pius

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.