Another Pius XII controversy as Vatican prepares commemoration

June 18, 2008

An image depicting Pope Pius XII is displayed at Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem April 15, 2007This November, the Vatican will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the death of wartime Pope Pius XII. There will be a photo exhibition and a conference on his teachings. That’s the official agenda. Although not be part of the program, there will also be controversy.

Vatican officials at a news conference presenting the initiatives appeared to be making a pre-emptive strike against what will most likely resurface during in November — the seemingly never-ending debate about about what Pius did or did not do, what he did or did not know about the Holocaust and whether he could have done more.

“Pius XII never failed to make his voice heard in a clear and explicit way in different circumstances, when needs called for it, and when there was precise information on facts and their consequences could be seen,” said Monsignor Rino Fisichella, rector of the Pontifical Lateran University.

“It is our hope that this solemn commemoration of such a great pope will offer impetus for more and deeper research without prejudice on his work,” Monsignor Walter Brandmüller, president of the Pontifical Committee for Historic Sciences, said in his prepared speech.

Later, in a question and answer session, Brandmüller lost his cool just a bit and expressed irritation at questions about calls for more opening of the Vatican archives. He effectively said the archives of Jewish organisations such as the World Jewish Congress should be more open and used more, suggesting that scholars would find material supporting the Vatican’s view that Pius did as much as he could under the circumstances.

Addressing a separate issue, Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi said the commemorations were in no way intended to promote efforts to beatify Pius, which would put him on the path to sainthood. “These two things are completely different,” he said.

Jewish groups were surprised by Brandmüller’s comments, saying their archives are and always were wide open. It’s unlikely this is the last we hear — from either side — on this issue.


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I am still surprised that an organization such as Reuters would allow Philip Pullella to post such garbage about the good Pope XII.

When soviet agents working in conjunction with west German communist agents created a play slandering this good pope based on zero evidence (and still the same today), we Catholics still have to put up with this KGB slander by anti-Catholic bigots such as Philip Pullella to push garbage such as this. Even the Simon Weisenthal Center has been caught with their pants down by buying hook, line, and sinker this bogus claim.

You all should be ashamed of yourselves.

Posted by Tito Edwards | Report as abusive

Tito Edwards, I’m surprised that you think an unfounded emotional blast like this is an intelligent response to the above post. Since Phil is now on vacation, let me say on his behalf that you have not made clear what you object to or provided any argument in favour of your position. You have also not explained why you consider Phil an anti-Catholic bigot, surely because you don’t have evidence for that either, as he is not one. Telling us we should be ashamed of ourselves without giving any reason (let along any good one) is a pretty hollow way of defending your view. If you want to continue commenting on this, please calm down first and come up with reasoned arguments rather than emotional outbursts.

Posted by Tom Heneghan | Report as abusive

Mr. Tom Heneghan,

By posting a picture of a display slandering Pope Pius XII is akin to posting a picture of a Confederate flag and a picture of a black American slave on a news article of a Ronald Reagan commemeration.

Thus painting Ronald Reagan as a racist.

What part of that analogy do you not understand of the anti-Catholic bigotry that Mr. Pullella displayed by posting that pic?

Is that not evidence enough?

I can understand the misperceptions and ‘world view’ that Mr. Pullella may hold as far as his contempt of Catholicism. Getting his filtered news from the left-end of the media establishment as well as education would taint his view of Catholicism. It is logical to see the end result that the posting of his article with that of a picture of a slander on Pope Pius XII.

It is akin to a southern (United States reference) intellectual growing up in the Reconstruction period seeing the bias and perceptions of black Americans and being similarly surprised when someone calls him an anti-black bigot (just as you are surprised by my comment posting).

I appreciate your response on Mr. Pullella’s behalf as being sincere, but if you fail to understand from where I am coming from then that would be a failure as a journalist to be fair and balanced.

Pope Pius XII did all he could for the Jews. Exhorting the faithful in their aid and saving thousands of Roman Jews from the Nazi occupiers of Rome, more than any other Roman. The compassion and behind the door strings that he pulled in Nazi Germany itself at grave risk to clergy and laity alone gained the sympathy and the adoration of Jews everywhere.

So much so that the Chief Rabbi of Rome (Israel Zoller) himself converted to Catholicism after the end of World War II by the witness of Pope Pius XII’s exampler of alter Christus!

Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem (1951) Isaac Herzog said himself, “The people of Israel will never forget what His Holiness and his illustrious delegates, inspired by the eternal principles of religion, which form the very foundation of true civilization, are doing for our unfortunate brothers and sisters in the most tragic hour of our history, which is living proof of Divine Providence in this world.”

Do your research, go ahead and google this all.

By just regergitating falsehoods to push this slander on His Holiness Pope Pius XII is simply poor journalism.

Yes, I caught that picture in Mr. Pullella’s posting as nothing short as slander and biased journalism. Ask any Jew, any Jew in Israel especially and you will find nothing but good things to say about Pope Pius XII.

But if you want to depend on misinformation like that anti-Catholic bigot Abe Foxman of the ADL (US) then go right ahead and continue with this farse.

It’s difficult enough to get unbiased reporting and blogging from the liberal end of the political sphere, so if this continues from Reuters I will be greatly disappointed.

Of all the Christian bloggers here at Reuters Mr. Heneghan you I like and link to often. Don’t fall into the world view of anti-Catholic reporting. There are faults within the Catholic Church, but they are human faults that are rectified.

Pope Pius XII will eventually be declared a saint, God willing, but to soil his good name, or at the very least, the ‘alleged’ balanced reporting from Reuters, Mr. Pullella needs to do better research before he starts posting garbage pics such as the one in his sotry.


Posted by Tito Edwards | Report as abusive

Thank you for making clear what you object to. We now at least have something to discuss. But I still think you do not make your case that Phil Pullella is an anti-Catholic bigot. Before we go any further, let me say I fully agree with his reporting, so if you call him a bigot, you’re calling me one too. I reject your charge for him and for myself. If you’re saying we’re not fair, ask yourself what you look like throwing around unfounded charges of anti-Catholic bigotry and comparing us to white Southern racists of the Reconstruction period. Yikes!

The parallel you draw between a real picture of Pope Pius XII at a real exhibition at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial and an imagined picture of a Confederate flag and a black slave illustrating an imagined news article about Ronald Reagan is so overdone that it’s not worth taking seriously. Yad Vashem is a respected institution that has a view about the Holocaust that must be taken seriously. Visiting heads of state and government take it so seriously that they regularly go to pay their respects there when they visit Israel. You’ll remember that Pope John Paul II made a very moving visit to Yad Vashem in 2000. This picture comes from an exhibition held at Yad Vashem last year. You’re trying to convince me to compare this to an imagined picture slandering Ronald Reagan and conclude that Phil Pullella is an anti-Catholic bigot? Sorry, not convincing…

The exhibition last year that this photograph came from was so controversial that the Vatican envoy threatened not to attend it. The fact that Reuters reports on a controversial exhibition does not mean we approve of its message. Our story at the time included comments from the Vatican, including a threat from the Vatican ambassador in Israel to boycott a Holocaust Day ceremony at the museum because of a caption on that photograph accusing Pius of inaction during the Holocaust. In fact, the Vatican ambassador did attend the ceremony at Yad Vashem in the end, meaning the Vatican somehow found a way to look beyond the caption accusing Pius of inaction during the Holocaust. If the Vatican could stomach this, isn’t blasting its appearance on this blog a case of being, as they say, more Catholic than the pope?

Now let’s look at why that photograph might be there. The gist of the blog post is that the long-standing strains between the Vatican and Jewish historians about Pius and the Holocaust have flared up again. The Vatican plan to mark the 50th anniversary of the pope’s death in November is bound to bring this issue back into the headlines. In fact, this time it’s the Vatican that has stirred it up, accusing Jewish archives of holding back documents they have that could exonerate Pius. This amounts to turning the tables on Jewish historians, who until now have kept the Vatican on the defensive by demanding more from its archives. It is hard to imagine that Jewish historians are going to let this pass without a pretty robust rejoinder. If this latest round of the Pius debate gets out of hand, the caption on that photograph could look like polite conversation compared to the charges that might be made against Pius. So reminding readers of that controversial exhibition last year is perfectly relevant to this latest story.

As for this “world view” that supposedly makes Phil contemptuous of the Catholic Church, why are all three quotes he gave pro-Pius? Have you read them?

