Scholars ask pope to put Pius XII’s sainthood cause on hold

WASHINGTON – A group of Christian and Jewish scholars is calling for the sainthood cause of Pope Pius XII to be put on hold.

The American, Canadian and European scholars said they believe more extensive study is still needed to look into claims that Pope Pius, who headed the church from 1939 to 1958, did not do enough during World War II to protect Jews from the Holocaust.

“The Vatican will not achieve credibility on the question of Pius XII’s wartime record by relying solely on the work of defenders of Pius XII,” the statement said. “We therefore respectfully urge Catholic authorities to continue a hold on a consideration of Pius XII’s beatification/canonization until all relevant archival material is made available and scrutinized.”

The scholars made their plea to the Vatican in a statement issued Oct. 21 by Servite Father John T. Pawlikowski of the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago and Edward Kessler, director of the Center for the Study of Jewish-Christian Relations at the Woolf Institute of Abrahamic Faiths in Cambridge, England; it was signed by seven other academics.

No dates have been set for the sainthood cause to advance. The Vatican has asked those supporting and opposing the canonization of the wartime pope to stop pressuring Pope Benedict XVI on the issue.

At a Mass Oct. 9 marking the 50th anniversary of the death of Pope Pius, Pope Benedict said the late pope had done all he could to help Jews, working quietly and in secret because he knew that was the only way “he could avoid the worst and save the greatest possible number of Jews.”

But he has not signed the decree recognizing the heroic virtues of Pope Pius, which would give him the title “venerable,” the first step in the sainthood process. The second step is beatification and the third is canonization.

Last year, the Congregation for Saints’ Causes completed its documentation work on Pope Pius and unanimously recommended beatification. But instead of approving the congregation’s recommendation, in late 2007 Pope Benedict appointed a commission to study new archival information about Pope Pius and how his beatification would affect Catholic-Jewish and Vatican-Israeli relations.

In their statement, the scholars acknowledged that Pope Pius condemned the effects of the war on its innocent victims, but said he failed to single out the persecution of Jews during or after the Holocaust.

“Pius XII made some diplomatic interventions regarding Jewish safety, but lived during a time, prior to Vatican II, when anti-Jewish prejudice was common in Christianity,” the statement said.

“The Vatican has yet to release much archival material, which should be opened up with deliberate speed and examined by scholars,” the statement said. “We are also deeply concerned about the impact of beatification/canonization on the remaining survivors of the Holocaust, making the rush to canonization seem inappropriate.”

Bishop Sergio Pagano, prefect of the Vatican archives, recently told the Jerusalem Post that the Vatican’s five archivists would need another five or six years to catalog documents from Pope Pius’ pontificate.

“Regarding Pius XII’s beatification, as a historian, I would think it prudent to wait a few years after the opening of the archives,” Bishop Pagano said.

“Allowing further research and waiting can only strengthen his case. Certainly nothing negative will be found,” he said.

Church officials and some Jewish experts have said Pope Pius’ behind-the-scenes efforts during the war saved thousands of Jewish lives. They say the wartime pope established a secret network of safe houses for people escaping Nazi persecution, utilizing the church’s religious orders, communities, convents and seminaries, as well as the papal summer residence at Castel Gandolfo, south of Rome.

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.