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
World War II . Along
with the German ambassador to the Vatican,
Diego von Bergen and later
Ernst von Weizsäcker
Ernst von Weizsäcker , Orsenigo was the direct diplomatic link
Pope Pius XI
Pope Pius XI and
Pope Pius XII
Pope Pius XII and the Nazi regime, meeting
several times with
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
* 4.1 Under Pius XI (1930–1939)
* 4.2 Under Pius XII (1939–1945)
* 4.3 German espionage
* 5 Legacy
* 6 Notes
* 7 References
* 8 External links
EARLY LIFE AND EDUCATION
Pope Pius XI
Pope Pius XI , a friend of Orsenigo in
Milan who appointed him
to all three of his nunciatures
Orsenigo was born in
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
Pope Pius XI .
NUNCIO TO THE NETHERLANDS (1922–1925)
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
Cardinal Secretary of State .
NUNCIO TO HUNGARY (1925–1930)
Orsenigo remained until his appointment as Apostolic
Hungary in the summer of 1925 while at
The Hague .
NUNCIO TO GERMANY
Orsenigo shaking hands with
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
Paul von Hindenburg
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, anti-Nazi bishop
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
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
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
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
On February 8, 1945, prior to the end of World War II, Orsenigo moved
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 secretary
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
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 end".
Both the Catholic and Protestant Churches of 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. Poland
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
Adam Stefan Sapieha of Cracow
wrote Orsenigo, telling him that a direct protest by the pope (rather
than the nuncio) was "indispensable". Phayer finds it "doubtful" that
Orsenigo forwarded Sapieha's request to the Holy See.
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
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 letter.
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 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 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
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 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 Innitzer , the
Vienna, wrote to
Cardinal Secretary of State
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
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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Indianapolis: Indiana University Press. ISBN 978-0-253-34930-9 .
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