FaithWorld

Pius polemics persist — more due next month?

Pope Pius XII/The Holy SeeReasonable people can agree to disagree on lots of issues, but some are so polarising that even reasonable people will hunker down in opposing trenches whenever debate about them flares up. The long-standing Catholic-Jewish dispute over Pope Pius XII and his role during the Holocaust is one of those issues. The 50th anniversary of Eugenio Pacelli’s death on Oct. 9, 1958 has recently mobilised both his defenders and detractors. After several pro-Pius comments from the Vatican and its friends and a firm but polite rebuttal by an Israeli rabbi, the umbrella group of French Jewish organisations, CRIF, has issued a stinging denunciation of Pius and warning that beatifying him would strike a “severe blow” to Catholic-Jewish relations.

CRIF logoThe statement (here in French) is clearly sharper than the latest call by the U.S.-based Anti-Defamation League (ADL) urging the Vatican to open its last wartime records to historians’ scrutiny before deciding to proceed with Pius’s beatification and eventual canonisation as a Roman Catholic saint. CRIF is the public spokesman for France’s 600,000-strong Jewish community, which is Europe’s largest. It regularly denounces anti-Semitism in France Anti-Defamation League logoand upholds the memory of the Holocaust, but has not been as active as the ADL in engaging the Vatican in the debate over whether Pius did as much as he could have to save Jews during the Holocaust.

A quick look at the timetable of the latest dispute puts the CRIF statement in perspective. Shear-Yashuv Cohen, chief rabbi of Haifa in Israeli, became the first Jew to address a bishops’ synod in Rome on Oct. 6. Catholic-Jewish relations have improved markedly in recent decades and Cohen accepted the invitation in that spirit. But when in Rome he realised the meeting would also be commemorating Pius’s death, he told our Vatican correspondent Phil Pullella he might not have attended if he had known that. During his address, he told the bishops that Jews “cannot forgive and forget” that some major religious leaders during World War Two did not speak out against the Holocaust. He separately told reporters Pius “should not be seen as a model and he should not be beatified”.

Benedict XVI prays at Pius XII’s tomb, 9 Oct 2008/Osservatore RomanoFour days later, at the Oct. 9 commemorative Mass for Pius, Pope Benedict — who as a German must be particularly sensitive to the debate — staunchly defended his Italian predecessor. Pius “often acted in a secret and silent way precisely because, given the real situations of that complex moment in history, he realised that only in this manner could the worst be avoided and greatest number of Jews be saved,” Benedict said. He added that he hoped the beatification process could “proceed happily” (felicemente in the original Italian, successfully in the official English translation).

Even though he gave no date for any move on beatification, this was clearly a ringing papal endorsement for the plan. It’s no surprise, then, that CRIF upped the ante, saying that a beatification “would deal a severe blow to relations between the Catholic Church and the Jewish world”. Apart from criticising Pius’s caution during the war, it said he never issued a full public denunciation of the Holocaust after the war and called this shocking. “Jewish survivors of the Shoah will suffer a profound hurt if the silence of the magisterium in the face of the genocide of the Jews is presented as model behaviour,” it concluded.

Pope hopes Nazi-era predecessor moves toward sainthood

Pope Benedict at mass for Pius XII, 9 Oct 2008//Tony Gentile

In the latest step in the discussion about Pope Pius XII and the Holocaust, Pope Benedict has issued a ringing defence of his wartime predecessor and said he hoped his beatification “can proceed happily.” To critics who say Pius should have spoken out publicly against the Nazi slaughter of European Jews, Benedict said Pius’s “secret and silent way” was the right approach.

“Given the real situations of that complex moment in history, he realized that only in this manner could the worst be avoided and greatest number of Jews be saved,” the German-born pontiff said at a mass commemorating the 50th anniversary of Pius’s death.

Read Phil Pullella’s full story from Vatican City here.

