Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Proceed with Caution: Now Is Not the Time to Rush World War II's Pope to a Place among the Beatified

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Proceed with Caution: Now Is Not the Time to Rush World War II's Pope to a Place among the Beatified

Article excerpt

"BUT WHY NOW?" CAME THE BEWILDERED QUESTION from my fellow journalist, the editor of a Chicago Jewish newspaper. His query came at the end of a radio discussion about Pope Pius XII, the World War II-era pope whom many accuse of silence in the face of the genocide of Europe's Jews. Since I was the only non-Jew among the four journalists in the studio, I think I can be forgiven for feeling the weight of 40 years of improved Jewish-Catholic relations riding on my answer.


My colleague was asking about Plus XII's first step toward beatification, which some expected during 2008, the 50th anniversary of Plus' death. All the paperwork had been submitted to Pope Benedict XVI to advance Pius to the rank of "servant of God"--the first step in the long journey to the altars. The dossier poured salt into the wounds of many, and one group of Jewish and Christian scholars called for a halt to the process, expressing concern in the U.K. Times about "the impact of beatification/canonization on the remaining survivors of the Holocaust."

Jesuit Father Peter Gumpel, the official Vatican advocate for Pius XII's cause, added heat to the debate by insisting that Pope Benedict XVI would not visit Israel until Pius XII was removed from the ranks of the "unjust" at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, though it seems Benedict may travel there in May.

The controversy continued into late November, when the pope publicly praised Pius' personal relief efforts on behalf of Rome's civilians after the Allied bombing of Rome in July 1943. As if in response Italian Jewish leaders declined to attend a Vatican interreligious ceremony, ostensibly because of Benedict's restoration in 2007 of the pre-Vatican II liturgy, which contains prayers for the conversion of Jews.

Though most American Catholics probably aren't aware of Pius' position on the road to sainthood, his case is an important test for the fragile relationship between Jews and Catholics. In mere decades dedicated scholars and laypeople of both religions, aided by the late Pope John Paul II, have begun to heal the centuries-old rift between Jews and Christians. Still, the road to reconciliation remains long. …

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