Cesare Vincenzo Orsenigo (December 13, 1873 in Villa San Carlo, Italy
– April 1, 1946 in Eichstätt) was Apostolic
1930 to 1945, during the rise of
Nazi Germany and World War II. Along
with the German ambassador to the Vatican,
Diego von Bergen
Diego von Bergen and later
Ernst von Weizsäcker, Orsenigo was the direct diplomatic link between
Pope Pius XI
Pope Pius XI and
Pope Pius XII
Pope Pius XII and the Nazi regime, meeting several
Adolf Hitler directly and frequently with other
high-ranking officials and diplomats.
Orsenigo was close to Achille Ratti, the
Archbishop of Milan, and was
appointed to the Vatican diplomatic corps when Ratti was elected Pope
Pius XI, as nuncio to the
Netherlands (1922–1925), Hungary
Orsenigo believed in the Italian fascist ideal and hoped the German
variety would develop into something similar. He was a
controversial figure among his contemporaries and remains the subject
of historical criticism for his advocacy of "compromise and
conciliation" with the Nazis, particularly in relation to The
Holocaust. Pius XII has been criticized by several contemporaries
and historians for not replacing Orsenigo as nuncio. Pius XII left the
nunciature vacant after Orsenigo's death in 1946 until he appointed
Aloisius Joseph Muench to the post in 1951.
1 Early life and education
Nuncio to the
Nuncio to Germany
4.1 Under Pius XI (1930–1939)
4.2 Under Pius XII (1939–1945)
4.2.1 The Holocaust
4.3 German espionage
8 External links
Early life and education
Pope Pius XI, a friend of Orsenigo in
Milan who appointed him to all
three of his nunciatures
Orsenigo was born in Olginate, Italy. He attended a seminary in
Milan. He became a Kaplan and later a priest of San Fedele in Milan.
1912, he was finally a member of the cathedral chapter of Milan. Even
as a parish priest in Milan, he met Achille Ratti, who soon after
Pope Pius XI.
Nuncio to the
Ratti, after his election as pope in 1922 appointed Orsenigo to the
rank of titular archbishop of Ptolemais and made him a nuncio to the
Netherlands, effective June 23, 1922. Orsengio, aged 49 at his
appointment, had no formal diplomatic training, but rather had been a
friend of Ratti in Milan. Ratti overruled Orsenigo's objections
that he lacked experience, noting that he himself had spent decades as
a librarian before being appointed apostolic delegate to Poland.
He received the episcopal consecration on 29 June 1922 from Pietro
Gasparri, who was then
Camerlengo and Cardinal Secretary of State.
Orsenigo remained until his appointment as Apostolic
Nuncio in Hungary
in the summer of 1925 while at The Hague. [clarification needed]
Nuncio to Germany
Orsenigo shaking hands with Joseph Goebbels
Under Pius XI (1930–1939)
On April 25, 1930, he became Apostolic
Nuncio in Germany, a post
previously held by Eugenio Pacelli (future
Pope Pius XII), who had
been appointed Cardinal. He received his conformation letter from
President Paul von Hindenburg. Orsenigo's nunciature was located in
Berlin, although a separate nunciature existed in Munich due to its
"peculiar status" dating back to 1871.
On February 16, 1933, Orsenigo wrote to Pacelli that it would be
"ingenuous and incoherent" to support the newly elected Nazi
government, but that he feared open opposition would lead to a new
Kulturkampf. In a March 7, 1933 letter to Pacelli, Orsenigo
estimated that six to seven million of Germany's thirteen million
voting Catholics had supported the Nazi party. According to George
Schuster, Orsenigo "was frankly jubilant" over the election of
Hitler. As early as March 1933, Orsenigo concluded that compromise
and conciliation was the only option, arguing that earlier
condemnations of Nazism by German bishops had concerned only its
religious, not political, tenets.
After the conclusion of the
Reichskonkordat on July 20, 1933, Orsenigo
urged German bishops to support the Nazi regime. For example,
Maximilian Kaller complained that Orsenigo (who,
Kaller assumed, spoke for the pope) "put the skids under me" by
telling him to make amends with the Nazis. Orsenigo punished Bishop
August von Galen, who continued to publicly criticize the Nazi's
euthanasia program, with a critical letter to Rome.
