Pius XII biographer raps rabbi for recalling Holocaust role
A leading Italian biographer of Pope Pius XII has sharply criticised Rabbi Shear-Yashuv Cohen for recalling the controversy about the pope’s role in the Holocaust during an unprecedented address to a synod of Roman Catholic bishops at the Vatican. Andrea Tornielli, the Vatican correspondent of the newspaper Il Giornale who has written four books defending the wartime pope, said no cardinal could have ever spoken that way at a major Jewish forum in Jerusalem.
Cohen, the chief rabbi of Haifa in Israel, was the first Jew to address such a synod. In unscripted remarks, he told the bishops that Jews “cannot forget the sad and painful fact of how many, including great religious leaders, didn’t raise their voice in the effort to save our brethren but chose to keep silent and helped secretly.” Defenders of Pius, who was pope from 1939 to 1958, say he did he did his utmost to help Jews during the Holocaust; Pope Benedict repeated this recently in his first public statement on his predecessor. But his critics fault Pius for not publicly challenging the Nazis by denouncing the Holocaust.
Tornielli focused special attention on Cohen’s statement in a Reuters interview prior to his synod speech. The 80-year old rabbi told our Vatican correspondent Phil Pullella that he might not have attended the synod if he had known in advance that Pius would be honoured there. The synod will mark the 50th anniversary of his death in 1958 with a special mass on Thursday at which Benedict may announce that Pius will soon be beatified. Tornielli wrote on his blog Sacri Palazzi (Sacred Palaces):
“Apart from the fact that the date of Pius XII’s death is not exactly a secret of the Mossad and can be found in all encyclopedias, and apart from the fact that the 50th anniversary represents an important milestone, I find it totally inappropriate that a Jewish leader invited to speak Catholic bishops uses the occasion to embarrass the Pope, and on the basis of black legends to boot. I leave to your imagination what would have happened if a cardinal of the Roman curia had been invited to speak at a major Jewish religious forum in Jerusalem and then, on his way out, had made statements of a similar tenor to journalists. Let me simply remind Rabbi Cohen of the words spoken by a distinguished colleague, the Grand Rabbi of Jerusalem Isaac Herzog, in 1944: ‘The people of Israel will never forget what His Holiness and his illustrious delegates, inspired by the eternal principles of religion which are the foundations of genuine civilization, are doing for our unfortunate brothers and sisters at the most tragic hour in our history. (This is) living proof of Divine Providence in this world.’ After the death of Pope Pacelli, the same Herzog declared: “The death of Pius XII is a great loss for the entire free world. Catholics are not the only ones to regret his death.”
The Pius controversy doesn’t split neatly along Catholic-Jewish lines. Only last month, the mixed Jewish-Catholic group Pave The Way from the United States visited Pope Benedict and held a conference in Rome giving a positive assessment of the pope’s record. And an American Catholic priest, Kevin Spicer, has just published a critical study entitled Hitler’s Priests.
The issue of the Catholic Church and the Third Reich is not going away anytime soon.