Israel: Do not make Nazi-era pope a saint, yet

Request to block beatification based on recent research that concluded he was "unable to protect either believers or religious from persecution."

Pope Pius XII 88 (photo credit: )
Pope Pius XII 88
(photo credit: )
Pope Pius XII should not be made a saint, until the full facts of his activities during the Nazi era are disclosed, Israel has told the Vatican. "I am asking the Vatican to block the beatification process for Pius XII," Oded Ben-Hur, Israel's ambassador to the Holy See told reporters last month. His remarks came at a reception in Rome for the publication of La Santa Sede e la questione ebraica: (The Holy See and the Jewish Questions (1933-1945)), a study of the Vatican's diplomatic and humanitarian efforts on behalf of European Jewry during the Nazi era. The book was written by Alessandro Duce, professor of history of international relations at the University of Parma. Based on five years archival research, Duce's book paints a mixed portrait of the wartime pope. While the book reveals new information on Vatican attempts to help Jews emigrate to the Americas and details its attempts to block anti-Jewish legislation in East and Central Europe, it also paints Pius XII in a less than heroic light. An October 26 review by the Corriere della Sera concluded Duce's research backed theories of a "hesitant, isolated" pope, "unable to protect either believers or religious from persecution and martyrdom." In an interview with the Zenit news service, Duce stated the Italian newspaper's "observation is precise and pertinent in substance" but needed to be placed in context. "Pius XII's inability to protect believers themselves and the clergy from National Socialist violence should make one reflect. Can one expect someone who does not have the strength to protect 'his own flock', to save his 'neighbors?'" Duce said. Ben-Hur's comments about the beatification process for Pius comes during a period of increasingly close Jewish - Roman Catholic ties, with relations "never having been so good," Rabbi David Rosen, president of the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations told The Jerusalem Post. "I would say that in the US there is no religious community in which the Jewish community at large has more confidence than the Catholic Church," Rosen said. However, the "issue" of Pius XII was "peripheral" for interfaith concerns, he said, "but that does not mean that it is not a cause for concern, because it would certainly have a deleterious fall-out in terms of the image of the Church in the Jewish community." While supporters of Pius have responded sharply to Ben-Hur's remarks, the Vatican's press office has not responded to queries on this topic. However, Father Peter Gumpel, S.J., an investigating judge for the Vatican commission tasked with regulating the process of Pius's possible path to sainthood, told reporters Ben-Hur's comments were "totally irresponsible," and chided the ambassador for interfering in an internal Church matter. While Ben-Hur's request for the Vatican to open its wartime archives on the Pope is new, his call for the Vatican to suspend judgment on Pius reaffirms positions taken over the past decade by Israel's first two ambassadors to the Vatican, Schmuel Hadas and Aharon Lopez. In the end, Rosen stated "no amount of documentation will resolve the issue of Pius XII's role" in the Holocaust "as in the end the debate is around interpretation and a hypothetical question." "If he would have done what he could have done but didn't do, would it have made any difference?" Rosen asked. "Go figure."