While this “full court press” (as John Allen of the National Cathoilc Reporter calls it) may encourage those supporting the beatification and disappoint those — including many Jewish critics — who want the process stopped, Benedict left out a crucial element both sides wanted to know more about. He made no mention of when the benediction should go ahead. An institution that is two millennia old can put off some decisions for a long time, in this case maybe long enough for World War Two to fade out of living memory. But Benedict is not one to take the easy way out, so the omission of any deadline does not mean the issue has been put off indefinitely.

Vatican rejects rabbi’s criticism of Pius XII’s Holocaust record

L’Osservatore Romano, 9 Oct 2008, with editorial in far left columnThe Vatican daily L’Osservatore Romano has lost no time in rejecting the criticism of Pope Pius XII’s Holocaust record made by Shear-Yashuv Cohen, the Haifa Chief Rabbi who addressed a synod of bishops on Tuesday. Editor-in-chief Gian Maria Vian wrote a front-page editorial today saying charges that he turned a blind eye to the Nazi massacre of European Jews was a “black legend” not backed up by history.

“He confronted the wartime tragedy like no leader of his time did. Even when faced with the monstrous persecution of the Jews [he worked] in a suffered silence which is understandable and whose aim was an efficient endeavor of charity and undeniable help,” Vian wrote in the editorial “In memoria di Pio XII” (In Memory Of Pius XII).

Vian said Pius had been unfairly accused of being insensitive to the Holocaust and even pro-Nazi. He has also been unfairly contrasted with his successor, the popular Pope John XXIII. The Church had the duty, he said, to uphold the memory of Pius XII and his service to it. Read the whole news story here.

Pius XII biographer raps rabbi for recalling Holocaust role

Cover of Tornielli’s book Pius XII, Eugenio Pacelli, A Man on the Throne of PeterA 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 Andrea Torniellisynod 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):

Rome looks at Pius XII papacy as death anniversary nears

pdf_scantest.jpgOn October 9, Pope Benedict will lead the Roman Catholic Church in marking the 50th anniversary of the death of Pope Pius XII. There is a lot of interest in what Benedict will say in his homily about his predecessor, arguably the most controversial pontiff of the 20th century because of what he did or did not do to save Jews during the Holocaust. On October 21, the Vatican will open a photographic exhibition on his papacy and on Nov 6-8, two pontifical universities in Rome, the Lateran and the Gregorian, will jointly sponsor a conference on his papacy.

An indication of what Benedict might say on October 9 can be found in his address on September 18 to the Pave the Way Foundation, a mixed Jewish-Catholic group based in the United States and headed by Gary Krupp, a Jew who is also a Knight Commander of the Pontifical Equestrian Order of St Gregory the Great.  Pave the Way held a unique three-day symposium in Rome in the days leading up to their audience with the pope at his summer residence at Castel Gandolfo.

New York Times article in Pave The Way dossierThe title of the symposium was “Examining the Papacy of Pope Pius XII”. It was attended by, among others, panalists such as Sister Magherita  Marchione, an American nun who is feisty despite her 86 years and who has written extensively in defence of Pius, Fr. Peter Gumpel, the Jesuit who is the relator of the cause for Pius’ sainthood, Eugene J. Fisher, who was in charge of Catholic-Jewish relations for the U.S. National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB) from 1997 to 2007, and Andrea Tornielli, an Italian journalist who has  has written extensively on Pius XII and whose most recent biography on the pontiff was released last year.

Prejudice against Muslims, Jews on the rise in Europe – Pew study

Swastikas on Muslim gravestones in northern France, 6 April 2008/stringerAnti-Muslim and anti-Jewish feelings are rising in several major European countries, according to a survey by the Washington- based Pew Research Center’s Global Attitude Survey. Mike Conlon in our Chicago bureau has summed up the report here.

Apart from the figures themselves, what struck me most was the way the study says the trends are moving. Pew said the upswing in anti-Muslim feelings came mostly between 2004 and 2006, with some falls since then, while the upswing of feelings against Jews has come mostly between 2006 and 2008. Is this matched by facts on the ground, such as attacks on religious people and sites or increasingly discriminatory acts or agitation against religious minorities? Or is this a change in mood that need surveys like this to be perceived?

