VATICAN CITY — Jewish leaders say Pope Benedict XVI is “seriously considering” postponing the beatification cause of Pope Pius XII until the Vatican’s wartime archives are opened to historians.
The Holy Father made the comment Oct. 30 in conversation while receiving members of the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations. Some Jews have accused Pope Pius, whose pontificate lasted from 1939 to 1958, of not doing enough to prevent the Holocaust.
Rabbi David Rosen, the leader of the delegation, said the subject came up after formal speeches were delivered.
“One member of our delegation told the Pope, ‘Please do not move ahead with beatification of Pius XII before the Vatican archives can be made accessible for objective historical analysis,’ and the Pope said, ‘I am looking into it, I am considering it seriously,’” Rosen told reporters.
However, the Vatican and many prominent historians — both Jewish and Catholic — insist that there is already enough evidence to show that Pius worked courageously behind the scenes to help save many Jews from certain death during World War II.
Helping the Jews by direct intervention, they add, would have worsened the situation by prompting retaliations by Hitler.
Addressing a Rome conference in September, held by the Jewish Pave the Way Foundation, Pope Benedict XVI defended Pius’ legacy in defending the Jews. Historians at the conference claimed that the wartime Pope may have saved as many as 860,000 Jewish lives — more than any other religious or political figure of that time.
Pius’ Track Record
At a Mass Oct. 19 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the death of Pius XII, the Holy Father drew attention to a 1942 radio address in which Pius deplored the situation of “hundreds of thousands of persons who through no fault of their own, only for reason of nationality or ethnic roots, were destined for death.”
Historians also refer to other tributes paid to Pius soon after the war, most notably the post-war conversion of Eugenio Zolli, the former chief rabbi of Rome, who took the baptismal name of Eugenio in tribute to the wartime Pope, who was baptized Eugenio Pacelli.
Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican secretary of state, has also recently defended Pope Pacelli. He gave testimony of why he is “worthy of beatification” in the introduction to The Truth Will Set You Free by Filippini Sister Margherita Marchione, a longtime campaigner to clear Pius XII’s name.
Despite this evidence, and despite proof that Pius was the victim of a Soviet-driven smear campaign because of his anti-communist position, some prominent Jews remain unconvinced.
She’ar Yashuv Cohen, the chief rabbi of Haifa, told journalists in Rome in early October that Pius should not be beatified “because he did not raise his voice against the Holocaust. He did not speak, either because he was afraid, or for other personal reasons.”
Cohen had been given the unprecedented honor of addressing the recently concluded Synod of Bishops on the Word of God.
The controversy surrounding Pius was not raised directly in the formal speeches between the Pope and Rosen, but the Jewish leader did repeat a request for the Vatican archives to be open for study.
“We reiterate our respectful call for full and transparent access of scholars to all archival material from the period, so that assessments regarding actions and policies during this tragic period may have the credibility they deserve both within our respective communities and beyond,” Rosen told the Pope.
Earlier, the Jewish leaders had been given a tour of the archives by its director, Msgr. Sergio Pagano.
‘Six or Seven Years’
However, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said it will take “at least” six or seven years for the Vatican to collate its wartime archives. Father Lombardi said it was ‘‘unrealistic’’ to think that the archives could be opened anytime soon.
added that the Vatican is working on the archives for 1939-1945 but
“specialized staff is limited.” There are “about 16 million papers, if not
more” to be put into some 2,500 different files, he said.
The request from Jews and historians to open the archive was “understandable and justifiable,” he said.
“Of course, once the filing work is completed, since the secret archive is the archive of the Pope, the final decision on opening the archives will be up to the Holy Father,” said Father Lombardi.
During his Oct. 30 press conference, Rosen was asked about the Pope’s desire to visit the Holy Land. Rosen said he didn’t think the controversy over Pius XII was an obstacle nor, as some have speculated, is an inscription in the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum, which claims Pius was complicit in the Nazi atrocities of World War II.
Rosen also denied ongoing unresolved issues related to tax and property rights between Israel and the Holy See were preventing the trip.
Rather, he said he believed a major stumbling block is that the Pope would not be able to avoid meeting with Hamas, the Palestinian militant group and government body that has vowed to destroy Israel.
“If he meets with Hamas, then all hell will break loose,” Rosen said. “If he avoids them altogether, he makes things difficult for the local Christian communities where Hamas’ influence prevails.”
Rosen closed his address to the Holy Father by expressing his organization’s solidarity with Christians suffering persecution in Iraq, India and other parts of Asia.
In his speech to the Jewish committee, the Pope stressed that the “ability to accept and respect one another and to speak the truth in love is essential for overcoming differences, preventing misunderstandings and avoiding needless confrontations.”
Edward Pentin writes