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Padre Pio under Investigation: The Secret Vatican Files by Francesco Castelli (review)

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Abstract

The publication of the first investigation ordered by the Holy Office—now the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith—of Padre Pio da Pietrelcina is undoubtedly the greatest contribution of this volume edited by Francesco Castelli. It is, in fact, the report of the apostolic visit made in June 1921 by Raffaello Carlo Rossi (the bishop of Volterra and future cardinal). The discovery of this valuable documentary material, made in the archives of the same pontifical department, was made possible after Pope Benedict XVI decided, in 2006, to make available the material from the years 1922 to 1939. The story of the investigation made by the prelate is contained in the first part of the work. The documentation itself occupies the second part of the volume. It consists of the following papers: the visitor’s Votum (January 1922); the testimony of some witnesses collected by Bishop Rossi during his stay at the Capuchin monastery of San Giovanni Rotondo; a few letters sent to the spiritual daughter of the friar, Giovanna Longo; and finally some letters written by Father Benedetto Nardella of San Marco in Lamis for Padre Pio himself, in his role as Padre Pio’s spiritual director. The third part of the book presents some texts in appendices. These consist of a brief profile of Rossi, some documents requested of the papal visitor by the Holy Office such as the Chronicle of Nardella; the narrative event of the stigma; and a chronology of the friar’s life. Rossi questioned nine witnesses; seven were members of the same monastic community as Padre Pio, and two were diocesan priests. During the inquiry, the visitor first became interested in the rumors swirling around the Capuchin stigmatic, intent on clarifying the doubts raised by some discontented voices concerning expressions of fanaticism, contact with women, and other issues. He went on to consider the moral and spiritual dimensions of Padre Pio. The bishop, despite initial prejudice against the Capuchin, came to a substantially positive judgment and even an appreciation for Padre Pio’s qualities: 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 serious and dangerous for him. The visitor only later decided to assess the extraordinary phenomena exhibited by the candidate, such as clairvoyance and bilocation: To think that so many idle words had cast such an unfavorable light on this poor Capuchin! Then I’ll take the liberty to call to the attention of the Most Eminent [Fathers] his genuine and honest depositions, since they reveal him to be not at all like an unscrupulous miracle worker or an enthusiastic instigator of mobs. Regarding Padre Pio’s stigmata, two eminent scholars—Friar Minor Agostino Gemelli, the rector of the Catholic University of Sacred Heart, and the Dominican Joseph Lemius—had serious doubts. Both recommended to the Holy Office the need for a thorough investigation. Rossi decided to inspect the stigmata: The “stigmata” on the hands are very visible, and caused, I think by a bloody exudation: There is absolutely no opening or breaking up of the tissues at least on his palms. It might be said there is on the back of the hands, even though I do not think there is, but then it must be agreed that the hypothetical opening doesn’t penetrate through the hand cavity and doesn’t come out on the palm. The visitor’s report, in effect, clarified previous doubts about the stigmata. The greatest difficulty seemed to be the judgment that it was autosuggestion resulting from the influence of Nardella. Gemelli, in particular, advanced this hypothesis. Rossi, through a series of subtle considerations, decided to express the conviction that the phenomenon was of supernatural origin. In the first part of the book, Castelli’s emphasis on the stigmata overshadows the moral and spiritual life of the saint. The literature on...

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