Padre Pio Under Investigation: The Secret Vatican Files by Francesco Castelli

"These are almost entirely unpublished texts, and they are of remarkable documentary value: Since they were declared classified at that time, they didn’t appear among the sources in the archives of San Giovanni Rotondo, and for this reason they were ignored for a long time. But in 2006, as is well known, Benedict XVI gave free access to the archives of the former Holy Office up until the year 1939, making it possible at last to examine what the archives held on the subject of the friar from Pietrelcina. The consequence of all this was the revival of the seemingly inexhaustible research on this saint, who has been long-loved and at the same time, in some circles, so discussed and looked upon with arrogant diffidence. 

These past few years have seen the arguments—both in favor and against the stigmatic Capuchin—rekindle, arguments that had apparently died down with the canonization. 

Thus a volume by the Jewish historian Sergio Luzzatto, Padre Pio. Miracoli e Politica nell’Italia del Novecento, caused great commotion. The book examines some documents kept in the former Holy Office, in particular the charge, attached to the Lemius Report, leveled by two pharmacists. The author, while briefly mentioning Monsignor Rossi’s Visitation, meant to cast an ambiguous light on the stigmatic friar by relying on his detractors, first and foremost Father Gemelli. Luzzatto carries out his maneuver by insinuating doubts about the veracity of the stigmata, suggesting it would be impossible to rule out not only psychosomatic causes, but even chemical interventions to create and maintain them. According to this author, a great part of the “Padre Pio phenomenon” would actually be the fruit of the tight intertwining occurring at that time between the Church and Italian politics—in particular the phenomenon of clerical fascism, coupled with the fanaticism of the Catholic masses, which, according to Luzzatto, from the very beginning would have made the Capuchin untouchable—and with his own (at least partial) consent. 

I have already noted elsewhere that Luzzatto’s way of reading the events, by making use of historical and political, when not ideological, categories, is absolutely insufficient to describe and penetrate phenomena like the ones at issue, which, while belonging to history, at the same time transcend history. Only faith—which is not fanaticism or sentimentalism, as it would be sometimes convenient to portray it—grants that vision of the world, and hence of history, which allows for the hypothesis of God and accepts all of its consequences, including the one that he may work wonders in a person like Padre Pio and through him may powerfully intervene in the world. 

Saverio Gaeta and Andrea Tornielli have accurately and vigorously answered Luzzatto in their volume Padre Pio. L’ultimo sospetto, in which they highlight not only the historian’s numerous inaccuracies, but also his genuine mistakes and his frequent manipulation of the texts he uses to confirm his thesis. Gaeta and Tornielli did this by using various sources, and by quoting a few passages from the previously mentioned Holy Office inquiry, especially when countering the insinuations concerning the stigmata. 

Now in this volume that very document, to which only very few had had access, is published in its entirety for the general public, revealing the many never-published texts it contains. Some of these are of primary importance: more than two-thirds of the answers Padre Pio gives to the Inquisitor’s questions; the Inquisitor’s accurate examination of the friar’s stigmata, which provides researchers with new and essential elements; a letter Padre Pio wrote to a nun; and, various letters Father Benedetto of San Marco in Lamis sent to Padre Pio.

The exceptional value of this document did not escape Francesco Castelli, who has presented it well, and who has performed a crucial historiographical task. At the same time he has offered everyone the opportunity to read it and to experience personally its peculiarity, but also its beauty, since a distinctive characteristic of this inquiry is the simplicity of its language: 

The curial bureaucratic jargon is kept to a minimum—thanks no doubt to Monsignor Rossi, as well—which makes for a smooth, and in some ways fascinating, read, and for an immediate understanding of the texts. 

“I unite you with my Passion” 

The emerging picture is truly very interesting. The Inquisitor tries to reconstruct what pertains to Padre Pio not only by interrogating and examining the Capuchin directly, but also by sounding out the closest witnesses: the priests in San Giovanni Rotondo and the friars of the convent. This makes it possible for the reader to listen directly to Padre Pio narrating what happened to him and describing his state of mind during the events. With humble but meaningful brevity, he relates how he received the visible stigmata—since he had had invisible ones for a long time—on that September 20, 1918 (that is, three years earlier). It happened one morning, in the choir, while he was reciting his thanksgiving prayer after the Holy Mass: 

“[S]uddenly I was overtaken by a powerful trembling, then calm followed, and I saw our Lord in the posture of someone who is on a cross (but it didn’t strike me whether he had the Cross), lamenting the ingratitude of men, especially those consecrated to him and by him most favored. This revealed his suffering and his desire to unite souls with his Passion. He invited me to partake of his sorrows and to meditate on them: At the same time, he urged me to work for my brothers’ salvation. I felt then full of compassion for the Lord’s sorrows, and I asked him what I could do. I heard this voice: ‘I unite you with my Passion.’ Once the vision disappeared, I came to, I returned to my senses, and I saw these signs here, which were dripping blood. I didn’t have anything before.” 

