Vatican halts process of making Pius a saint
Vatican halts process of making Pius a saintFlash 90

A spokesman for Pope Benedict XVI announced over the weekend that the Catholic leader had stopped the beatification of Pope Pius XII, an issue that has heightened tensions between the Vatican and Israel.


Pope Pius, who served during World War II, has been criticized by Jews the world over for his silence in the face of the Nazi genocide during the Holocaust.


Numerous Jewish groups as well as a leading Israeli rabbi expressed their opposition to recent steps toward beatification, which means making him a saint. Pope Benedict's spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi reacted and stated that the pope had decided to study the matter further.


The central umbrella organization for Jewish groups in France, the Conseil Representatif des Institutions Juives de France, warned in a statement, "Pope Pius XII, worried about burning bridges with Germany, never made a clear statement denouncing the singular monstrosity of the extermination of millions of Jews. Moreover, he did not do so after the war either, which is profoundly shocking. If carried out, the plan to beatify Pius XII, who was pope between 1939 and 1958, would deal a severe blow to relations between the Catholic Church and the Jewish world."


Jewish groups in Italy and elsewhere have also urged the Vatican to reconsider the move.  Amos Luzzatto, president emeritus of Italy's Jewish communities, noted in an interview published in the newspaper La Repubblica that numerous European leaders had spoken out against the deportation of Jews during the war. "I ask myself why Pius didn't do the same thing to call European Catholics to action. These are questions that haunt us Jews," he was quoted as saying. "The Vatican should know that for the Jewish world this would open up a wound that will be difficult to heal."


The charges were refuted by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who wrote in a pre-emptive full-page tribute to Pius XII published in the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, "It was precisely by means of a prudent approach that Pius XII protected Jews and refugees. If he had made a public intervention, he would have endangered the lives of thousands of Jews who, upon his directive, were hidden, in 155 convents and monasteries in Rome alone."


Threat to Snub Israel Met with Anger

Rev. Peter Gumpel, a Jesuit priest in charge of the beatification process, told the ANSA news agency on Saturday that the pope would not visit the State of Israel unless the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum in Jerusalem removes a photo of Pius XII captioned with a note that he "abstained from signing the Allied declaration condemning the extermination of the Jews."

The threat set off a further storm of protest from Jewish groups, who stepped forward with public statements criticizing the Vatican's reluctance to allow historians open access to its archives in order to determine the truth.


In an effort to contain the damage, Rev. Lombardi acknowledged the Vatican's displeasure over the plaque but said it was not the "determining factor" in a decision over whether the pope would accept an invitation from Jerusalem to visit the Jewish State.


Pope Benedict Taking Time to Consider Issues

According to the Catholic News Service, the Rev. Lombardi "told reporters not to expect the pope to go off and sign such a decree immediately after the mass. The pope was demonstrating his 'spiritual union' with those hoping for canonization, but gave no indication about future steps."


Rev. Gumpel was quoted in the same article as saying "The pope may have his good reasons, of course, for example the constant attack from some Jewish parties. The church wants to live in peace with the Jews."


The article noted, however, that from Pope Benedict's perspective, there is another issue to contend with as well: the fact that elevation of a saint should not be a cause of division or discontent.