Writing on May 8, 1933 about an earlier conversation with Hitler,
Orsenigo opined that Hitler saw Christianity as essential to private
life and the German state and that without the cooperation of the
Nazis the German Church could not hope to defeat liberalism,
socialism, and Bolshevism. Orsenigo reported that Hitler did not
agree with the neo-pagan wing of the Nazi party, as represented in
Alfred Rosenberg's The Myth of the Twentieth Century.
Following an April 4, 1933 transmission from
Pope Pius XI
Pope Pius XI to "look
into whether and how it might be possible to become involved" in
helping the victims of Nazi persecution, Orsenigo replied that any
intervention would be seen as "a protest against that government's
law" and thus not be advisable. Of the 95 documents from the Berlin
nunciature in the
Vatican Secret Archives
Vatican Secret Archives from 1930 to 1938, only four
contain references to Jews.
Under Pius XII (1939–1945)
Pius XII retained Orsenigo as nuncio to Germany; his priorities (as he
made clear to Orsenigo) were the preservation of the Reichskonkordat
specifically, and Vatican-German relations more generally.
According to Phayer, "In Orsenigo, Pius had the right man for the job.
A pro-German, pro-Nazi, antisemitic fascist, Orsenigo would have no
trouble adjusting to the Nazi regime in Berlin. In addition, Orsenigo
who hankered after the cardinal's hat, could be trusted not to
interfere with Pius's well-known intention to deal with Germany
himself". On the orders of Pius XII, Orsenigo warmly and publicly
congratulated Hitler on April 20, 1939, the Führer's fiftieth
On May 4, 1939, Orsenigo visited
Adolf Hitler in Obersalzberg;
Orsenigo was flown to Salzburg and had lunch at the Grand Hotel in
Berchtesgaden before being transported to Hitler's residence, where
the two spoke privately for an hour before having tea with von
Ribbentrop and his aide V. Hewel (who also wrote an account of the
meeting). In a 1940 note to Pius XII, Orsenigo again argued in
favor of conciliation, stating his fears of lapsed religiosity among
German Catholics unless the clergy appeased the regime and relieved
members of the Church of a conflict of conscience.
Goebbels, Hitler, Orsenigo, and Italian ambassador Vittorio Cerruti at
a reception for foreign press in Berlin
On June 21, 1942, he was a consecrator at the
Cologne Cathedral for
the inauguration of the new archbishop in Cologne, Joseph Frings. In
November 1943, he again met with Hitler on behalf of Pius XII.
According to Orsenigo's own account:
"As soon as I touched upon the question of Jews and Judaism, the
serenity of the meeting ended at once. Hitler turned his back to me,
went to the window and started drumming his fingers on the pane [...]
Still, I went on, voicing our complaints. Hitler suddenly turned
around, went to a small table from which he took a water glass and
furiously smashed it on the floor. In the face of such diplomatic
behavior, I had to consider my mission terminated".
On February 8, 1945, prior to the end of World War II, Orsenigo moved
to Eichstätt, in Bavaria. The nunciature lost its official status
in May 1945, with the defeat of Nazi Germany, although the Allied
Control Council allowed Orsenigo to remain in Eichstätt. Orsenigo
Eichstätt on April 1, 1946, leaving his aide de camp,
Monsignor Carlo Colli as the only remaining link between Pius XII and
the German Church. Colli died in January 1947, leaving his
Monsignor Bernard Hack alone in Eichstätt. After a
lengthy interregnum, during which Pius XII relied on Father Igo
Ziegler at the Villa Grosch in Kronberg, the next nuncio would be
Aloisius Joseph Muench.
Orsenigo as nuncio routinely refused to intervene on behalf of Jews
and more often than not failed to forward to Rome reports descriptive
or critical of the Holocaust. A rare exception, was the Nazi plan
to "resettle" Jews married to Christians, although Phayer argues that
his concern was primarily with their Catholic spouses. According to
Phayer, "when the nuncio was directed by the Holy See to discuss
incidents concerning Jewish victims with Nazi officials, he did so
timidly and with embarrassment".
