Catholic scholars ask Pope Benedict to slow process of sainthood cause of Pope Pius XII

Nineteen Catholic scholars of theology and history are asking Pope Benedict XVI to slow the process of the sainthood cause of Pope Pius XII.

Saying that much more research needs to be done on the papacy of the mid-20th century pope, the scholars said in a Feb. 16 letter to Pope Benedict that “history needs distance and perspective” before definitive conclusions can be reached on the role of Pope Pius during World War II and the Holocaust.

Leading the effort are Servite Father John Pawlikowski, professor of ethics at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, and Holy Cross Father Kevin Spicer, associate professor of history at Stonehill College in Easton, Mass.

In an e-mail to CNS last night, Father Pawlikowski told Catholic News Service the scholars are not opposed to Pope Pius’ canonization.

“We sent this letter because we feel that too often the issue of Pius XII is portrayed as one of Jewish concern,” Father Pawlikowski wrote. “We wanted to make it clear that some Catholics who have worked on Holocaust issues have serious concerns about advancing the cause of Pius XII at this time.”

16 February 2010

His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, Apostolic Palace, 00120 Vatican City

Your Holiness,

As faithful, practicing Catholics, consecrated and lay, we urgently write to you concerning the cause of Pope Pius XII. We are educators who have conducted research and are currently carrying into effect more research on Catholicism under National Socialism and the Holocaust. The movement to press forward at this time the process of beatification of Pius XII greatly troubles us. Needless to say, the controversy over Pius XII’s actions during the Second World War and the Holocaust is long-standing. Numerous books and articles have been written on the topic. Nevertheless, the scholars still have a great deal of research to complete before final conclusions can be drawn about Pius XII’s behavior during the Holocaust. History needs distance and perspective to arrive at these conclusions. At the moment, scholars eagerly await the opening of papers from Pius XII’s pontificate that you, Holy Father, have so graciously arranged to be made available. At the same time, as researchers, we also realize that there are numerous archives, both secular and ecclesiastical, that scholars have yet to access or consult, many of which might shed more light on Pope Pius’s actions during the Holocaust. Currently, existing research leads us to the view that Pope Pius XII did not issue a clearly worded statement, unconditionally condemning the wholesale slaughter and murder of European Jews. At the same time, some evidence also compels us to see that Pius XII’s diplomatic background encouraged him as head of a neutral state, the Vatican, to assist Jews by means that were not made public during the war. It is essential that further research be conducted to resolve both these questions. As scholars of theology and history, we realize how important the historical critical method is to your own research and we implore you to ensure that such a historical investigation takes place before proceeding with the cause of Pope Pius XII.

A greater issue, of course, arises with the discussion of the beatification of Pius XII. For centuries the Christian churches, including the Roman Catholic Church, have propagated both religious anti-Judaism and religious anti-Semitism, however unintentionally or in ignorance. “Nostra Aetate,” however, ensured that Catholics’ views of Jews would be definitively changed. Your most recent comments, Holy Father, in the synagogue of Rome, endeavored to breach centuries of misunderstandings between Catholics and Jews. Your actions were moving and courageous. Still there is a great deal of work to be done in this area. Mistrust and apprehension still exist. For many Jews and Catholics, Pius XII takes on a role much larger than his historical papacy. In essence, Pius XII has become a symbol of centuries-old Christian anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism which, for example, the late Rev. Edward H. Flannery has documented and spelled out in his work “The Anguish of the Jews: Twenty-Three Centuries of Anti-Semitism.” It is challenging to separate Pope Pius XII from this legacy. Proceeding with the cause of Pope Pius XII, without an exhaustive study of his actions during the Holocaust, might harm Jewish-Catholic relations in a way that cannot be overcome in the foreseeable future.

Holy Father, we implore you, acting on your wisdom as a renowned scholar, professor and teacher, to be patient with the cause of Pope Pius XII. Patience is not passive, it is active; indeed it is condensed strength and courage to bring one forward in hope to a central conclusion and point. In this regard, we humbly ask that scholars be given the access and time to carefully and thoroughly examine the documents relating to the pontificate of Pius XII before embarking on the beatification process. We thank you for hearing us and reflecting upon the urgent concerns of our request. We have the honor to be, Your Holiness,

Rev. Dr. John Pawlikowski, O.S.M., professor of ethics, Catholic Theological Union

Rev. Dr. Kevin P. Spicer, C.S.C., Kenneally associate professor of history, Stonehill College

Rev. Dr. James Bernauer, S.J., Kraft professor of philosophy, Boston College, director, Center for Christian-Jewish Learning

Dr. Suzanne Brown-Fleming, independent scholar

Dr. John Connelly, associate professor of history, University of California, Berkeley

