Rumors and innuendo vs. facts…

Was Pope Saint Pius X Murdered?
– A Fanciful Tale from 1919

“Was Pope Pius X Murdered?” That was the intriguing headline on page 6 of the editorial section of the Nov. 2, 1919 edition of The New York Times. The author of the piece was one Walter Litchfield.

The article weaves a fanciful tale based chiefly on two things: (a) claims made in the book Le Baptême de Sang (“The Baptism of Blood”) by a French author identified only as Abbé Daniel (“Fr. Daniel”); and (b) an unnamed Italian priest commenting on those claims and adding some of his own. To make matters worse, the anonymous Italian prelate is quoted as saying: “…l’Abbé Daniel would be more convincing if he had restrained somewhat the violence of his obvious modernism.” None of this inspires confidence.

The full text of the New York Times article can be accessed here or read in the embedded post below. If the text is too small to read, try this larger version.

Was Pope Pius X murdered? (New York Times, Nov. 2, 1919)Was Pope Pius X murdered? (New York Times, Nov. 2, 1919) 02 Nov 1919, Sun The New York Times (New York, New York)

In a nutshell, the report says that Pope Pius X may have been murdered for political reasons. It is likewise surmised that Cardinals Mariano Rampolla (1843-1913) and Domenico Ferrata (1847-1914) were murdered as well. Hard evidence for any of these claims, however, is wanting, and the report does not pass a basic credibility test also for other reasons.

For example, in the article Pope St. Pius X is made out to be a somewhat helpless and fearful man under the control of an evil Secretary of State, Cardinal Rafael Merry del Val (1865-1930): “He sought every possible means for dismissing his Secretary of State”, Litchfield writes of Pope Pius, when the known facts give the lie to such a ludicrous assertion.

The saintly Spanish cardinal — Pius X believed Merry del Val to be a saint — had been carefully picked for his role by the Pope, even against the objections of a number of cardinals who took umbrage at his relative youth (he was only 38 when appointed) and the fact that he was a non-Italian, which constituted a break with tradition.

Although Merry del Val did not become Secretary of State until Nov. 12, 1903, Pius X had tapped him to be his chief advisor the very evening of his papal election when he appointed him Pro-Secretary of State, a temporary role until he was going to choose a permanent replacement for Pope Leo XIII’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Rampolla. On Oct. 18, the Pope made known to then-Archbishop Merry del Val that he was to be the Secretary of State, a post in which he remained until Pius’ death in 1914. The subsequent Pope, Benedict XV (r. 1914-1922), appointed Merry del Val to the Holy Office and made Cardinal Ferrata his Secretary of State.

In his extensive and extremely well documented biography of Pope St. Pius X, author Yves Chiron explains what led Pope Pius to pick Merry del Val for such an extremely important and influential position:

In October 1903 a French diplomat well summed up the qualities which had so attracted Pius X: Merry del Val, he wrote, is “a highly cultivated ecclesiastic, of irreproachable conduct, of friendly and distinguished manners, diligent, prudent and devoted” and “ever since he took over from Rampolla he has wanted to acquire a deep understanding of the questions he is asked to deal with; he works conscientiously with the Secretary of State’s sostituto [substitute] and with the Secretary of the Congregation of Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs.”

(Yves Chiron, Saint Pius X: Restorer of the Church [Kansas City, MO: Angelus Press, 2002], pp. 136-137)

Marie Buehrle quotes Pope Pius’ own explanation for why he chose Merry del Val to be his Secretary of State, as follows:

“I chose him,” said Pius X, “because he is a polyglot: born in England, educated in Belgium, of Spanish nationality, and living in Italy; the son of a diplomat and himself a diplomat, he is acquainted with the problems of all countries. He is very modest, he is a saint. He comes here every morning and informs me concerning all the questions of the world. I need never make an observation to him, and he knows no compromise.”

(Marie Cecilia Buehrle, Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val [Milwaukee, WI: The Bruce Publishing Company, 1957], p. 94. The book can be purchased here or borrowed electronically here.)

Far from there being animosity between the sainted Pope and his saintly Secretary of State, Buehrle relates of Cardinal Merry del Val:

For those full years of living against his natural inclinations [in his high position of authority] there had been unbelievable compensation. He had found the great human love of his life and found it rooted in the divine. He had been under the most powerful influence that could have entered into his shaping. He had lived beside Pius X. He had been loved and trusted by a saint.

(Buehrle, Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val, p. 181)

Cardinal Merry del Val, by the way, is the author of this beautiful Litany of Humility, which he typically prayed every day after Holy Mass.

The following 12-minute video clip provides a solid critique of the claim that Pope Pius X was murdered, and it also gives interesting background info and other historical facts:

Clearly, the New York Times article was fake news long before the advent of “fake news.”

Whether or not the good St. Pius X was murdered, one thing we know absolutely for certain is this:

When on Aug. 20, 1914, Pope Pius was called to judgment to render an account to his Divine Judge, he heard these most blessed words: “Well done, good and faithful servant… enter thou into the joy of thy lord” (Mt 25:21)!

We conclude this post with a clip of genuine video footage of Pope St. Pius X walking in the Vatican Gardens in 1912, followed by a few links of interest on this great holy Pope.

Pius X’s Most Important Doctrinal Papal Documents:

Videos & Tidbits on Saint Pius X:

Image source: composite with elements (screenshot), Wikimedia Commons, and
License: fair use, public domain, and paid

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