Saint Pius XII? Not so fast…
During World War Two, Pope Pius XII was (1) a saintly man, (2) Hitler’s Pope or (3) neither of the above. This question continues to weigh on Catholic-Jewish relations despite all the progress made since the Second Vatican Council. It would be easy to assume that Catholics answer (1) and Jews (2), but the debate is far more complex than that. There are Catholics who say Pius didn’t do enough to help the Jews and Jews who defend him as doing everything he could under the circumstances.
The issue keeps smouldering because the Catholic Church is considering Pius for possible beatification and sainthood. The U.S.-based Anti-Defamation League has urged the Church to suspend the procedure until the Vatican declassifies all its wartime archives. The Vatican opened its archives up to 1939 — the end of the papacy of Pope Pius XI — in 2005, but it is still processing the files from Pope Pius XII’s papacy (1939-1958). In the meantime, the controversy has produced a steady stream of books on Pius XII and the Holocaust, only some of which are thumbnailed below.
Pope Benedict XVI has now slowed down the procedure by asking for a further review of the Pius XII dossier, which is 3,500 pages long. Andrea Tornielli, Vatican correspondent of the Italian daily Il Giornale, has reported that Benedict has also decided to set up a committee to review the issue and is concerned about the possible reaction if the Vatican beatified Pius XII too soon. Tornielli, whose fourth book about Pius XII was published in May, says the pontiff was not a callous anti-Semite as some critics portray him.
“This is a black legend that refuses to die. Pius XII has become a lightning rod for all the presumed responsibilities of the Catholic Church in that period,” Tornielli told our Vatican correspondent Philip Pullella. “It is impossible to have a calm historical debate about Pius because he has been branded ‘the Nazi Pope’ and this is a clear distortion of history.”
Father Peter Gumbel, the Jesuit who heads the Church probe int Pius’s qualification for sainthood, said that the department responsible for saints believed the late pope met the requirements for beatification, the first step towards sainthood. It has documented this in a 3,500-page dossier for his “cause,” the Vatican term for the procedure to declare someone a saint.
“In an important cause like this, the Supreme Pontiff wants to think and wants to see things. He is a man of study,” Gumpel told Pullella. He said he had no official word that Pope Benedict had set up a special committee to review the dossier once again, but he thought the Vatican was right to be cautious, especially given the fact that Jewish community leaders and historians were themselves split over Pius XII and his role.
“The pope wants excellent relations with Israel and with the Jewish community and wants to see if any legitimate problem could arise. .. It will have to be seen from a diplomatic point of view if any reasonable, legitimate objections are arise. I’m certain this is not the case but it is a precaution so the pope can always say this has been examined from every possible angle and he can say ‘I’m sorry, study the matter and you will see that these objections are not true.”
“I personally remain convinced of the merits of this cause. It’s simply a question of time for this decree to be signed.”
Are you convinced that Pius XII was a saintly man? Or Hitler’s Pope? Or do you think this issue has become so polarised that it is difficult, if not impossible, to come to an agreed version of what he did and did not do?