Theologians, historians urge Benedict to slow Pius XII saint process

February 18, 2010

Undated photo of Pope Pius XII from the archives of the Vatican daily L'Osservatore Romano

A group of Catholic theologians and historians has written to Pope Benedict XVI urging him slow down the beatification process for the late Pope Pius XII, the next step on the way to making him a saint. Critics accuse Pius of not doing enough to prevent the Holocaust and the theologians and historians say they need to finish research into the Vatican’s wartime archives before the pope goes ahead with this case.

The letter is extremely rare because in the past it has mostly been Jewish groups and not Catholic academics who have written to popes about the issue, which has long strained Catholic-Jewish relations.

See my news story on this letter here.

Here is the text obtained by Reuters:

20 February 2010

His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI

Apostolic Palace

00120 Vatican City

Your Holiness,

As faithful, practicing Catholics, consecrated and lay, we urgently write to you concerning the cause of Pope Pius XII.  We are educators who have conducted research and are currently carrying into effect more research on Catholicism under National Socialism and the Holocaust.  The movement to press forward at this time the process of beatification of Pius XII greatly troubles us.  Needless to say, the controversy over Pius XII’s actions during the Second World War and the Holocaust is longstanding.  Numerous books and articles have been written on the topic.  Nevertheless, scholars still have a great deal of research to complete before final conclusions can be drawn about Pius XII’s behavior during the Holocaust.  History needs distance and perspective to arrive at these conclusions. At this moment, scholars eagerly await the opening of the papers from Pius XII’s pontificate that you, Holy Father, have so graciously arranged to be made available.  At the same time, as researchers, we also realize that there are numerous archives, both secular and ecclesiastical, that scholars have yet to access or consult, many of which might shed more light on Pope Pius’s actions during the Holocaust.   Currently, existing research leads us to the view that Pope Pius XII did not issue a clearly worded statement, unconditionally condemning the wholesale slaughter and murder of European Jews.  At the same time, some evidence also compels us to see that Pius XII’s diplomatic background encouraged him as head of a neutral state, the Vatican, to assist Jews by means that were not made public during the war.  It is essential that further research be conducted to resolve both these questions.  As scholars of theology and history, we realize how important the historical critical method is to your own research and we implore you to ensure that such a historical investigation takes place before proceeding with the cause of Pope Pius XII.

A greater issue, of course, arises with the discussion of the beatification of Pius XII.  For centuries the Christian churches, including the Roman Catholic Church, have propagated both religious anti-Judaism and religious antisemitism, however unintentionally or in ignorance.  Nostra Aetatae, however, ensured that Catholics’ views of Jews would be definitively changed.  Your most recent comments, Holy Father, in the Synagogue of Rome, endeavored to breach centuries of misunderstandings between Catholics and Jews.  Your actions were moving and courageous.  Still there is great deal of work to be done in this area.  Mistrust and apprehension still exist.  For many Jews and Catholics, Pius XII takes on a role much larger than his historical papacy.  In essence, Pius XII has become a century old symbol of Christian anti-Judaism and antisemitism, which, for example, the late Reverend Edward H. Flannery has documented and spelled out in his work The Anguish of the Jews:  Twenty-Three Centuries of Antisemitism.  It is challenging to separate Pope Pius XII from this legacy.  Proceeding with the cause of Pope Pius XII, without an exhaustive study of his actions during the Holocaust, might harm Jewish-Catholic relations in a way that cannot be overcome in the foreseeable future.

Holy Father, we implore you, acting on your wisdom as a renowned scholar, professor, and teacher, to be patient with the cause of Pope Pius XII.  Patience is not passive, it is active; indeed it is condensed strength and courage to bring one forward in hope to a central conclusion and point.  In this regard, we humbly ask that scholars be given the access and time to carefully and thoroughly examine the documents relating to the pontificate of Pius XII before embarking on the beatification process.  We thank you for hearing us and reflecting upon the urgent concerns of our request.  We have the honor to be, Your Holiness,

Rev. Dr. John Pawlikowski, O.S.M.

Professor of Ethics

Catholic Theological Union

Rev. Dr. James Bernauer, S.J.

