Pope Francis, according to the Catholic News Agency, is weighing the possibility of proceeding with the cause for canonization of Pope Pius XII without waiting for the approval of a miracle, which is generally required. CNA cites an anonymous Vatican official as saying that Pope Francis has great admiration for Pius, and could invoke his own authority to speed up the process by waiving the miracle approval requirement. Pope Francis has already taken that step with the canonization of Pope John XXIII. Regarding John XXIII, known affectionately as “Good Pope John” and considered by many people to be the “most beloved pope in history, the news will, no doubt, be warmly applauded. Pius XII, however, is another matter entirely. Pope John Paul II formally proposed both men for sainthood, at the same time, in September 2000.
Predictably, news of Francis’ decision to speed the cause of Pius XII’s elevation to sainthood sparked protests from Jewish leaders who have urged the Vatican not to proceed until scholars have an opportunity to study the complete Vatican archival record of his pontificate (1939-1958). Some of the documentation has already been made available to scholars, but the bulk of it has not. One Jewish leader, Lawrence Schiffman, Chairman of the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations (IJCIC), an umbrella group representing most major Jewish organizations and all streams of Jewish thought, expressed concern to Francis, noting that Pius XII has been accused of turning a blind eye to the Holocaust. In the controversial play The Deputy, for example, playwright, Rolf Hochhuth, accused Pius of “silence” in the face of Hitler’s plan to exterminate European Jewry. Francis made no mention of Pius during his talk several days ago with IJCIC delegates, but the pontiff repeated the Church’s condemnation of antisemitism.
“The Jewish community continues to be concerned about efforts to canonize Pope Pius XII while innumerable documents pertaining to the history of the Church and the Jewish people during the dark years of the Holocaust still remain closed to outside scholarly investigation,” Mr. Schiffman told the pope.
The issue of whether the Vatican and the Church under Pius did everything possible to help Jews during the 1930s and ‘40s has cast a pall on Catholic-Jewish relations for decades. Critics accuse Pius of failing to take action to prevent or stop the Holocaust, acting more like a politician than a prophet, but his defenders contend he worked actively behind the scenes to encourage Catholics to save Jews. Defenders say speaking out more forcefully would only have worsened the situation for everyone. Jewish leaders have requested that Pius’ canonization process be placed on hold until all the Vatican’s wartime archives are opened and studied by scholars, the bulk of which is expected to be released in 2014.
“Due to our common roots, a Christian cannot be anti-Semitic,” Francis told the delegation. The pontiff, who had good relations with Jews in Argentina and co-authored a book with Argentine Rabbi Abraham Skorka, reiterated that the Church was committed to the principles enunciated in “Declaration on the Relationship of the Church and Non-Christian Religions,” also known as Nostra Aetate (“In Our Age”), published by the Second Vatican Council in April 1965. Terming it “a key point of reference for relations with the Jewish people,” Nostra Aetate, among other things, repudiated anti-Judaism, the Church’s two thousand year tradition of bias toward Jews, rejected the concept of collective Jewish guilt for the death of Jesus, and urged dialogue between Catholics and Jews.
On the day following his election by the College of Cardinals on March 13, Francis reached out to the Jewish community by sending a message to Rome’s chief rabbi and inviting him to his inaugural Mass at the Vatican. In April, Francis accepted an invitation from Israeli President Shimon Peres to visit Israel. Both of Francis’s immediate predecessors, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, visited the Holy Land, including the Palestinian territories, in 2000 and 2009 respectively.
Abraham Foxman, U.S. Director of the Anti-Defamation League, had previously urged Pope Benedict XVI to suspend indefinitely the canonization process until Vatican archives of Pius’ pontificate are declassified and fully examined “so that the full record of Pius’ actions during the Holocaust may finally be known.” Regarding canonization, Rabbi Albert H. Friedlander, author of Out of the Whirlwind: a Reader of Holocaust Literature, asks this provocative question:
“Who is a saint in the time of evil?… The question is not whether the Pope was evil, but: was he a saint? I must ask the Church to re-assess its conscience. Does not ‘sainthood’ indicate a superhuman effort? And if the Church wants to be a teaching testimony to everyone, should it not take extra care, even if it leaves the establishment of those days less than perfect?”
In February 2010, nineteen Catholics scholars of theology and history wrote a letter to Pope Benedict also asking him to slow down the process of making Pius a saint. Saying that much more research needed to be done on the papacy of the mid-twentieth century pope, the scholars wrote that “history needs distance and perspective” before definitive conclusions can be reached of Pius’s role during WWII and the Holocaust. Leading the effort were Rev. Dr. John Pawlikowski OSM, professor of ethics at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, and Rev. Dr. Kevin P. Spicer CSC, Kenneally associate professor of history at Stonehill College in Easton, Massachusetts. In an e-mail to Catholic News Service, Father Pawlikowski told CNS the scholars were not opposed to Pope Pius’s canonization. “We sent this letter because we feel that too often the issue of Pius XII is portrayed as one of Jewish concern,” Pawlikowski continued,” We wanted to make it clear that some Catholics who have worked on Holocaust issues have serious concerns about advancing the cause of Pius XII at the time.”
I am a Catholic who has worked on Holocaust issues with serious concerns and I echo the sentiments of my colleagues. There should be no rush to judgment in this matter, the record is incomplete and the jury is still out. In short, there should be no “santo subito” for Pius XII.