“He will make a good pope,” Pope Pius XI said of Eugenio Pacelli, according to Cardinal Domenico Tardini. Two years later, at 5:30 p.m. on March 2, 1939, he was elected pope.
At the time of Pius XI’s death on February 10, 1939, the British and French governments had a marked preference for Cardinal Pacelli, who was then Secretary of State, as Owen Chadwick demonstrated in Britain and the Vatican during the Second World War, a book published in 1988.
This preference was not shared by Italy; according to Pierre Brossolette in Le Populaire on March 3, 1939, Mussolini did not encourage the election of Pius XII who was considered “too friendly with France.”
Andrea Tornielli, in his biography on Pius XII published in 2009, crossed different direct sources to offer a plausible reconstitution of the election: Eugenio Pacelli, far from enjoying an initial unanimity, was, it would seem, elected at the third vote.
From the start, Cardinal Pacelli had the votes of most of the “residential” cardinals, that is to say, cardinals at the head of a diocese. However, a group of cardinals in the Curia, opposed to the Secretary of State, systematically voted for other candidates. Elia Dalla Costa, Archbishop of Florence, and Luigi Maglioine, prefect of the Congregation of the Council, were named.
But Cardinal Maglione lifted the minority of the block by giving all the votes for him to the future Pius XII; a few weeks later, he was nominated as the new pope’s Secretary of State.
When on March 2, in the Sistine Chapel, Cardinal Pignatelli di Belmonte, dean of the Sacred College, approached and asked him whether he accepted the election, Eugenio Pacelli responded: “Your vote is clearly the expression of the will of God: I accept. I recommend my weakness to your prayers.”
Thus began the reign of the 260th pope of the Catholic Church.