FaithWorld

Theologians, historians urge Benedict to slow Pius XII saint process

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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.

Can we expect Freudian slips when Benedict meets Irish bishops?

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This week's cover of the German newsweekly Der Spiegel -- the title says "The sanctimonious ones -- the Catholic Church and sex"

If there ever were a time for Pope Benedict to commit a Freudian slip that we could all understand, it would be in his meetings next week with Irish bishops to discuss the clerical sex abuse scandals that have shaken the Emerald Isle.

It’s not hard to imagine him meeting the Hibernian hierarchy behind closed Vatican doors and occasionally referring to the scandals “in Germany” rather than “in Ireland.” If he does, the Irish bishops will certainly forgive him. Enough has been happening in his fatherland recently to distract him from the uproar about the recent reports of clergy excesses in Ireland.

Serbian church leader breaks with past, invites pope to Belgrade

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Patriarch Irinej at a news conference in Belgrade, 28 Jan 2010/Ivan MIlutinovic

For all of Irinej Gavrilovic’s 80 years, his Serbian Orthodox Church has kept its distance from the Vatican and the pope, maintaining a division whose roots date back a millennium.  But only a few days into the job as the 45th Serbian Orthodox Patriarch, Irinej has several times repeated an invitation to the Roman Catholic pontiff, hoping that both men could celebrate a significant anniversary in 2013.

It was an expression of hope, not only that the churches could overcome past differences, but also that two men already in their 80s could make plans three years into the future.

On Thursday, Irinej discussed the invitation in a forum that none of his  recent predecessors had ever employed, the news conference, amid a give and take with a gaggle of reporters. There he said his church will be glad to welcome Pope Benedict to Serbia in 2013 in a bid to foster dialogue about reconciliation between two largest Christian communities, a millennium after their Great Schism.

For God’s sake, blog!, pope tells priests

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Vatican and new media on pope2you.net, 22 May 2009/Jonathan Bainbridge

For God’s sake, blog! Pope Benedict has told priests, saying they must learn to use new forms of communication to spread the gospel message.

In his message for the Roman Catholic Church’s World Day of Communications on Saturday, the pope, who is 82 and known not to love computers or the internet, acknowledged priests must make the most of the “rich menu of options” offered by new technology.

“Priests are thus challenged to proclaim the Gospel by employing the latest generation of audiovisual resources — images, videos, animated features, blogs, websites — which, alongside traditional means, can open up broad new vistas for dialogue, evangelization and catechesis,” he said.

Bishop Williamson says Vatican-SSPX talks “dialogue of the deaf”

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Bishop Williamson, 28 Feb 2007

Bishop Richard Williamson, the ultra-traditionalist prelate whose denial of the extent of the Holocaust created an uproar in the Catholic Church and with Jews early last year, has said the discussions at the Vatican to rehabilitate his Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) are  a “dialogue of the deaf.” Williamson, one of the four SSPX bishops whose bans of excommunication were lifted by Pope Benedict only days after his controversial views were aired on Swedish television, said the two sides had “absolutely irreconcilable” positions.

In a 15-minute interview posted on the French video-sharing website Dailymotion, Williamson discussed a number of issues with a man identified by the Paris Catholic daily La Croix as a minor French far-right politician named Pierre Panet. When asked about the negotiation under way at the Vatican to reintegrate the once-shunned SSPX into the Roman church, he said in fluent French:

“I think that will end up as a dialogue of the deaf. The two positions are absolutely irreconcilable. 2+2=4 and 2+2=5 are irreconcilable. Either those who say 2+2=4 renounce the truth and agree that 2+2=5 — that is, the SSPX abandons the truth, which God forbids us to do — or those who say 2+2=5 convert and return to the truth. Or the two meet halfway and say that 2+2=4-1/2. That’s wrong. Either the SSPX becomes a traitor or Rome converts or it’s a dialogue of the deaf.”

