Pope Pius XII’s Ripening Delusions of Omniscience

Pope-Pius XII

As Pope Benedict announces his retirement, Frank recalls Pius XII (Pontiff from 1939 to 1958), an expert in all matters who felt qualified to lecture TS Eliot on literature…

So sudden and unexpected was Pope Benedict’s abdication this week that I was caught on the hop and have not had time to prepare Key’s Patent Pontiff Prognosticator. Without it, it is hard to see how on earth, as it is in heaven, the conclave of cardinals will arrive at a proper decision. I have already received a few phone calls from certain redhats begging me for guidance. At such short notice, not having had time to familiarise myself with all the holy candidates, the best I can do is to hope they elect someone of the same calibre as Eugenio Pacelli, the man who became Pope Pius XII.

Pacelli had the right stuff, for a Pontiff. He ordered that anyone in the clergy who was on the other end of the telephone to him should kneel throughout the conversation, and the gardeners in his private garden were instructed to hide in the bushes as he walked past, so he wouldn’t have to look at them. Having, of course, sworn an oath of poverty, he drove around in a huge limousine with no chairs in the back, just a large throne. He also seems to have regarded himself as an expert on all manner of subjects. Here is John Cornwell, in Hitler’s Pope : The Secret History Of Pius XII (1999):

If he showed signs of grandiosity it was in his tendency to expatiate on an ever expanding range of topics. So numerous and so beyond his competence were these specialised talks, or ‘allocutions’, that the practice seemed symptomatic of ripening delusions of omniscience. He lectured visiting groups on subjects such as dentistry, gymnastics, gynaecology, aeronautics, cinematography, psychology, psychiatry, agriculture, plastic surgery, and the art of newscasting. A visitor to his study once remarked on the piles of fat manuals around his desk; Pacelli responded that he was preparing a talk on gas central heating. When T S Eliot, arguably the leading English-language poet and literary critic of his day, came to the Vatican for a private audience in 1948, Pacelli delivered him a lecture on literature.

I am sure there must be a cardinal among the current gaggle – if that is the correct collective noun – with similar chops. Let us pray it is so.

Meanwhile, I am minded to observe that, a few years ago, these persons of the Islamic persuasion seem to have been right after all . .


Share This Post

About Author Profile: Frank Key

Frank Key is a London-based writer, blogger and broadcaster best known for his Hooting Yard blog, short-story collections and his long-running radio series Hooting Yard on the Air, which has been broadcast weekly on Resonance FM since April 2004. By Aerostat to Hooting Yard - A Frank Key Reader, an ideal introduction to his fiction, is published for Kindle by Dabbler Editions. Mr Key's Shorter Potted Brief, Brief Lives was published in October 2015 by Constable and is available to buy online and in all good bookshops.

7 thoughts on “Pope Pius XII’s Ripening Delusions of Omniscience

  1. markcfdbailey@gmail.com'
    February 15, 2013 at 10:00

    I’m restraining myself………………………..

  2. Gaw
    February 15, 2013 at 11:38

    When people talk about maintaining the Church’s relevance in today’s world I’m sure making priests experts in heating engineering isn’t what they have in mind. But think on it – what if every priest incorporated a free plumbing service into his ministry?

  3. bensix@live.co.uk'
    February 15, 2013 at 12:20

    …the gardeners in his private garden were instructed to hide in the bushes as he walked past, so he wouldn’t have to look at them…

    Or is it possible that he had a cruel sense of humour and enjoyed watching men try to hurl themselves about the garden? One way of knowing is to find out whether he was more liable to make an appearance when they were pruning the roses.

  4. jc224@cam.ac.uk'
    February 15, 2013 at 21:01

    You wouldn’t find a Pius XII clone resigning. He was so keen to stay on as Pope, forever, that he took courses of rejuvenation injections dispensed by a Swiss doctor called Paul Niehans: they were from sections of the prefontal brains of sheep and monkeys. Then he got hiccups through swilling tanning oil around in his mouth to cure bleeding gums: it went down his gullet and created havoc. But just think, old Benedict could be the great Undead Pope for years: through several generations of popes. John Paul I , the smiling pope, only lasted a month That was a very nervous smile. But Benedict will go on and on…like the song: “Look who;s here: I’m still here.” There could be several ex-Popes if they all start resignin: then we could have the Undead Popes Soceity. Ad multos annos.

  5. johngjobling@googlemail.com'
    February 21, 2013 at 20:09

    The thing is, that twelfth Pius bloke, what was he blessing in the photograph, Werners latest attempt, in Peenemunde, at lighting the blue touch paper? or maybe Ferry Porche’s Kursk effort at making his turret actually fit the Elephant.

    Interesting conversation in a Köln brauhaus on Friday, Bennie used to be the Archbishops spad, after his Tübingen days, “will he be holding a leaving do and will it be in the Marienplatz.” If so, will the lederhosen come out of the bottom drawer.

Comments are closed.