The Pacelli Family
* * *
In the order of nature, among social institutions there is
none higher than the family. Christ elevated marriage, which
is, as it were, its root, to the dignity of a sacrament. The family
has found and will always find in the Church defense,
protection, and support, in all that concerns its inviolable
rights, its freedom, the exercise of its lofty function.

Over the centuries church and society have often disagreed
on various issues and the importance of particular
institutions, but have almost always concurred on the crucial
role of family in the physical, psychological, social, and religious
formation of individuals. "We are not born as the partridge in
the wood ... to be scattered everywhere," wrote the American
clergyman Henry Ward Beecher, adding that human beings
should be grouped together and "reared day by day in that first
of churches, the family." He like others recognized that character
and personality are largely shaped by the interaction of genetic
and environmental considerations, and the family plays a
key role in the emergence of both. Despite its profound influence
in character development, this crucial aspect has been largely
ignored by those examining the life and pontificate of Eugenio
Pacelli, who in early March 1939, on his sixty-third birthday, became
Pope Pius XII.
In fact, most of the writers embroiled in the "Pius War," from
the appearance of Hochhuth's play in 1963 to the present, have
neglected the impact of both Eugenio's family and his formative
childhood years on his life and career. Paul O' Shea, author of
A Cross Too Heavy, and John Cornwell, who wrote Hitler's Pope,
both of whom have devoted a chapter to the Pacelli family in
their volumes, are more of an exception than the rule.2 For the
most part "combatants" in the Pius controversy not only overlook
his family but tend to ignore his educational background,
initial diplomatic activity, his decade of service as nuncio in Germany,
and his years as the secretary of state of Pope Pius XI—
all vital for an understanding of the man who became pope and
the policies he would pursue once he donned the tiara. Both
man and pope were long in the making.
Nonetheless, much of the literature and historiography on
Pacelli dwells primarily on his papacy. Indeed, a number of writers
have narrowed their scope even further. Saul Friedländer, for
example, begins his study with the election of Pacelli as pope in
March 1939 and ends his work in September 1944. Others bypass
even more aspects of Pius XII 's papal tenure (1939–1958) to
focus on his "silence" during the Holocaust, not realizing that
this and other aspects of his pontificate cannot be fully understood
in isolation, outside the broader context of his life and
times. Small wonder that these narrow and restricted accounts
have been compared to a jigsaw puzzle with missing pieces, rendering
difficult, if not impossible, an objective and coherent biography
of Pius XII.
Some blame the introspective, private, and taciturn Eugenio
for the shortcomings in much of the historiography of his life
and career, citing his failure to say or write much about himself
and for revealing precious little about his personal feelings, inner
convictions, and intellectual and religious development. It is
true that over the years the inner-directed Eugenio, who from an
early age was a loner, did not provide much information on his
childhood, which he regarded as a personal matter. Indeed, even
when on the verge of death Pius XII ordered his staff to burn
those papers he had not reexamined. He was equally protective
of his public and private lives, clearly reflected in the notes
he took during his meetings with Pius XI. Whether one judges
his family's influence as positive or negative, or most influential
religiously, politically, culturally, economically, or socially,
his numerous relatives clearly played a crucial role in Eugenio's
formation, career, and future actions. His traditional and strict
Catholic family therefore warrants greater study than it has
hitherto received.
Although the Pacelli family's political, religious, and legal
roles in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries have been explored,
some things are not known about the early origins of the
family. Its presence is first recorded in Onano, a little town—
some would say a village—of some three thousand in the northern
province of Lazio, near Viterbo, on the border with Tuscany.
Today its population is even smaller, numbering just over one
thousand. While the family lived there, some fifty miles north
of Rome, the paternal family surname already had been changed
from Pacella to Pacelli in the seventeenth century—but it is not
precisely known when and why this had occurred. We do know
that the earliest accounts of the family relate their political traditionalism,
deep religious devotion, staunch loyalty and service
to the papacy, and their support for both its political and religious
We also know that the standing of the family was enhanced
in January 1774 when Maria Domenica Pacelli married Francesco
Caterini, son of another prominent Catholic family from
the Onano area. Six children resulted from this marriage, the
youngest of whom was Prospero Caterini (1795–1881), who would
have an important impact on the life and career of Marcantonio
Parcelli, who in turn influenced his son Filippo and his grandson
Eugenio. The intermarriage and "alliance" between these two
families, devoted to the papacy and the papal state, continued.
At the turn of the eighteenth century Maria Domenica's brother
Gaetano Pacelli married Maria Antonia Caterini, sister of Francesco.
Six children also resulted from their marriage.
Their second son Marcantonio (1800–1902), a name in the
papal state generally borne by the nobility, and some believe reflective
of the family's high aims and great ambitions, was the
future pope's grandfather. Born during the Napoleonic Age, his
career was advanced by a number of ecclesiastics, establishing a
precedent that would be followed by most of his descendants,
down to Eugenio and his nephews. Marcantonio's first cousin
Monsignor Prospero Caterini, who became Cardinal Caterini in
1853, acted as the entire family's protector and patron. Almost
all the biographers of Pius XII mistakenly refer to Prospero as
Marcantonio's uncle. He was not. Since Prospero was the son of
a Caterini male who married a Pacelli female, while Marcantonio
was the son of a Pacelli, who was brother to the female who
married the Caterini male that produced Prospero, the two were
first cousins.
Prospero found personal fulfillment and a religious vocation
in Rome. However, he missed his extended family which remained
in Onano and sought to persuade its more adventurous
and ambitious members to join him in the capital. To persuade
them to venture to Rome, he pointed out the many educational
and employment opportunities available there. He noted that to
govern and minister to the millions of his subjects and faithful,
the pope required a host of collaborators and assistants—both
lay and clerical. This need, together with the vast array of schools
and institutes that provided training for potential candidates to
serve Church and state, offered prospects simply not available in
the small and largely rural Onano.
Prospero's invitation was all the more attractive because it
was accompanied by an offer of assistance and guidance both
in education and employment to those family members who
joined him in Rome. In 1819, Marcantonio and his older brother
Giuseppe Pacelli, excited and enticed by the promises and
prospects dangled before them, accepted Prospero's suggestion
that they transfer to