The former asked that the nuncio be recalled, in a significant gesture which would affect public opinion. The latter were in favor of maintaining diplomatic relations, even though the were under no illusions that the results would be particularly positive given the radicalism of extremist and violent political groups in the Cortes.
Pacelli defended Tedeschini, who remained in Madrid until June 1936 when he returned to Rome having been made cardinal. For this reason, the Holy See maintained diplomatic relations with the Republic, despite its conflict with the Church from the very first days. Only in 1938, when the war in Spain was ending and various states had recognized the so-called “national” government, were relations interrupted.
The votes of Cardinal Pacelli in these congregations constitute a synthesis of the Spanish political-religious problem which the Holy See had to confront in only a few short months due to the rapidity and intensity of political events which obligated them to make quick decisions, not always easy to put into practice.
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