You write: “if you fail to understand from where I am coming from then that would be a failure as a journalist to be fair and balanced.” I understand very well where you are coming from. You are a staunch supporter of Pius and intolerant of any challenge to his record. It’s your right to hold that view, but don’t claim it’s fair and balanced. It is a partisan viewpoint mirrored on the other side by critics who argue that Pius did no good for the wartime Jews whatsoever, or even that he was “Hitler’s Pope.” Like many partisan readers, you make the mistake of seeing anything you don’t agree with as biased and denounce it in the name of a false objectivity. Reporting criticism of Pius is not anti-Catholic, it is factual. If we didn’t report it, readers who care about this issue would be ignorant about the full extent of the debate. Some readers might think that such ignorance is bliss. I think it is blindness.

A fair and balanced picture of Pius must show both sides of the controversy and try to find the truth amid the strong claims and charges coming from both sides. We’ve discussed this issue on this blog before ( 7/12/20/saint-pius-xii-no-so-fast/) and will continue to do so in future. The positions are so polarised that it is hard to see how a consensus view can emerge. One may not even be possible, because we often judge acts and facts differently many decades after they occurred. We need to see all the archives, from the Vatican as well as any Jewish archives that Monsignor Brandmüller thinks are still closed. I’m not even sure that will settle the issue, though.

Posted by Tom Heneghan | Report as abusive

Mr. Tom Heneghen,

I am deeply disappointed that you would even defend the Yad Vashem exhibit of the questioning of Pope Pius XII role in the Shoah. Remember that the Yad Vashem museum itself is not ‘infallible’. Misguided and well meaning Jews can be wrong just as us regular gentiles.

Just because the 1904 St. Louis World Fair shows an exhibit of savage American Indians doesn’t make it true?

I’m sorry to shatter your world view that taking unwarranted attacks on the reputation of Pope Pius XII are bigoted in and of themselves simply because it is a ludicrous statement when looking at all the facts (and there are no facts whatsoever in the case against Pope Pius XII). I understand about showing ‘both sides of the issue’ when there are legitimate arguments being made, but just because a book was written called “Hitler’s Pope” doesn’t make it a legitimate argument.

It’s like stating Hitler’s argument of Jews being evil because he wrote a book called Mein Kempf.

If the other side’s argument is a blatant lie then it isn’t really correct to present it as legitimate argument don’t you think? If you wonder why the Vatican didn’t do anything to squelch this lie, remember the Church is slandered every day and it would be impossible to offer a retort to each and every slander.

If you choose to defend your colleague which is admirable, but if you want to throw your lot in questioning His Holiness Pope Pius XII then you’ve succumbed to the old KGB propaganda campaign at slandering the good Pope.

When doing independent research can be done in this day and age so easily it’s sad that you would not do your own research on this hot topic.

Just because a reluctant Vatican envoy attends the Yad Vashem doesn’t legitimize it. Have you heard of charity? Of Turning the other cheek?

I’ll admit that maybe I have been uncharitable in my comments towards Mr. Pullella and yourself (maybe) and for that I am guilty. But the charge that Pope Pius XII was ‘silent during the holocaust’ is a worse sin, it’s called slander.

To slander someone is to attribute to another of a fault of which one knows him to be innocent. It contains a twofold malice, that which grows out of damage unjustly done to our neighbor’s good name and that of lying as well.

How can slandering someone considered to be good journalism?

Colossians 3:8-9
–“But now put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, SLANDER, and foul talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old nature with its practices”

Yes, it is good journalism to show and express equally two sides to every story, but it needs to be a legitimate argument. Where is the evidence? Where?

Thank you for your correspondence on this matter.

Posted by Tito Edwards | Report as abusive

Yes, you have been very uncharitable in your comments about Phil Pullella. And you’ve understood very little about journalism. A strong case can be made for Pius against his critics, but you’re too focussed on trying to shoot the messenger here to make it. You actually weaken the case for him by being so categorical in his defence. Thanks for your interest in our blog.

Posted by Tom Heneghan | Report as abusive

Tom Heneghan,

You have no charity towards me nor understanding of why Mr. Pullella is an anti-Catholic bigot.

You have a skewed idea of ‘journalism’ which is regrettable since most of your articles are on target without an agenda behind them.

Instead of understanding where I am coming from you’ve decided to defend a reprehensible article in the guise of ‘journalism’.

You should be ashamed of yourself.

Posted by Tito Edwards | Report as abusive

This video tells a good deal of truth on this issue: 2s

Posted by William | Report as abusive