Canonization of Pope Pius XII?

Dialogika Resources

Op-ed: "Church's Misguided Honor"

From the Philadelphia Inquirer

Moving to canonize a World War II-era pope amounts to an attack on Jews.

Pope Benedict XVI surprised both Christians and Jews last month when he signed a decree of "heroic virtue" for the World War II era's Pope Pius XII. Granted in recognition of a "saintly life," the decree earns Pius the appellation "venerable" and opens the way to his beatification and, ultimately, his elevation to sainthood.

A saintly life? Hardly.

Pope Pius failed to act in a saintly fashion in one very crucial respect: He did not give Jews the help he could and should have during the Holocaust.

A highly political pope, Pius refused even to say the word Jew during his famous Christmas speech of 1942. With millions of Jews already murdered across Europe, and millions more facing the same fate in coming years, Pius remembered the "hundreds of thousands who, without personal guilt, sometimes for no other reason but on account of their nationality or descent, were doomed to death or exposed to a progressive deterioration of their condition." Even Mussolini contemptuously dismissed the Holy Father's broadcast as "a speech of platitudes" more worthy of the local parish priest in his native village.

Recent press reports say Pope Benedict believes evidence presented at a recent conference shows that Pius "spared no effort in intervening" on Jews' behalf, "though in many cases secretly and silently, precisely because ... only in this way was it possible to avoid the worst and save the greatest number of Jews."

The alleged evidence was presented to Benedict by the Pave the Way Foundation, a group founded by Gary Krupp, a Jewish businessman from New York. Krupp was honored in 2000 with the highest award a pope can give a non-Catholic - making him a Knight Commander of the Pontifical Equestrian Order of St. Gregory the Great - for his charitable work for the church. In January 2007, the Vatican's secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, elevated Krupp's knighthood with a Silver Star.

In September 2008, Krupp sponsored a conference in Rome that was eschewed by independent historians and attended by Pius apologists. Granted an audience with Benedict that same month, Krupp presented his "evidence," which misrepresented the historical record. A campaign of misinformation ensued.

Early in 2009, Krupp announced that some 2,300 pages of wartime documents had been found in the town of Avellino, near Naples. They had come from nearby Campagna, the site of an Italian internment camp for Jews during World War II. According to Krupp, the documents illustrated "Pope Pius XII's efforts to help Jews in the face of Nazism."

However, Paul O'Shea, a historian of Pius XII and Catholic responses to the Holocaust, came to a different conclusion after scrutinizing Pave the Way's claims. He found little to credit Pius and much to credit the local bishop, Giuseppe Maria Palatucci. "To use the Campagna files to suggest that Pope Pius XII was active in attempting to rescue Jews is to demand something that historical record cannot sustain," O'Shea said.

O'Shea's work serves as a salutary reminder of the difference between claims and verifiable facts. It also serves as a call to the Vatican to open its Holocaust-era archives.

In response to criticism of Benedict's decree in favor of Pius, a Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, emphasized that "there is nothing hidden or to hide" in the church's archives, and that they are not likely to reveal anything new.

But how can he possibly know? All manner of information tends to emerge from working through archives. Pope John Paul II understood that when he authorized the opening of Nazi-era sections of the archives relating to Pope Pius XI.

Lombardi hides behind the need to catalog the 16 million documents of Pius XII's papacy, which will take years. But the Pius XI Nazi-era material was opened before the records of his entire papacy were cataloged.

Whom the church chooses as a candidate for sainthood is the church's department. Holocaust history and defense of the Jewish people, however, are our department.

Benedict's decree on behalf of Pius XII may serve the church, but it does not serve history. Indeed, it is a denial of history. And it is an act of aggression against the Jewish people.