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.

“It is our hope that this solemn commemoration of such a great pope will offer impetus for more and deeper research without prejudice on his work,” Monsignor Walter Brandmüller, president of the Pontifical Committee for Historic Sciences, said in his prepared speech.

Later, in a question and answer session, Brandmüller lost his cool just a bit and expressed irritation at questions about calls for more opening of the Vatican archives. He effectively said the archives of Jewish organisations such as the World Jewish Congress should be more open and used more, suggesting that scholars would find material supporting the Vatican’s view that Pius did as much as he could under the circumstances.

Saint Pius XII? Not so fast…

Andrea Tornielli’s book on Pius XII

During World War Two, Pope Pius XII was (1) a saintly man, (2) Hitler’s Pope or (3) neither of the above. This question continues to weigh on Catholic-Jewish relations despite all the progress made since the Second Vatican Council. It would be easy to assume that Catholics answer (1) and Jews (2), but the debate is far more complex than that. There are Catholics who say Pius didn’t do enough to help the Jews and Jews who defend him as doing everything he could under the circumstances.

The issue keeps smouldering because the Catholic Church is considering Pius for possible beatification and sainthood. The U.S.-based Anti-Defamation League has urged the Church to suspend the procedure until the Vatican declassifies all its wartime archives. The Vatican opened its archives up to 1939 — the end of the papacy of Pope Pius XI — in 2005, but it is still processing the files from Pope Pius XII’s papacy (1939-1958). In the meantime, the controversy has produced a steady stream of books on Pius XII and the Holocaust, only some of which are thumbnailed below.

Hitler’s Pope by John CornwellThe Defamation of Pius XII. By Ralph McInernyPope Benedict XVI has now slowed down the procedure by asking for a further review of the Pius XII dossier, which is 3,500 pages long. Andrea Tornielli, Vatican correspondent of the Italian daily Il Giornale, has reported that Benedict has also decided to set up a committee to review the issue and is concerned about the possible reaction if the Vatican beatified Pius XII too soon. Tornielli, whose fourth book about Pius XII was published in May, says Hitler, the War, and the Pope. By Ronald J. Rychlakthe pontiff was The Myth of Hitler’s Pope: How Pope Pius XII Rescued Jews from the Nazis. By Rabbi David G. Dalinnot a callous anti-Semite as some critics portray him.