Out of the spotlight, Israel and Vatican negotiate holy sites

Vatican flag in Jerusalem, Reuters photo by Baz Ratner

Vatican flags raised outside Jerusalem's Old City before Pope Benedict's visit, 6 May 2009/Baz Rattner

There have been a series of significant and highly publicised events recently in Vatican-Jewish relations.

Pope Benedict put his predecessor Pius XII along the road to Roman Catholic sainthood last month, angering many Jews who accused the wartime pope of turning a blind eye to the Nazi Holocaust.  Benedict defended the move this week during his first visit to Rome’s synagogue, which prompted Israel to ask the pope to open up the Vatican archives covering Pius’ reign between 1939-1958.

Visiting synagogues is not getting easier for Pope Benedict

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Pope Benedict at Rome's main synagogue, 17 Jan 2010/Osservatore Romano

Visiting synagogues is not getting any easier for Pope Benedict.

Today’s meeting with Rome’s Jewish community was the third time he has entered a synagogue, which is a kind of a papal record considering that his predecessor Pope John Paul — probably the first pope to do so since Saint Peter two millennia ago — made only one such visit himself.

His first synagogue visit, in Cologne only months after his 2005 election, was heavy with the symbolism of a German pope visiting Jews in Germany.  At one point, the rabbi referred to an elderly woman in the congregation who had a concentration camp number tattooed on her arm. He did this, though, to say that she could not have never imagined back there in Auschwitz that her son — a leader of the Cologne Jewish community present at the ceremony — would one day welcome the pope to a synagogue in Germany. It was tense, but it seemed to be a good start. pope schneier

Pope Benedict receives gift from Rabbi Arthur Schneier in New York, 18 April 2008/Max Rossi

Pope’s synagogue visit splits Italy’s Jews over stand on Pius XII

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Rome synagogue, 7 July 2008/Jensens

Deep splits have appeared in Italy’s Jewish community just before Pope Benedict makes his first visit to Rome’s synagogue, with at least one senior rabbi and one Holocaust survivor announcing a boycott.  The row revolves around the pontiff’s decision last month to raise nearer to sainthood wartime Pope Pius XII, who many Jews say did not do enough to help Jews facing persecution by Nazi Germany, a position the Vatican rejects.

Rome’s Chief Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni has decided to go ahead with the visit and told Reuters he believed only God could judge Pius XII.

Rabbi Giuseppe Laras, president of Italy’s rabbinical assembly, announced he will not attend the visit on Sunday to protest at what he said were a series of Vatican moves seen as disrespectful to Jews, including the pope’s decision to start the rehabilitation process last year of traditionalist Bishop Richard Williamson, who denied the extent of the Holocaust.

Port-au-Prince RC cathedral in ruins after Haiti earthquake

Our photographers in Haiti have produced many sad images of the widespread death and destruction from Tuesday’s massive earthquake, some of which are collected in a slideshow here.  Following are shots of the Roman Catholic cathedral in Port-au-Prince in ruins.  Among the dead in the quake was Archbishop Joseph Serge Miot, who the Vatican daily L’Osservatore Romano reported was found lifeless “under the rubble of the archbishop’s residence.”

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cathedral 2

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cathedral 4

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(Credits: Kena Betancur, Kena Betancur, Jorge Silva, Eduardo Munoz, Reuters TV)

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Rome’s chief rabbi says only God can judge Pius XII on Holocaust

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Pope Pius XII in an undated file photo from the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano

Only God can judge whether war-time Pope Pius XII did enough to save Jews and whether he should have spoken out more forcefully against the Holocaust, according to Rome’s Chief Rabbi Riccardo di Segni, who will host Pope Benedict for his first visit to the Italian capital’s synagogue on Sunday.

Speaking to Reuters at his synagogue along the Tiber River, Di Segni criticised a comment by Cardinal Walter Kasper that Pius “followed the will of God as he understood it” and had saved thousands of Jews in Rome and elsewhere. Some Jews have accused Pius, who reigned from 1939 to 1958, of not doing enough to help Jews facing persecution.