Padre Pio’s Persecution by Church Authorities and his Response

The Vatican initially imposed severe sanctions on Pio in the 1920s to reduce publicity about him: it forbade him from saying Mass in public, blessing people, answering letters, showing his stigmata publicly, and communicating with Padre Benedetto, his spiritual director.

The Church authorities decided that Pio be relocated to another convent in northern Italy. The local people threatened to riot, and the Vatican left him where he was. A second plan for removal was also changed.  Nevertheless, from 1921 to 1922 he was prevented from publicly performing his priestly duties, such as hearing confessions and saying Mass.  From 1924 to 1931, the Holy See made statements denying that the events in Pio’s life were due to any divine cause.

By 1933, the tide began to turn. Pope Pius XI ordered a reversal of the ban on Padre Pio’s public celebration of Mass, arguing, “I have not been badly disposed toward Padre Pio, but I have been badly informed.” In 1934, the friar was again allowed to hear confessions. He was also given honorary permission to preach despite never having taken the exam for the preaching license.  Pope Pius XII, who assumed the papacy in 1939, even encouraged devotees to visit Padre Pio.

Finally, in the mid-1960s Pope Paul VI (pope from 1963 to 1978) dismissed all accusations against Padre Pio.

Without obedience there is no virtue”- St. Padre Pio.

It was obedience which anchored the life of Padre Pio and led to his extraordinary legacy. Although receiving the stigmata is what he is often known for, it was certainly not the greatest legacy he left behind. His mission in life was fulfilled through obedience. His legacy was being obedient and teaching others to be obedient. His obedience was grounded in patience and a trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. He first obeyed God, but did not waiver in being obedient to Church authorities. 

Padre Pio understood it was not man one served but God. He also understood that it was through obedience to the order and leadership of man which God had put in place that he obeyed God. Pio often taught those around him to be patient when they did not want to be and to obey when they wanted to fight. 

The life of St. Padre Pio, particularly regarding obedience, reminds me of what another saint wrote about the same expectation. St. Faustina wrote that Jesus Christ told her “the devil can imitate humility, but he cannot imitate obedience.” Think about that for a moment. We often place high importance on the humility of a person, criticizing those who we believe may not have acted in humility when they should have, yet we do not think about the necessity of our obedience. Obedience to our priests, bishops, and the pope are not only things which Catholics should exhibit but is an expectation of Christ. It was this expectation that was fulfilled in the life of Padre Pio even in the midst of extreme investigations, lies, hatred, jealousy, and attacks. 

Pio gives us a modern example of how, even when we disagree or do not believe the decisions made are for the best, we should still obey. As Padre Pio worked to build a hospital to ease suffering and care for the poor, those jealous of his attention and following sought to steal the money and push Pio out of control of the leadership of the hospital. Pio remained silent and obeyed. He remained focused on the main thing, which was his personal obedience to God and others. The attention gained by the stigmata and miracles reported under Pio caused the Church leadership, even some of his own religious brothers, to lie on him and put him through unnecessary investigations. Pio still did not defend himself or fight back. He was obedient. As a result, he was justified in the end, even to the point where his leadership of the hospital was restored and he even received dispensation from his vow of poverty by Pope Pius XII in order to enable him to oversee expenses of the hospital. Pio, in another sign of obedience, gave the hospital to the Vatican. 

False accusations by his own religious brothers led Pio to be ordered to stop celebrating Mass publicly and he was to celebrate it only privately in his room. He obeyed. He was separated from his spiritual advisor and was to never contact his advisor again. He obeyed. When he was allowed to finally say Mass publicly again, it was only to be at a 4 a.m. Mass so the leadership could reduce the size of the crowds gathering there (or at least they hoped it would, but it failed). Padre Pio obeyed without questioning. 

Many have heard of St. Padre Pio’s battles with the devil, suffering of the stigmata, and perhaps even his work with the hospital. However, it is his greatest legacy of simple obedience that makes this friar more relevant for our time than ever before. This simple, poor friar who offered himself for others and loved others more than himself, forgave those who attacked him and lied on him even if they never asked, and sought only to do the will of God, left us the greatest lesson in the way to holiness. Obedience.

Fr. Tom