Never before had the Capuchin so explicitly described such an important event. Especially, he had never revealed before that sentence, essential to understanding everything, that “I unite you with my Passion”, which is the key to enter into the mystery of Padre Pio’s life, together with that other sentence: “At the same time he urged me to work for my brothers’ salvation.” 

The exterior “signs” of the Passion, after the long time of preparation during which they were hidden, are given to him so that his mission may appear more evident:

Conformed to Jesus, marked by his same wounds, tightly united to him in sorrow and love, he can be an instrument, a channel through which salvation can abundantly come to men. An extraordinary event, then; and yet, the Capuchin accepts it and lives through it in peace. Padre Pio admits he suffers much, physically: “Sometimes I cannot bear it”, he confesses. He also acknowledges sometimes being frightened by the clamor that all this has provoked, even against his will: the rush to the convent of the faithful, ever more numerous; the pressure on the part of people devoted to him, especially women who later on will cause him so much trouble; and his ever-expanding correspondence, which threatens to overcome the little strength the convent of San Giovanni Rotondo still has. But he lives through it all calmly, every time realigning himself to the cross that was granted to him, trusting in God’s help, and also in that of his Brothers and superiors. 

And so, with great humility, he who is at the center of such exceptional charisms reveals the simplicity of his spiritual life, consisting of meditation, of formal prayers, and of the Rosary, said in its entirety. Asked whether he performs particular forms of penance, he candidly answers: “None: I take the ones the Lord sends.” 

And, truth be told, we know there were not a few of them. Then he talks about the long hours spent in the confessional listening to people’s sins, enlightening, admonishing, absolving. Afterward, with the same humility and docility, he shows the Inquisitor all his "sores," so that he can examine them carefully and describe them, as he did, and as we can now read, in a vividly realistic description that gives all the details. Padre Pio also makes clear that the rumored sore on his right shoulder did not exist, at least at that time. He never evaded, in any way, even the most difficult questions, not even the suspicion and doubts about the products some were insinuating he used to treat "the sores". The other friars, on the other hand, fill us with interesting details about his practical life and his humble nature—reserved in the most delicate matters, and yet playful: “In conversation, Padre Pio is very pleasant; with his Brothers, he is serene, jovial, even humorous.” 

Truly surprising details, if we think about the constant physical pain and the psychological pressure that surrounded him. And so the Brothers tell about the very little he would eat even back then, the cup of chocolate which at that time was all his dinner, the glass of beer he would drink every now and then. Sketches of a life marked by the powerful seal of God, and yet simple and limpid. At the end of his accurate and thorough inspection, the Inquisitor can’t help but conclude: “Padre Pio is a good religious, exemplary, accomplished in the practice of the virtues, given to piety and probably elevated to a higher degree of prayer than it seems from the outside; he shines especially because of his sincere humility and his remarkable simplicity, which did not fail even in the gravest moments, when these virtues were put to the test, a test truly grave and dangerous for him.” A man who seemed devoid of any mendacity, and whose deposition, then, “is to be considered sincere, since imposture and perjury would be in too stark a contrast with [his] life and virtues...

We know very well how our Capuchin was immediately much loved by the faithful and even by many unbelievers, who converted in great numbers. But we also know that in the course of his life he was obstructed, limited, humiliated. And this until almost the very end, until a few years from his death, which occurred, as it is well known, on September 23, 1968. In 1923, 1931, and again in 1961, the Holy Office took heavy and painful restrictive measures against him [to test his obedience and sanctity]. It will not be until 1964 that Cardinal Ottaviani, then head of the Holy Office, makes known Paul VI’s will that “Padre Pio perform his ministry in total freedom”.

The book is available from

Padre Pio Under InvestigationThe Secret Vatican Files

Interview With Journalist Andrea Tornielli

MAY 16, 2008
By Antonio Gaspari

SAN GIOVANNI ROTONDO, Italy, MAY 16, 2008 ( When the remains of St. Pio da Pietralcina, known as Padre Pio, were displayed recently, something of a confrontation between believers and skeptics ensued.

