Beatification of Pope Pius XII provokes controversy

Source: FSSPX News

On 19 December Pope Benedict XVI authorized the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints to promulgate the decree acknowledging the “heroic virtues” of two of his predecessors.

He also recognized the “martyrdom” of the Polish priest Jerzy Popieluszko (1947-1984), chaplain of the Solidarnosc trade union, who was abducted by three officers of the communist political police (SB) near Wloclawek, north of Warsaw.  His abductors tortured him to death, before tying him up and throwing him into the waters of the Vistula.

The publication of the decree acknowledging the heroic virtues of Pius XII surprised more than one observer. Rome had begun the beatification process of Pius XII in October 1967. On 8 May 2007, the majority of the members of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints recognized the “heroic virtues” of Eugenio Pacelli. The file was then to be submitted to Benedict XVI for the purpose of signing the decree declaring him “venerable.”

However, a few months later, the Pope decided to create a special commission within the Secretariat of State to study the file of the beatification process.

Last June the postulator for the cause of the Pope of the Second World War confided to the press that the German Pope preferred not to sign the decree of beatification of his predecessor lest the relations between Jews and Catholics be “compromised.” The director of the Holy See Press Office immediately requested that Benedict XVI be “left completely free in his evaluations and decisions.”

Several prominent Jews immediately reacted to the proclamation of the heroic virtues of Pope Pius XII. On 20 December Gilles Bernheim, the Chief Rabbi of France, expressed his hopes that the Catholic Church would forsake the beatification process of Pius XII. According to him Pope Benedict’s decision is “diametrically opposed to dialogue between Jews and Christians.”

For over 40 years the beatification process of Pius XII introduced by John XXIII and Paul VI has never failed to cause controversy and disappointment concerning what he symbolizes. Today the question as to whether or not the project will be brought to completion has become the symbol of what Benedict XVI will do with his pontificate.

Even more adamant was the reaction of the Secretary General of the Central Council of the Jews of Germany.  Stephan Kramer described himself as “furious” and “sad” that the Pope had declared “venerable” his predecessor Pius XII, who has been criticized for his silence during the Holocaust:

This is clearly a misrepresentation of historical facts concerning the Nazi period. And Benedict XVI is rewriting History without permitting a scholarly scientific discussion of Pius XII’s attitude towards Nazism. That is what infuriates me,

he declared to the AFP[1].

Rabbi David Rosen, counselor to the chief Rabbi of Jerusalem in matters of dialogue and delegate for dialogue with the Vatican, expressed his reserves in the December 20th issue of Corriere della Sera. Pope Benedict XVI’s decision “...does not show much sensitivity towards the concerns of the Jewish community,” he stated, hoping the Pope Pacelli project will not go forward. For its part, the Jewish community of Italy “remains critical” of Pope Benedict XVI’s decision.  

In a joint declaration Riccardo Di Segni, chief Rabbi of Rome, Renzo Gattegna, President of the Union of Jewish Italian Communities, and Riccardo Pacifici, President of the Jewish Community of Rome stated that “We cannot in any way whatsoever meddle in the internal decisions of the Church.” “However, if this decision implied a definitive and unilateral judgment of the historical work of Pius XII, we repeat that our evaluation remains critical,” they said.

On 20 December Monsignor Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints, granted an interview to Avvenire, the daily newspaper of the Italian Episcopal Conference. When asked whether the simultaneous declaration of the “heroic virtues” of both Pontiffs meant that their causes would henceforth go forward together, Monsignor Amato replied, “Each one will follow its own course.” The Roman prelate explained that the recognition of the “heroic virtues” of Pius XII could “not be considered surprising” for his dicastery.

In December 2007 the Pope had decided to create a special commission within the Secretariat of State to study the file of the beatification process and consult the archives of the Holy See. This “inquiry,” according to the prelate, reached a “positive” conclusion.

Four days after Pope Benedict authorized the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints to acknowledge the heroic virtues of Pius XII, Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office,  felt obliged to provide, in a note published on 23 December, some “explanations” concerning the beatification process. According to him it is not intended as an “evaluation of the historical importance of all the decisions” made by Eugenio Pacelli, but rather refers to the “witness of his Christian life”:  The Pope's signing of the decree on the “heroic virtues” of Pius XII has caused a certain number of reactions in the Jewish world, probably because its meaning is clearly understood by the Catholic Church and experts on the subject, though the public at large may be in need of further explanations, and in particular for Jews, who understandably are very sensitive, to the history of the Second World War and the Holocaust.

When a Pope signs a decree on the ‘heroic virtues’ of a Servant of God (…), he confirms the positive evaluation that the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints has already approved. Naturally, this evaluation takes into account the circumstances in which he lived. An examination from a historical point of view is then necessary, but the evaluation refers essentially to the Christian life led by this person ( his intense relationship with God and his constant efforts to attain evangelical perfection...) and not to the evaluation of the historical importance of all his decisions.

This is in no way means to limit the discussion to the concrete choices made by Pius XII in the situation in which he found himself. As far as she is concerned, the Church states that they were made only in order to fulfill to the best of his ability his graves responsibilities as Pope. In any case, the attention and preoccupation of Pius XII for the fate of the Jews – which was certainly taken into account in the evaluation of his virtues – have been widely attested and acknowledged even by many Jews.

Historians remain free therefore in their research and conclusions in their own field. And in the present case, we understand the request for access to the official documents for the purpose of research. For the complete opening of the archives, as we have already said several times, it will first be necessary to organize and classify a massive collection of documents, which technically requires a space of several more years.


[1] [1] Translator’s note: Agence France-Presse, (France Press Agency) is one of three news agencies possessing a world-wide research network with thousands of readers in more than a hundred countries.