Kraft Professor of Philosophy, Boston College

Director, Center for Christian-Jewish Learning

Dr. Suzanne Brown-Fleming

Independent Scholar

Dr. John Connelly

Associate Professor of History

University of California, Berkeley

Dr. Frank J. Coppa

Professor of History, Saint John’s University

Associate Editor, New Catholic Encyclopedia

Currently working on biography of Pius XII

Dr. Donald J. Dietrich

Professor of Theology

Boston College

Dr. Lauren N. Faulkner

Assistant Professor of History

University of Notre Dame

Dr. Eugene J. Fisher

Retired Associate Director

Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations

U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

P. Elias H. Füllenbach, O.P.

Dominikanerkloster Düsseldorf

Institut für Zeitgeschichte der Universität Bonn

Dr. Beth A. Griech-Polelle, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of History

Bowling Green State University

Dr. Robert A. Krieg

Professor of Theology

University of Notre Dame

Dr. Martin Menke

Associate Professor of History

Rivier College

Dr. Paul O’Shea

Senior Religious Coordinator

St. Patrick’s College

Strathfield, NSW, Australia

Dr. Michael E. O’Sullivan

Assistant Professor of History

Marist College

Dr. Michael Phayer

Professor Emeritus of History

Marquette University

Dr. Carol Rittner, R.S.M.

Distinguished Professor of Holocaust and Genocide Studies and

Dr. Marsha Raticoff Grossmann Professor of Holocaust Studies

The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey

Dr. Jose Sanchez

Professor Emeritus of History

Saint Louis University

Rev. Dr. Kevin P. Spicer, C.S.C.

Kenneally Associate Professor of History

Stonehill College


cc:  Walter Cardinal Kasper, President of the Holy See’s Commission for Religious Relations with Jews

Archbishop Timothy Dolan, Episcopal Moderator for Catholic-Jewish Relations for the USCCB


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I think it’s important to ask what may be an uncomfortable question: why is Pope Benedict in such a hurry to canonize Pope Pius XII? Even though I think the Catholic Church has the right to rise to sainthood whoever they please, including its own popes, it may be counterproductive to do it with a person that was so visible and whose actions are so questionable. The Catholic Church moves at a glacial speed on anything they do; everything is done decades or even centuries late (think of Galileo). Yet, when it comes to Pope Pius XII, the Church wants to push the process of canonization forward as soon as possible, even as the debate rages on.

Perhaps the Church feels that the combination of time and new “facts on the ground” may whitewash the role of the pope and the Church during WWII. After all, it has worked in the past many times when the Church canonized many people whose record was atrocious, yet today we call them Saint This or Saint That and that makes them automatically good people. Pope Pius XII may have been a profoundly wonderful human being whose religious work may indeed warrant raising him to the sainthood. However, a pope is more than a religious figure. A pope is a head of state, and the head of a giant church, and Pope Pius had the misfortune to reign over it during the darkest period in history. Maybe he did indeed work tirelessly in defense of the Jews as his apologetics claim, and maybe his “heroic virtues” would warrant calling him a saint. However, his public record is well known and the available evidence seems to point in the opposite direction. As far as is publicly known, Pope Pius failed to speak loud and clear on behalf of the Jews, failed to prevent the German Catholic Church from providing the Nazis with baptismal records that allowed them to identify Jews, failed to instruct Catholics to stop murdering Jews, failed to officially instruct the clergy everywhere to give shelter to Jews, and failed to excommunicate any Catholics including Hitler, Goebbels, and many others in the Nazi hierarchy, let alone the actual Catholic perpetrators whose souls were cleansed by field priests as the soldiers, policemen or SS came back to the barracks with blood stains in their uniforms from the hundreds of Jews they murdered at point blank range that day.

I applaud the letter these scholars and religious figures sent to Pope Benedict. These people are experts on the subject and are familiar with the information available. Pope Benedict should heed their advice and delay the canonization process to avoid a backlash to the church. There is no rush. If the Vatican Secret Archives or other sources show the role of Pope Pius XII to have been different and scholarly scrutiny shows him to have indeed bestowed heaps of Christian caritas on the hounded Jews, then I believe the entire world would join the Catholic Church in celebrating Saint Pius.

Gabriel Wilensky

Six Million Crucifixions:
How Christian Teachings About Jews Paved the Road to the Holocaust
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Posted by gwilensky | Report as abusive

[…] applaud the letter these scholars and religious figures sent to Pope Benedict. These people are experts on the subject and are familiar with the information available. Pope […]

Posted by Theologians and historians urge Pope Benedict to slow down Pius XII’s path to sainthood « Six Million Crucifixions Blog | Report as abusive

@ gabriel’s statement “However, his public record is well known and the available evidence seems to point in the opposite direction.” what evidence are you talking about, the communist’s or KGB propaganda which they themselves retracted? Even the Allied Forces especially america and britain failed to speak loud and clear in behalf of the jews notwithstanding that they have arms, you are expecting Vatican to speak loud and clear considering Italy was also an axis country and they don’t have arms and military force? huh!

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