The Vatican made an effort Wednesday to calm the fury of European Jewry over its declaration last Saturday to resume the process of moving a controversial World War II pontiff towards the status of sainthood. The statement emphasized that the efforts to advance the beatification of Pope Pius XII is not intended to block Catholic-Jewish dialogue and should not been seen as such.
European Jewry is furious at the Vatican over the announcement last Saturday that Pius had been moved a step closer to being declared a saint in the Catholic Church. The beatification had been stopped in 2008, after Jewish groups protested that Pius XII had never made a clear statement denouncing the extermination of millions of Jews, and did not even do so after the war.
Pope Benedict XVI formally announced that Pius XII had showed “heroic virtues” throughout his life and called him a "Christian worthy of imitation." The statement is the final declaration that precedes beatification, the last step before canonization, or sainthood. Benedict was a teenager and then became a young priest during the time Pius XII reigned as pope, from 1939 to 1958.
The president of the European Jewish Congress, Moshe Kantor, called the statement a “major slap in the face of the memory of the Holocaust.”
Kantor warned that the issue would raise the ire of Jewish communities around the world on many levels. “This is not just about Catholic-Jewish relations, but about the abuse of Holocaust memory and history,” he said. He added that “many major scholars contend that Pius did little to save the Jews and ignored their plight during one of the darkest chapters in human history.”
Vatican: ‘Not a Hostile Act’
The Vatican responded to Kantor’s statement with one of its own Wednesday, claiming that its move to declare Pius XII a saint was not a hostile act against the Jewish people.
The statement released by Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi argued that the decree should not be an obstacle to dialogue between Jews and the Catholic Church. The announcement was seen as an attempt to avoid a heated debate ahead of Pope Benedict’s first visit to Rome’s synagogue next month.
Lombardi added that Pius’s intention was “to do the best possible” and that his “concern for the fate of Jews… was documented and recognized by many Jews” after the war.
Vatican Still Won’t Open the Archives
European Jewish leaders have asked the Vatican to fulfill his own earlier call to research the archives and study Pius’s background more deeply before proceeding with further moves towards sainthood for the controversial pontiff.
The Vatican claims the archives will show that Pius did much to help the Jews during World War II but worked quietly behind the scenes because direct intervention might have worsened the situation for both Jews and Catholics.
However, the archives have remained closed to scholars, with the Vatican claiming the massive number of documents as the reason for the delay in allowing entry to researchers, according to Reuters.
Written Evidence in a Monastery?
Fr. Peter Gumpel, the main promoter of Pius’s cause, told the Catholic News Agency earlier this year that he had proof the pope had tried to protect Jews from the Nazis.
According to the report, Gumpel had found a note in the archives of the Augustinian Nuns of the Roman monastery that mentioned an order from Pius XII to give shelter to persecuted Jews.
The note, dated November 1943, included a list of 24 people taken in by the monastery in response to the pope’s request, and reads as follows: “The Holy Father wishes to save his children, the Jews as well, and orders that the Monasteries provide hospitality to these persecuted people.”