In 1941, Orsenigo was contacted by Kurt Gerstein, a Protestant SS
officer who had personally witnessed the extermination of Jews and
wished to notify the Vatican. Informed of the purpose of
Gerstein's visit, Orenigo refused to meet with him. Gerstein's
message was eventually sent to the Vatican by the auxiliary bishop of
Berlin, not the nuncio's office, where the information reached a "dead
Both the Catholic and Protestant Churches in the
vocal in their protests against the deportation of the Dutch Jewry,
although the mainline Protestant Church eventually turned silent on
the basis of Nazi promises that doing such would save further "Jews"
of their denomination from deportation. Orsenigo sent word to the
Vatican that the protest of the Church had caused the Dutch
deportations to end, despite the fact that exactly the opposite had
occurred, and seizures, murders, and deportations of Catholics of
Jewish heritage increased.
Germany would not allow Pius XII to appoint a nuncio to
occupied Poland, Orsenigo fulfilled that role as well, for all intents
and purposes. On November 1, 1939, Orsenigo's authority was
formally extended to Poland. In August 1940, Orsenigo indeed
launched a private protest with the German government, listing a
variety of abuses against the Polish Church (but none against the
Polish people); this had no noticeable effect. Bishop Adam Stefan
Sapieha of Cracow wrote Orsenigo, telling him that a direct protest by
Pope (rather than the nuncio) was "indispensable". Phayer
finds it "doubtful" that Orsenigo forwarded Sapieha's request to the
Among Polish Catholics, there was a widespread perception that
Orsenigo "purposefully minimized their situation in his reports to
Rome". For example, Hilarius Breitinger, the apostolic
administrator of Warthegau, delivered two copies of a letter critical
of the Pope's silence towards Berlin with regard to the situation in
Poland: one to Orsenigo and another to Cardinal Michael von Faulhaber,
only the latter of whom assured Breitinger they would deliver the
Hitler with Orsenigo in 1935
A November 25, 1939 dispatch from Orsenigo prompted Pius XII to make
"one of his most controversial decisions". Orsenigo informed the
Pope of the situation in the diocese of Chełmno-Pelpin: the bishop,
Stanisław Wojciech Okoniewski, was in exile; his auxiliary was ill;
all but one canon was absent; only 20 of the 500 priests of the
diocese had not been forced out, imprisoned, or murdered. Pius XII
therefore reversed his decision not to replace Polish prelates with
(even temporary) German ones, naming Karl Maria Splett, the bishop of
Danzig, also apostolic administrator of Chełmno-Pelpin. This
decision was seen as a betrayal by the Polish government-in-exile, as
Concordat of 1925
Concordat of 1925 prohibited placing any Polish territory under
the jurisdiction of a bishop outside Poland.
RSHA infiltrated the Berlin nunciature through a German journalist
who was to Orsenigo and a through [clarification needed] a patriotic
German priest who served under Orsenigo as adviser on German and east
European affairs. According to Alvarez and Graham, this espionage
provide "access to the attitudes and intentions of the nuncio".
Orsenigo's primary priest-assistant was in fact a secret member of the
Nazi party. It is unknown whether Orsenigo himself was aware of his
assistant's party membership, however this fact was certainly known by
Robert Leiber, a German Jesuit who served as one of Pius XII's closest
confidants and advisers during the war.
Theodor Innitzer was among the contemporary critics of
According to Prof. Jose Sánchez, "a chief point of criticism of [Pope
Pius XII] is his unwillingness to replace
Cesare Orsenigo as his
nuncio to Berlin". The Vatican received many contemporary
complaints about Orsenigo as nuncio; for example, Cardinal Theodor
Archbishop of Vienna, wrote to Cardinal Secretary of
Luigi Maglione in 1939, stating that Orsenigo was too timid and
ineffectual. The German episcopate was divided on Orsenigo; Bishop
Konrad von Preysing
Konrad von Preysing wrote a letter to the Vatican in 1937 calling
Orsenigo too sympathetic with the Nazis, but Cardinal Adolf Bertram,
the chairman of the German Bishops Conference, wrote a letter of
praise recommending that Orsenigo be allowed to stay. von Preysing
had a history of correspondence with Orsenigo, but became frustrated
upon receiving the following response: "charity is well and good but
the greatest charity is not to make problems for the church".
Owen Chadwick argues that "the
Pope knew how weak with the Nazis
[Orsenigo] was". Phayer and Morley also criticize Pius XII for
leaving Orsenigo at one of his most important nunciatures.