Dr. Frank J. Coppa, professor of history, St. John’s University; associate editor, New Catholic Encyclopedia; currently working on biography of Pius XII

Dr. Donald J. Dietrich, professor of theology, Boston College

Dr. Audrey Doetzel, N.D.S., associate director, Center for Christian-Jewish Learning, Boston College

Dr. Lauren N. Faulkner, assistant professor of history, University of Notre Dame

Dr. Eugene J. Fisher, retired associate director, Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

P. Elias H. Fullenbach, O.P., Dominikanerkloster Dusseldorf, Institut fur Kirchengeschichte der Universitat Bonn

Dr. Beth A. Griech-Polelle, Ph.D., associate professor of history, Bowling Green State University

Dr. Robert A. Krieg, professor of theology, University of Notre Dame

Dr. Martin Menke, associate professor of history, Rivier College

Dr. Paul O’Shea, senior religious education coordinator, St. Patrick’s College, Strathfield, NSW, Australia

Dr. Michael E. O’Sullivan, assistant professor of history, Marist College

Dr. Michael Phayer, professor emeritus of history, Marquette University

Dr. Carol Rittner, R.S.M., distinguished professor of Holocaust and genocide studies and the Dr. Marsha Raitcoff Grossmann professor of Holocaust Studies, Richard Stockton College of New Jersey

Dr. Jose Sanchez, professor emeritus of history, St. Louis University

12 Responses

  1. For far too long, the issue of Pope Pius XII’s actions during the Second World War have sought to stand against the testimony of world leaders who saw the Holy Father as the ONE world leader willing to save those Jews in Rome and in other places throughout Europe. If not for the despicable play, ‘the Deputy” none of this uproar by B’Nai B’rith and other anti-Catholic groups would make the headlines. These scholars may be sensitive to the modern day Jewish perspective, but fail to see that the canonization of Pope Pius XII would mean a great deal to the faithful members of the Church around the world, not just in the halls of academia but in the parishes where the faithful gather. How many saints has the Church recognized who have historically acted in ways that are less than acceptable to modern day sensibilities, but have been an inspiration to countless members of the Church down through the centuries? Let the scholars say what they want, but the canonization of Pope Pius XII has been held up far too long by hesitation and what is “politically correct.” The time is now for strong saints to inspire and aid the Church both by example and by being a recourse in prayer and intercession.

  2. Well, at least now we know which prominent Catholics aren’t.

    Notre Dame?
    The USCCB?

    I see a lot of signatures, but none from anyone whose opinion matters.

  3. I think it’s important to ask what may be an uncomfortable question: why is Pope Benedict in such a hurry to canonize Pope Pius XII? Even though I think the Catholic Church has the right to rise to sainthood whoever they please, including its own popes, it may be counterproductive to do it with a person that was so visible and whose actions are so questionable. The Catholic Church moves at a glacial speed on anything they do; everything is done decades or even centuries late (think of Galileo). Yet, when it comes to Pope Pius XII, the Church wants to push the process of canonization forward as soon as possible, even as the debate rages on.

    Perhaps the Church feels that the combination of time and new “facts on the ground” may whitewash the role of the pope and the Church during WWII. After all, it has worked in the past many times when the Church canonized many people whose record was atrocious, yet today we call them Saint This or Saint That and that makes them automatically good people. Pope Pius XII may have been a profoundly wonderful human being whose religious work may indeed warrant raising him to the sainthood. However, a pope is more than a religious figure. A pope is a head of state, and the head of a giant church, and Pope Pius had the misfortune to reign over it during the darkest period in history. Maybe he did indeed work tirelessly in defense of the Jews as his apologetics claim, and maybe his “heroic virtues” would warrant calling him a saint. However, his public record is well known and the available evidence seems to point in the opposite direction. As far as is publicly known, Pope Pius failed to speak loud and clear on behalf of the Jews, failed to prevent the German Catholic Church from providing the Nazis with baptismal records that allowed them to identify Jews, failed to instruct Catholics to stop murdering Jews, failed to officially instruct the clergy everywhere to give shelter to Jews, and failed to excommunicate any Catholics including Hitler, Goebbels, and many others in the Nazi hierarchy, let alone the actual Catholic perpetrators whose souls were cleansed by field priests as the soldiers, policemen or SS came back to the barracks with blood stains in their uniforms from the hundreds of Jews they murdered at point blank range that day.

    I applaud the letter these scholars and religious figures sent to Pope Benedict. These people are experts on the subject and are familiar with the information available. Pope Benedict should heed their advice and delay the canonization process to avoid a backlash to the church. There is no rush. If the Vatican Secret Archives or other sources show the role of Pope Pius XII to have been different and scholarly scrutiny shows him to have indeed bestowed heaps of Christian caritas on the hounded Jews, then I believe the entire world would join the Catholic Church in celebrating Saint Pius.

