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Pope Pius XII “did more than anybody in the world ever did for the Jews,” says Fr. Charles Murr, author of a book about his friendship with the close advisor to Pius XII, “and Mother Pascalina was right there to help him.”


Mother Pascalina kneels to receive Holy Communion from the hands of Fr. Charles Murr in the Chapel of the International Center of the Friends of Newman, Via Aurelia, Rome. Fr. Murr is dressed in vestments once belonging to Pope Pius XII. (Courtesy of Fr. Murr)

Most people have never heard of Mother Pascalina Lehnert. As a young nun, she worked with Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, the papal nuncio in Bavaria, and then spent many years in Rome as his trusted advisor and assistant when he was elected as Pope Pius XII. A new book tells Mother Pascalina’s story through her friendship with a young American priest. Titled The Godmother: Madre Pascalina, A Feminine Tour de Force, it is the third book of Fr. Charles Theodore Murr. A native of St. Paul, Minnesota, Fr. Murr studied in Rome during the 1970s, during which time he befriended Mother Pascalina. His fascination with her came from a deep affection for and devotion to Pope Pius XII, whose right-hand-woman Mother Pascalina was for decades.


The book is a memoir, recounting years of weekly meetings between Fr. Murr and Mother Pascalina, during which they would discuss matters theological and ecclesial, and Mother would regale Fr. Murr with stories from her time working in the Vatican’s upper echelons as a strong-willed German woman among hordes of men. The book is nearly impossible to put down, filled with engaging anecdotes and remarkable insights.


Fr. Murr recently spoke with Catholic World Report about his new book, his admiration of Pius XII, and his close friendship with Mother Pascalina.

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As I read the New York Times article [July 12, 2015] on Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman and his tunneled escape from a Mexican maximum security prison, another escape from another maximum-security prison by another Mexican Narco kingpin immediately came to mind.


In August, 2013, “El Chapo” Guzman’s former boss, Rafael Caro-Quintero, walked away from his Puente Grande Prison after serving a portion of his 40 year sentence. In 1985, then head of the Guadalajara Cartel Caro-Quintero was convicted for the murder of Drug Enforcement Administration [DEA] agent, Francisco “Kiki” Camarena. On a fallacious legal technicality, a Jalisco state judge ordered Caro-Quintero’s release. Though the Jalisco Supreme Court overturned that decision two days later, the “narco of all narcos” had already checked out of his Puente Grande suite, leaving no forwarding address, and had a 48-hour head start on the posse.


Once again, Rafael Caro-Quintero is on the FBI and DEA’s most wanted list and, once again, so is his partner in crime, El Chapo Guzman.


That same New York Times article recalled to mind a review I had seen on a novel written by a New Yorker. Intrigued by the review, I read The Society of Judas [pp. 485; Amazon, iTunes]. Set in Guadalajara in the 1980’s, among the eclectic cast of characters are a flashy Sinaloan drug lord and a psychopathic Mexico City medico.

I contacted author Charles T. Murr who agreed to an interview. Murr is a Roman Catholic priest who worked in Guadalajara from 1979 to 1992.

Terry Woods: What made you write The Society of Judas?

Fr. Murr: I wrote it for hundreds of reasons. In 1979, I built an orphanage near Guadalajara, Jalisco, in a place called Tepatitlan - as much a state of mind as it was a town. Villa Francisco Javier Orphanage – named for Francisco Javier Nuño y Guerrero, former Archbishop of Guadalajara – was home to over 500 boys and girls, now young and not so young men and women. I wrote the novel for them and dedicated it to them.

Woods: Is your novel a true story?




In his August 2009 First Things review of C. Theodore Murr's The Society of Judas (2008), Robert T. Miller summed up the novel in this way:

On the whole, The Society of Judas is difficult to categorize. As the story of a good but flawed man in the priesthood working out his salvation with fear and trembling in Mexico, the book is reminiscent of The Power and the Glory. In its assemblage of utterly bizarre characters and insane plot twists, it is reminiscent of The

Confederacy of Dunces. It is also a score-settling, tell-all exposé of human iniquity that is clearly meant to name names. Above all, however, it is the story of one man's life, told in the form of a novel but lacking the artificial unity a fictional account can achieve, and so it partakes of the strangeness and inscrutability that every human life displays.

The Society of Judas is indeed difficult to categorize. It is sometimes raw and shocking, but is written with an obvious elegance. It is often disturbing, often edifying, and always readable. Ignatius Insight recently interviewed the author about the novel.


Ignatius Insight: To what degree is The Society of Judas autobiographical? What are some ways in which you drew upon your own experiences in Mexico?

C. Theodore Murr: Though I do not readily admit it, in fact, The Society Of Judas is autobiographical. From the novel's inception--as was the case in real life, I might add--the dilemma was my priesthood. That is to say, I tried my heroic best to remain silent about any number of things (I figured) that were no one else's business. (Besides the Silent Lamb Himself, I held Thomas More near and dear, remembering that only at his trial, pushed beyond the limits, did he finally speak his mind and defend himself properly.) For years after what is described in the novel, I remained silent about what actually happened. Only when my now-adult children (from the orphanage) began asking me what really occurred, and why I left them to be orphaned a second time, did I decide they had a right to know. I began to see that my silence was being taken as tacit guilt.

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