However, Pierre Blet argues that had Orsenigo been replaced, a new
nuncio may not have been accepted by the Nazis and the Vatican would
have lost communication with the German Church.
Susan Zuccotti argues that Orsenigo was "never known for his
imagination or daring". Chadwick states that "Orsenigo saw nothing
but ill to come from a breach between the Church and a Nazi State. As
an Italian he believed in the Fascist State. His ideas on what ought
to happen in
Germany were formed on the basis of what happened in
Italy". Chadwick credits to Orsenigo the creation of a
chaplain-general for the German army, the circulation of pastoral
letters from German bishops on pro-Nazi subjects such as mass
^ Paul O'Shea, A Cross too Heavy, p.149
^ a b c d e Goldman, 2004, p. 31.
^ a b c d Brown-Fleming, 2006, p. 180, note 68.
^ Goldman, 2004, p. 30.
^ a b c d e Brown-Fleming, 2006, p. 35.
^ Lewy, 1964, p. 27.
^ a b c d e f g h Phayer, 2000, p. 45.
^ a b Godman, 2004, p. 32.
^ Godman, 2004, p. 33.
^ O'Shea, 2008, p. 232.
^ a b Phayer, 2000, p. 44.
^ Cornwell, 1999, p. 224.
^ Sánchez, 2002, p. 101.
^ Kurzman, 2007, p. 125.
^ Brown-Fleming, 2006, p. 36.
^ a b c Phayer, 2000, p. 46.
^ a b Phayer, 2008, p. 59.
^ a b c Phayer, 2008, p. 28.
^ Blet and Johnson, 1999, p. 72.
^ a b c Phayer, 2008, p. 29.
^ a b c d Blet and Johnson, 1999, pp. 72–73.
^ a b Alvarez and Graham, 1997, p. 10.
^ Phayer, 2000, p. 260.
^ a b c d Sánchez, 2002, p. 168.
^ O'Shea, 2008, p. 234.
^ Reinhold, H.A. 1996. "H. A. REINHOLD: LITURGICAL PIONEER AND
ANTI-FASCIST". Catholic Historical Review, 82(3).
^ Phayer, 2000, p. 78.
^ Zuccotti, 2000, p. 74.
^ a b Chadwick, 1995, p. 21.
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The Holocaust and Catholic Conscience:
Cardinal Aloisius Muench and the Guilt Question in Germany. University
of Notre Dame Press. ISBN 0-268-02187-2.
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Catholic Church and Nazi Germany. New York:
McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0-306-80931-1
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Catholic Church and the Holocaust,
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Cesare Orsenigo in the hierarchy of the Catholic Church
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Catholic Church titles
Giovanni Tacci Porcelli
Nuncio to the Netherlands
23 June 1922 – 2 June 1925
Nuncio to Hungary
2 June 1925 – 18 March 1930
Nuncio to Prussia
18 March 1930 – 1945
Aloisius Joseph Muench
Pope Pius XII
Born Eugenio Maria Giuseppe Giovanni Pacelli, 2 March 1876 – 9
Cardinal Secretary of State
Cardinal Secretary of State (1930–1939)
Saint Peter's Basilica
Saint Peter's Basilica (1930–1939)
Illness and death
Mystici corporis Christi
Divino afflante Spiritu
Orientales omnes Ecclesias
Deiparae Virginis Mariae
In multiplicibus curis
Redemptoris nostri cruciatus
Sempiternus Rex Christus
Ad Sinarum gentem
Ad Caeli Reginam
Le pèlerinage de Lourdes
Ad Apostolorum principis
World War II
conversion of Jews
Persecution of Church
Jewish orphans controversy
Pontifical Relief Commission
1942 Christmas address
Alleged kidnapping plot
Bombing of Rome
Nazi Germany (Reichskonkordat)
Post-World War II
Eastern canon law
Fátima and Balazar
Apostolic constitutions and bulls
The Deputy (fictional play)
Three Popes and the Jews
Actes et documents
International Catholic-Jewish Historical Commission
Under His Very Windows: The Vatican and the Holocaust in Italy
The Myth of Hitler's Pope
Pius XII, The Holocaust, and the Cold War
The Pope's Jews: The Vatican's Secret Plan to Save Jews from the Nazis
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