    Gabriel Wilensky

  4. Pope John Paul II taught us there are four pillars to world peace. One of these is truth. The decision on identifying Pope Pius XII a Saint should not be based on politics or public opinion but on truth….period. Is Pius XII a Saint or not. If he is then the process should proceed and he should be beatified. I personally believe He is a Saint.

  5. 1) It’s been 50 years since Pope Pius died – that’s hardly a rush to judgement.

    2) The “historians” who signed that document are not particularly competent. Anyone who has spent time with the historical events, and listened to the Jewish witnesses, knows that Pius XII is not guilty of the things the national socialists and the international socialists (both anti-Semites) accused him of.

    Indeed, it could easily be argued that the people who oppose his beatification are drawn largely from the same ideological spectrum that produced the anti-Semitism Pope Pius XII fought so hard against. It should be remembered that many of those on the political left for the last hundred years have been Catholics and Jews who lost their faiths. As everyone knows, the worst anti-Catholic is an ex-Catholic, the worst anti-Semite was (until the Holocaust) a Jewish atheist.

  6. Anyone who wants to know the truth about a historical event knows better than to take as gospel what is printed in papers or books 50 years after the fact. If you want to know what happened in history, go to the source documents – the letters of the time, the papers, the books, the newsreels. Be sure to do your homework before you condemn a man based upon something said 50 years later, or even 5 years later.

  7. My mother grew up in Nazi accupied Belgium. Upon learning of the holocaust and other atrocities as a child I asked my first moral question, “How was this possible in Europe where so many people were Catholic?” Of my mother I asked, “Didn’t the bishops say anything? Didn’t the Pope say anything?” Within sight of the office of the Archbishop of the Low countries existed a concentration camp from which 25,000 Jews were loaded into boxcars to be sent east to the death camps in Germany and Poland. Catholics worked in this place. Yet nothing was said from the pulpit until the Nazi’s began stealing the bells from Catholic Churches for war materials. Only then did the Archbishop issue the statement, “Non cooperation with the Nazis is permissable.” Catholic people including my grandparents risked thier lives to save others but public leadership from the Church hierarchy was pathetic, all but non-existant. This happened on Pope Pious XII watch. If there was ever a time for public witness against the atrocities of the day it was during that time. The Church cannot say it did not know.

  8. Related to Jim’s informative comment (19/02/10), there is a disturbing internal contradiction to the beatification of Pius XII, that goes something like this:
    1. After a long period of introspection, the Catholic Churches in Germany, France, Poland and the United States issued public apologies for their ‘silence and indifference’ over the suffering of the Jews during the war.
    2. Now the same Church is heading for the beatification of the man who, as Pope and leader during this period, was ultimately responsible for the shameful conduct of its various parts.
    3. It strikes us as a contradiction of the highest order for the Church to apologize for her moral failure on one hand, while on the other hand to consider her leader at this time of moral lapse to be worthy of beatification and perhaps even sanctification.
    4. The astonishment of the Jews is therefore quite understandable, for the whole process of beatifying Pope Pius XII appears to be an official backsliding from the confession and apology of the Catholic Church arising from her post-war reflection on the Holocaust.

  9. We have waited long enough for the canonization of this great and holy man. Some of the signers of this letter seem to want the Supreme Pontiff to see it their way but on other issues would be the first to tell their fellow Catholics to ignore the Pontiff’s words. His Holiness proceeded with due caution and reflection taking into consideration many of the so called objections raised by Venerable Pius XII’s critics. He found them lacking and subsequently has moved his cause forward. I would suggest the signers of this letter resolve to give their consent and obedience to his judgment.

  10. These are very important voices. The Catholic Church ignores them at its peril. It is important that this cause waits until the documents from the Vatican and other archives are open so the full historical record can be examined. No reasonable person can oppose that.

  11. Steve Shea,

    Sure a reasonable voice can oppose your suggestion, precisely because your suggestion is unreasonable.

    Who judges Catholic sanctity?
    The Muslims?
    The Hindus?
    The Jews?
    The Republicans?
    The Democrats?

    None of them.
    That judgement is reserved solely to the Church herself. The degree to which anyone lived heroic virtue is reserved to the Pontiff. He doesn’t make the judgement without examining the record. His judgement in this matter is infallible, since it is a judgement involving faith and morals.

    So, the only reason you might have for wanting it slowed down is that you don’t believe the Pope is infallible.

    You have the right to believe that, of course, but if you do, it means you aren’t Catholic.

  12. Steve Kellmeyer

    I find your implication that I am not Catholic offensive. All Catholics are the Church, not just you and the ones you find like minded.

    I’ll bet you disagree with lots of decisions made by John XXIII and Paul VI. Does that mean you aren’t Catholic?

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