A leading Israeli rabbi with a long history of working for Catholic-Jewish understanding says Holocaust-era Pope Pius XII should not be canonized. Pope Benedict XVI responds.
Rabbi Sha'ar-Yashuv Cohen, the long-time Chief Rabbi of Haifa, told the Synod of Bishops last week that he believes Pope Pius XII should not be declared a saint. The statement, made by the first rabbi ever invited to speak to the Synod of Bishops, ticked off the latest round of debate over what some say is the "likely canonization" of the Pope who ran the Catholic Church during the Holocaust.
"We cannot forget the sad and painful fact of how many, including great religious leaders, didn’t raise a voice in the effort to save our brethren, but chose to keep silent and help secretly," Rabbi Cohen said. The Pope "may have helped in secrecy many of the victims and many of the refugees but the question is, 'Could he have raised his voice and would it have helped, or not?' ... We cannot forgive and forget, and we hope you understand our pain, our sorrow.”
Pope Benedict Prays for Pius to be Named Saint
Pope Benedict XVI apparently does not fully understand. He responded on Thursday that Pius had worked “secretly and silently” to save Jews during World War II. Pius did so, Benedict said, because "he had an intuition that only in this way would he be able to avoid the worst, and to save the largest possible number of Jews."
Benedict expressed the prayer that the cause to declare his controversial predecessor a saint should "proceed happily.”
The Silence of Pius
Pope Pius XII, who headed the Catholic Church from 1939 until 1958, has long been accused of not using his influential position on behalf of the Jews and other victims of the Nazis. "For much of the war," writes Shira Schoenberg for Jewish Virtual Library, "he maintained a public front of indifference and remained silent while German atrocities were committed. He refused pleas for help on the grounds of neutrality, while making statements condemning injustices in general. Privately, he sheltered a small number of Jews and spoke to a few select officials, encouraging them to help the Jews."
For examples, he did not condemn Kristallnacht (the Night of Broken Glass) of Nov. 1938, in which 92 Jews were murdered and over 200 synagogues were destroyed in Nazi Germany. In 1940, when the Land of Israel's Chief Rabbi Isaac Herzog asked for Papal intervention against the deportation of Spanish and Lithuanian Jews to Germany, there was no response.
Though the Pope knew of the systematic murder going on, many other requests to help Jews, or condemn the Holocaust, were also ignored.
Samples of the Pope's responses to such pleas, such as encouraging those suffering to "bear adversity with serene patience," can be seen in the above article.
'We Must Remain Neutral,' and Other Explanations
The official explanation for refusing to condemn the Nazis specifically for murdering Jews was that the "Holy See wished to remain neutral," and that it did not want to endanger Catholics in German-held lands.
Only in late 1942, Pius XII began to advise the German and Hungarian bishops that it would be to their ultimate political advantage to go on record as speaking out against the massacre of the Jews.
When the French-Nazi puppet government introduced "Jewish statutes," the Holy See responded that the Vatican did not consider the legislation in conflict with Catholic teachings, as long as they were carried out with "charity" and "justice."
Eight years ago, the Holy See-appointed ICJHC (International Catholic-Jewish Historical Commission), comprised of three Jewish and three Catholic scholars, negated several of the conventional defenses of Pope Pius XII.
The commission found that he well knew of the severity of the situation of European Jewry, and that the Vatican did not do all it could to facilitate emigration of the Jews from Europe to the Holy Land or to South America. Refutations of the Vatican's desire to remain neutral have also surfaced over the years.