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.
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.
In the meantime, others have joined the discussion. A U.S. Jewish group, the Anti-Defamation League, has renewed its call to open all Vatican archives on Pius. Sister Margherita Marchione, a noted Pius defender, has just presented her latest book about him in Rome.
The Sant’Egidio community, the Rome-based movement of “justice and peace” Catholic laypeople, will lead its annual silent march in memory of more than 1,000 Jews rounded up by the Nazis in Rome on October 16, 1943 and sent to Auschwitz. This round-up is part of the Pius XII controversy. Critics say the pope let it happen “under his very windows” while defenders say the deportations stopped within 24 hours because he complained to the Germans.