Nearly 800,000 faithful made reservations to view the remains. Non-believers derided the show of popular piety.

A similar showdown is reflected in two books about the saint.

Historian Sergio Luzzatto wrote a book titled “Padre Pio. Miracoli e politica nell’Italia del Novecento” (Padre Pio: Miracles and Politics in 20th-Century Italy), in which he accuses Padre Pio of being an impostor who inflicted the stigmata on himself.

Luzzatto’s accusations have been dismantled by Saverio Gaeta and Andrea Tornielli in a book titled “Padre Pio l’ultimo sospetto” (Padre Pio: The Last Suspect).

ZENIT interviewed Tornielli, Il Giornale’s Vatican reporter, about the confrontation between believers and skeptics in the case of Padre Pio.

Q: What do you think about the decision to exhume and display Padre Pio’s remains?

Tornielli: […] There are many bodies of saints that are on display. Blessed John XXIII is under a crystal case in St. Peter’s. I don’t recall there being such barbed criticisms when the Pope’s remains were displayed.

Q: Why are there so many criticisms? Is it a revolt against the saint or against the Church and people who venerate saints?

Tornielli: One must certainly avoid every kind of fanaticism: The point of the veneration of the saint and the saint’s relics is to reinforce our faith in that Jesus whom the saint followed, and to show how the grace of God passes through the fragility of those who are destined to become dust.

Having said this, however, I see a great deal of intellectual conceit on the part of those who feel themselves capable of judging — of certain “intelligentsias” who view the veneration of saints, popular piety, etc. as expressions of a childish, puerile, uncouth nature. In sum, something to look down upon. It is a shame because it was precisely this simple and powerful faith, through the shrines, that preserved itself even during the post-conciliar tempests. I believe that it is a matter of a critique of people who venerate saints.

Q: Could you explain the main points of your book responding to Luzzatto’s accusations?

Tornielli: Luzzatto raised suspicions without getting to the bottom of any of them. He cast the stone and then hid his hand. He read only parts of documents; he made huge mistakes and errors. He cited documents in which it is inferred that Padre Pio asked a pharmacist for carbolic acid and veratrine but he did not explain that on the basis of other documents, it is quite clear what Padre Pio used these things for.

The “historian of the 21st century,” as Luzzatto loves to call himself, never bothered to look at a 21st-century medical textbook: He would have discovered there that those acids cannot cause stigmata, nor keep them open and bloody for 50 years. Indeed, the contrary is true: They would have had a cauterizing effect.

In Luzzatto’s book, Padre Pio is presented as an icon of clerical fanaticism: an unproven and an indemonstrable thesis, based on nothing, indeed, based on a truly quite grave historical error, given that the “professor” does not know how to read documents and “forgets” to write that during the uprisings in San Giovanni Rotondo in the 1920s a police officer died, assassinated by socialist demonstrators and that this death was the cause of the severe repression. In sum, from the historical point of view, Luzzatto’s imaginative presentation completely falls apart.

Q: What is it in the sanctity of Padre Pio and in the proclamation of saints invoked by the people and verified by the Catholic Church that is displeasing to a certain modern culture?

Tornielli: They do not like the physicality, they do not like that one speaks of good and evil, of paradise and hell, they do not like it that there are people who can draw crowds, who can bring many souls to God, to conversion.

They do not like it that there are people who speak of the devil as a person who intervenes in our life and in history, they do not like a simple man of the people — who does not have degrees or writes for the cultural pages of some newspaper or has academic titles — clearly showing the beauty and the fascination of the Christian experience and the life of prayer. They do not like the reversal that we see in the Magnificat: “He cast down the mighty from their thrones and raised up the lowly.”

Q: After so much study of Padre Pio, what is the idea that you have of this friar who spent the greater part of his life hearing the confessions of people’s sins?

Tornielli: His greatest miracle was not the Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza Hospital nor the countless graces that he obtained from God for the people who incessantly asked him for these. His greatest miracle was spending his life suffering and praying, and above all drawing souls to God.

The other aspect that really struck me has to do with his obedience: In a world in which any visionary — or one who presumes such [experiences] — feels free to do what they want and disobey the authority of the Church, Padre Pio teaches that the true mystic and ascetic always accepts that authority. In this too the friar from Pietralcina is an example and a model of true sanctity.

MAY 16, 2008

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