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Defending the Popes — Pius XII and Benedict XVI
Investigative Judge for Pope’s Cause Sheds Light on Recent Flap With Jewish Leaders
BY EDWARD PENTIN
VATICAN CITY — The cause for canonization of Pope Pius XII ran into some controversy last week when Jesuit Father Peter Gumpel, the investigative judge for the cause, was reported as saying that Pope Benedict XVI was holding off from issuing a decree on Pius’ beatification because of pressure from some Jewish groups.
Speaking at a book launch in Rome June 19, Father Gumpel, 85, said the Pope did not wish to “compromise” Catholic-Jewish relations.
The Vatican quickly issued a statement in response, saying his comments were “unjustified and inopportune” and that the decision on the beatification solely belongs to the Pope. Father Gumpel said his comments were misinterpreted, and he has since explained to the Vatican what really happened. He also gave his side of the story and offered the latest information on Pius XII’s cause for canonization.
Father Gumpel, what actually happened at the book launch?
What really happened is that an Italian news agency, which has not got a very good name, reported that I had said the Pope was under “great” pressure [from some Jewish groups not to beatify Pius XII]. But no, I said the fact was that the Pope was under pressure. That is true, and everyone knows it.
If we take the last synod [on the word of God], the chief rabbi of Haifa, [Shear-Yashuv] Cohen, said that Pius shouldn’t be beatified, but he didn’t say it in the synod because that would have caused a tremendous reaction, so he said it in an interview he gave outside.
Now the present [Israeli] ambassador [to the Holy See] has come out with similar public statements. [In a speech to Boston College in June, Ambassador Mordechay Lewy said Pius “never spoke up” in defense of the Jews, but this is firmly denied by historical evidence cited by Gumpel].
In Yad Vashem, you have this famous photograph: The most famous Jewish scholar on the Holocaust, Sir Martin Gilbert, who was knighted by the Queen of England, went to Yad Vashem and told them that every single phrase they had put on the caption next to the photograph was a direct falsification and they had to get rid of it, but they didn’t listen to him.
So there is a certain pressure from certain Jewish organizations who try to prevent the beatification and in this way exercise influence on a matter which is historically beyond any dispute.
But please remember the Pope is the only one to make a decision, and I defended the Pope in not signing the decree. I said explicitly that I can understand the position of the Pope because he wants good relations with the Jews, but the Jews are divided on this issue.
There are many influential Jewish personalities and organizations who continue to attack, attack and attack. Now there is a reaction, also in the United States, where the main objections are coming from. But there is an increasing number of Jewish historians and rabbis who defend Pius XII.
Now, I understand that the Pope doesn’t want to do anything that will create problems with the Jewish people — I approve of that totally; it is very laudable. But he hopes that this will eventually change, and we will see. Let’s give it time.
At what stage are we regarding the miracle that’s needed for Pius’ beatification?
I’m not a medical man, and I have nothing to do with miracles. I happen to know there are a number of alleged miracles, but we can’t present them to the Vatican before the Pope has signed a decree. Only then, once this has been given, can the Vatican see whether one of these alleged miracles can be approved as a Yes or a No.
These will have to go to a medical board of the congregation [for the causes of saints]. Then it goes to the theologians, the cardinals and bishops, and then to the Pope to decide Yes or No.
All this can be set in motion once the decree on virtues has been signed.
And then he becomes “Venerable”?
He becomes “Venerable” at the moment the Pope signs the decree.
Personally, I’m absolutely convinced of the merit of the cause. I was appointed by his predecessor, John Paul II, to be the investigating judge, and I’m only responsible to the Pope for what I’m doing.
If I don’t sign these papers, I don’t continue.
Are you eager to get this decree passed?
I would like it, but I am a believing Catholic; otherwise, I wouldn’t have become a priest, and I am also a Jesuit and belong to a top echelon in the society [of Jesus]. And, as such, I made a solemn vow to the Holy Father, whoever he is, of loyalty, fidelity and obedience.
All my life I have never criticized any pope, either interiorly or verbally. And I have defended the popes on any occasion I could do so competently, and, in this case, during this famous meeting where I have been accused all over the world, I explicitly said that I defended the fact that the Pope has not signed the decree. You must understand his position.
But is he putting off signing the decree because of the fear of a backlash that could harm Catholic-Jewish relations?
I have never dealt with him directly about this. I’ve never exercised any pressure on him, neither in writing, nor in interviews, or anything.
When this [latest incident] happened, I immediately sent a letter to the secretary of state [Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone] asking him to present to the Pope what really happened. So whatever some newspaper men or agencies are going to say about it, or whatever intention they have, it doesn’t trouble me particularly.
I know what I have been doing. I know the cause. I think there are very few people in the world who know so much about Pius XII after 20 years studying and working on it.
Last but not least, I also have dozens of scientific collaborators all over the world. The “positio” of 3,900 pages that we have produced is to a certain extent the work of the postulator of the cause, professor [Father Paolo] Molinari.
I am above these things. As a judge, as in all things, I have to be impartial. If I would have ever come across a problem I could not resolve, I would have refused to sign the papers. But I have full access to the Vatican archives, and these studies have been done together with my collaborators, archivists, one in the Secretariat of State and one in the Secret Archives.
If the Pope wants to ask me any questions, I’d be delighted to answer him, but I’m not in any hurry. Sooner or later, I’m convinced this [signing of the decree] will happen. When, I don’t know. I’m neither a prophet nor a fortuneteller.
I don’t know if he will sign it or his successors will. But let’s wait and see. We are 50 years after the death of Pius XII, so we can wait 10 years more.
So you’re very confident that it will eventually happen.
Oh, yes. I’ve been in this business for 50 years now, and so I know whether a cause is worthy or not.
Edward Pentin writes from Rome.