Charles Theodore Murr is a Catholic Priest from the archdiocese of New York now retired. During his time as a Seminarian in Rome in the 1970s, he had the blessing of befriending the great Madre Pascalina (1894-1983), the secretary to Ven. Pius XII, and claiming her as his godmother. The two enjoyed a close spiritual friendship and spent countless Roman afternoons discussing the state of the Church during the twilight of Papa Montini’s pontificate. Murr’s book The Godmother recounts these conversations and offers a view at the Church crisis from the closest confidant of Pius XII, providing a unique perspective from her who had been the most powerful woman in the Vatican. The book was published in 2017 before the “summer of shame” and very few took notice. But now as we have endured these few years of scandal and the debate about Vatican II has once again been opened by Archbishop Viganò, Murr’s book deserves another look by faithful Catholics.
Most books which discuss the subject of controversy in the Vatican are sensationalist, pessimistic, or else wildly speculative. Murr’s book manages to avoid these pitfalls and makes for great reading. The conversations as recorded by Murr create a friendly and cordial look at a dire situation in the 1970s. Madre Pascalina may indeed be a saint, because there is a saintly charm that runs through this book, even as numerous dark stories are told. Pascalina speaks with the confidence of a friend of God, the humor of the great saints and the straight talk of a pious nun. Murr writes of his conversations in the third person and tells the story of friendship through the hardship of crisis. This is truly a great lesson for faithful Catholics, as so many spend hours on the internet in dour melancholy or bitter complaining. What Murr shows is the power of true friendship in Christ, which is truly an extraordinary blessing in hard times. It also shows the great need for the faithful to support our priests in our day.
During the course of the book Pascalina offers many amusing anecdotes of Vatican politics. In our age of rapid canonizations, she shares about the canonization process of Pius IX and Pius X. According to Pascalina, Pius XII wanted Pius X canonized after his fourth miracle and he was eager to have the world contemplate his holiness, whom Papa Pacelli believed to be the model pastor for our times. But when Pius XII consulted with Padre Antonelli, charged with Pius X’s cause, he learned that it would be another fifty years before Pius X was canonized. Wanting the process wrapped up as soon as possible, Pius XII came to his trusted secretary, Madre Pascalina: