Canonization of Pope Pius XII?

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On Pius XII and His Virtues

On Saturday, December 19, 2009 , Pope Benedict XVI recognized the virtues of 21 men and women in the history of the Church who gave exemplary witness (albeit very diverse witness) to their Christian faith in their lives. Among the outstanding examples were also two popes, John Paul II and Pius XII. This step again led to a storm in the relations between Jews and Catholics.

Hebrew speaking Catholics live in the midst of the Jewish people in Israeli society. Their existence is founded on their belonging to and love for the Church and their proximity (in some cases their belonging too) and their love for the Jewish people. It is natural, after hundreds of years of history shared by the Church and the Jewish people, history that has known difficult and even tragic periods, that the belonging to these two worlds can be heartbreaking at times. Our vocation as Hebrew speaking Catholics in Israel is to feel both with the Church and with Israel, to try and be a bridge between the two, and sometimes to even live the painful division of misunderstanding, polemic and mutual defensiveness.

In recent years, the figure of Pope Pius XII has created a storm from time to time in the relations between the Church and the Jewish people. Some in the Church have sought to recognize the Pope as an exemplary believer who faced the great challenges of his time but some Jews have argued that the Pope of the period of the Second World War "did not do enough" to save the Jews of occupied Europe. On Saturday, the Pope recognized the virtues of Pius XII and the reaction of the Jews was expected: this hurts the Jews. The declaration of Pope Benedict concerning the virtues of Pius XII does not focus on the period of the Shoah and does not shut the door on the research of the historians. The Pope, who served from 1939 to 1958, was active in many different fields and he left his mark on the Church in the 20 th century. It was he who opened the gate of scientific Biblical research in the Church (research that today brings together Jews and Christians and influences greatly the definition of the shared Jewish – Christian Biblical heritage). He appointed bishops from non-European countries to serve in Africa and Asia, thus recognizing the changing face of the universal Church. He encouraged the liturgical reform and the dialogue between faith and science. He had to deal with the persecution of the Church in the countries that were under Communist rule. Catholics remember him and honor his memory in a Church context much wider than just the black years of the Second World War.

We, as Hebrew speaking Catholics in Israel, some of us also members of the Jewish people, express our joy concerning the shared view of many Jews and Catholics when it comes to the virtues of Pope John Paul II. For us what is particularly important is all he did to bring the Church closer to the Jewish people. At the same time, we express our pain once again concerning the division between the Church and the Jewish people when it comes to Pope Pius XII. As Catholics, we are called to understand the figures of the Popes John Paul II and Pius XII in the light of the teaching of the Church. We reject the defamation of Pius XII and that accuses him of cowardice and even anti-Semitism and collaboration with the Nazi enemy. These accusations are absolutely without foundation. Likewise, we reject the interpretations that see any honoring of Pius XII as a minimizing of the importance of the Shoah or as a retreat from the breath taking progress in the relations between Jews and Catholics in the past decades. On the other hand, we are called to understand the discomfort of many of our Jewish brothers and sisters who argue that the Pope "did not do enough" in saving Jews in the hour of their sufferings during the Shoah.

We understand the cry "he did not do enough" as a cry of deep pain coming from the sense of betrayal among the Jewish people at the time of their trial. The world indeed did not do enough as it is an undeniable fact that six million members of the Jewish people were murdered. Ultimately, there can be no "enough" in the attempt to confront a tragedy of the dimensions of the Shoah! We hear the cry of the Jewish people and we feel their pain. In the light of the Shoah, the question is asked: "Could the Pope have done more?" The question is both legitimate and understandable however perhaps there is no human answer to this question. Only God can know whether he indeed did everything that he could do. We are witnesses to the historical research regarding the diplomatic efforts of the Pope to end the war and the terror against the Jewish people. We are witnesses to the many stories about the instructions the Pope gave to open churches and monasteries in order to give refuge to the Jews who were fleeing, to provide them with false documents and to smuggle them out of the dangerous areas. We must commemorate the role of men and women in the Church, heroic "righteous among the nations", who saw themselves under the authority of the Pope and who were active in Italy and other European countries in helping Jews hide and flee. In some cases they paid for this help with their lives.

We continue to pray that both in the Church and in the Jewish people we will continue in searching together for the historical truth so that we can educate our children in mutual respect and brotherhood and that we continue our efforts to collaborate for "the mending of the world" ( tikkun olam ).

- Rev. Father David Neuhaus SJ, Patriarchal Vicar for the Hebrew speaking Catholics and the priests from the Vicariate