Friday 10 October 2008

Beatification of Pius XII could be an impediment to Catholic-Jewish relations

Pope Benedict XVI has announced that he supports the beatification of Pope Pius XII, who died 50 years ago. This is a contentious issue. Pius XII remained silent while millions of Jews (including 1.5 million children) were being exterminated by the Nazis during WWII. The Church claims that he was being "prudent". After the war, when there was no need to be "prudent", he neither condemned antisemitism nor sanctioned members of the clergy (like Bishop Hudal), who played a major role in helping former Nazis to escape trial and find a safe haven overseas, mostly in Latin America. Faced with moral dilemmas, Pius XII sadly chose to remain silent.

Source: TJP

"(...) Pius XII was also credited with having tried to stop the October 16, 1943, deportation of more than 1,090 Roman Jews, negotiating a halt to further round-ups and opening Rome's churches, convents, monasteries and the Vatican itself to Jewish refugees.

"No doubt after October 16, generous, organized efforts to save Jews and others were made by all Catholic institutions in Rome," Italian Jewish historian Anna Foa said. "This could not have been done without specific orders by Pacelli."

A DPA German news agency report recently estimated that more than 7,000 Roman Jews owed their lives to this activity.

Rome Chief Rabbi Dr. Riccardo Di Segni disagreed, telling the Post that Pacelli failed to prevent the October 16 deportations from happening.

"The train to Auschwitz was not stopped," he said. "Seven hundred and fifty Roman Jews were gassed immediately on arrival. Another thousand were deported during the following nine months. In Bulgaria, where the Bulgarian government intervened forcefully, a similar train never left the station," therefore saving his own grandfather, he said.

Regarding Pius XII's possible beatification, Di Segni said, "On a human level, I can accept Pacelli's weaknesses, but beatification would make him an ideal for future generations. That, for me, would become an impediment to dialogue."

Rosen * said, "If the Catholic Church wishes a respectful relationship with the Jewish people, sensitivity toward Jewish sensibilities is appropriate," meaning "suspension of any action [toward sainthood for Pius] as long as survivors of the Shoah are still with us."

The International Jewish Committee for Inter-religious Consultations, said Rosen, "has requested full access for independent scholars to the Vatican's archives as soon as possible, thus ensuring maximal credibility."

Eugene Fischer, former head of Catholic-Jewish relations at the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, speaking at Gary Krupp's Rome conference, said he agreed with Rosen.

The prefect of the Vatican Secret Archives, Bishop Sergio Pagano, told the Post that five or six more years of work were need by the five archivists cataloguing, stamping and numbering documents from the 1939-58 Pius XII's papacy. (...)

"Regarding Pius XII's beatification, as a historian, I would think it prudent to wait a few years after the opening of the archives" Pagano said. "Allowing further research and waiting can only strengthen his case. Certainly nothing negative will be found. Probably scholars will be disappointed, because there will be nothing dramatically new - although perhaps some papers indicating Pius XII's 'wishes' - rather than direct orders - might emerge."

The pre-war, pre-Vatican II context of Pius's papacy may also influence evaluation of Vatican wartime actions.

Catholic historians such as Alberto Melloni and Jesuit scholar Giovanni Sale admit that before Vatican II (1962-1965), anti-Semitism was very common in Catholic circles. "It was part of the environment, and people were not conscious of doing evil," Pagano said.

Sale recently wrote that "the dominate mentality at that moment and in that part of the Italian Catholic world... was marked by a certain anti-Judaism... For many it was not easy to remove that mental habit and... see in the Jew an 'older brother' to love and above all, in that delicate moment, to help."

"Yet very often individual priests and nuns acted courageously, exposing themselves to risks beyond the general orders received," Pagano said. "Anti-Semitism was more prominent in higher echelons, not on the people level."

* Rabbi David Rosen, the American Jewish Committee's chairman of the International Jewish Committee for Inter-religious Consultations

- Pius XII (Yad Vashem)
- Rabbi Shear-Yashuv Cohen: Pope Pius XII did not do enough to save Jews during WWII


Anonymous said...

In English "to sanction" means "to allow". You are also no doubt aware that eminent Jewish historians such as David Dalin and Martin Gilbert have defended the Pope whereas criticism has come from secularists, communists and ex-catholics.

Anonymous said...

A present day schismatic bishop.

Enzo said...

Excellent first comment, and superb link in the second. I know quite a lot about Lefebvrists. I even managed to (how can I put it..?) "infiltrate" them a few years ago. I found a world which I didnt think existed anymore. I was terrified to see professional people, judges, academics, aristocrats, on the one hand going to confession and Mass every morning and then spreading hate against the Pope and the Jews on the other...! What a lesson...!!!

Anonymous said...

Bennauro - what do you expect? There is a Catholic tradition of anti-semitism not really repudiated until the post-Maritain era. Even excellent theologians such as Karl Adam were not immune from ideas of blood and race. However the tradition has been decisively repudiated by the last two Popes. Pius XII was not anti-semitic but he was not like the present Pope and John Paul II decidedly philosemitic.