The news media tend to focus on actual examples of such prejudices, such as the recent anti-mosque campaign in Italy or suspected anti-Semitic attack on a young Paris Jew, since these are news events that reflect prejudices. This is admittedly an imperfect measure (which, by the way, is one reason why we also report surveys like this). We don’t claim to be able to cover such events so thoroughly that we could track trends like Pew does. Even with that proviso, I’m not sure I would have said that Europe saw a surge of anti-Muslim feeling between 2004 and 2006 and a surge of anti-Jewish feeling since then. The evidence from actual events is difficult to read.

Prince Ghazi fears the worst if interfaith tensions flare

“Christians and Muslims routinely mistrust, disrespect and dislike each other, if not popularly and actively rubbish, dehumanize, demonize, despise and attack each other.”
Hmmm … this doesn’t sound like your usual speech at a conference on Christian-Muslim dialogue.

“With such an explosive mix, popular religious conflicts, even unto genocide, are lurking around the corner.” Um, er … the gloves are really off.

“God forbid, a few more terrorist attacks, a few more national security emergencies, a few more demagogues, a few more national protection laws, and then internment camps, if not concentration camps, are not inconceivable in some places.”

New, younger leaders for France’s Muslims and Jews

This is such a coincidence that some might suspect it wasn’t one. France’s Muslim and Jewish minorities, both the largest of their kind in Europe, elected new leaders on Sunday. In both cases, they opted for younger leaders who promised to play a more active role in their communities. We may see and hear more from these two groups than in the past.

Mohammed Moussaoui, 22 June 2008/Gonzalo FuentesThe French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM) chose Mohammed Moussaoui, 44, of the Moroccan-backed Rally of French Muslims group as its new president. Its outgoing president, Dalil Boubakeur, 67, boycotted the election. This is a secular post, so Moussaoui is the top Muslim representative in France, not a theological authority. Although he is an imam, his “day job” is mathematics lecturer at the University of Avignon. After five years of paralysis at the CFCM, it was a breath of fresh air to see him publish an action programme in advance and pledge to reform the council. We covered his election here and the first round of the voting on June 8 here. There are about five million Muslims in France, around 8 percent of the population, and Islam is the second-largest religion here after Roman Catholicism. Moussaoui was born in Morocco and came to France for university studies.

The Rabbi and The Cardinal — Bernheim (l) and Barbarin (r)Rabbi Gilles Bernheim, 56, won election as the new grand rabbi of France, replacing Joseph Sitruk, 63, who had held the post for 21 years and sought reelection. Bernheim is an orthodox rabbi who has frequently spoken out in public on a wide range of issues. A former university chaplain, he is rabbi of the largest Paris synagogue, the Synagogue de la Victoire, and has been active in dialogue with Christians. He recently published “Le rabbin et le cardinal” (The Rabbi and The Cardinal), a long conversation with Lyon Cardinal Philippe Barbarin. This commitment to dialogue earned him some criticism during the election campaign from more traditionalist voices in an unusually lively campaign (see this pre-poll article in The Forward). In French, check out reports in Le Monde and RTL radio (audio and text). There are about 600,000 Jews in France.

Another Pius XII controversy as Vatican prepares commemoration

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.

Debate over who’s a “real Jew” roils Argentine Jewish community

AMIA logoThe newly elected president of Argentina’s biggest Jewish community center sparked a firestorm when he was quoted in the press as saying he wanted the group to represent “genuine Jews” who live strictly by the Torah.

Guillermo Borger is the first Orthodox Jew elected to head the AMIA (Argentine Israeli Mutual Association) center in Buenos Aires, which was founded 114 years ago. Argentina’s Jewish community is the largest in Latin America with nearly 200,000 members.

Borger was quoted last weekend by Argentina’s biggest daily newspaper Clarin as saying he planned to “reinforce AMIA’s role in representing genuine Jews.” When asked what made a Jew genuine, he said: “It’s having a life based on all the Torah’s teachings.”