Turning Point on Pius XII?
Tomorrow, March 12, marks the 70th anniversary of the beginning of Pope Pius XII's pontificate (he was elected on March 2, 1939, but elevated to the papal throne on March 12; he reigned until October 9, 1958).
Pius is a lightning rod. Vilified like no other recent Pope, praised by a few supporters, he is arguably the most controversial — and maligned — Pope of modern times. Yet there is new evidence emerging about his life and pontificate which is not widely known. Hence, this newsflash.
Because of the current controversy over the negative text about Pius on display at Yad Vashem in Israel, and the impact of this controversy on the Pope's upcoming trip to the Holy Land (May 8-15), we offer this overview in the hope that other media outlets, on the occasion of this 70th anniversary, may pick up the story: that new discoveries are revealing that Pius was a wise and courageous man who stood steadfast against monstrous evils in an time of barbarous cruelty — the mid-20th century. —The Editor
By Inside the Vatican staff
March 12, 2009, marks the 70th anniversary of Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli's elevation to the Chair of St. Peter as Pope Pius XII (photo). Pius' contemporaries hailed him as one of the holiest of pontiffs, and the world-at-large generally saw his reign (1939-1958) as among the most exemplary in Church history. Pius XI foretold that he would be an outstanding pontiff, and John XXIII, John Paul II and Benedict XVI have each extolled his virtues, his wisdom and the accomplishments of his papacy.
But a widespread disinformation campaign conceived by Soviet propagandists in the late 1950s and early 1960s, then endorsed and developed by dissident Catholics, and most of the world's media, managed to gradually blacken Pius XII's reputation. Everywhere today the esteemed pontiff's name is equated with the word "controversial" — or worse. The resulting 45-year debate over his papacy — and particularly, the extent of his help for Jews during the Holocaust — has now reached a decisive moment, perhaps even a turning point.
In recent months, Rome seemed to be moving step by step toward beatifying Pius, then eventually canonizing him as a saint.
But at the same time, the groups and individuals determined to condemn him have countered every positive move by protests in an attempt to dissuade Pope Benedict from taking a vital favorable step. This has effectively stalled Pius XII's cause.
In the spring of 2007, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints sent to Benedict a unanimous recommendation that Pius be declared "Venerable," and that his cause move forward toward beatification. Since then, Benedict XVI has spoken out several times, praising Pius XII's leadership and policies during the trying times in which he served.
His eventual beatification still does not appear in doubt, but Benedict's hesitation makes it unclear exactly when the cause will advance to the next stage. Nothing further can happen until the decree favoring advancement is signed.
One element influencing Benedict's decision is Israeli opposition. He clearly wants to try to gain Jewish understanding before acting.
It now seems that Israeli authorities are willing to re-examine their position on Pius. That position has been dramatically summarized by the display at Yad Vashem, Israel's national museum to commemorate the Shoah, on the wartime pontiff. This display states that Pius XII was "silent" about the Holocaust and did little or nothing to help Jews. The caption to a photo of Pius XII reads, in part: "Even when reports about the murder of Jews reached the Vatican, the pope did not protest, either verbally or in writing. In December 1942, [Pius XII] abstained from signing the Allied declaration condemning the extermination of the Jews. When Jews were deported from Rome to Auschwitz, the pope did not intervene. The pope maintained his neutral position throughout the war, with the exception of appeals to the rulers of Hungary and Slovakia toward its end. His silence and the absence of guidelines obliged churchmen throughout Europe to decide on their own how to react." (A full-scale article on the controversy over this caption appeared in the May 2007 issue of Inside the Vatican, entitled "Nuncio Battles for Truth.")
A short time ago, however, the Yad Vashem authorities called for a meeting of Pius specialists to give their judgment on this Pius display. To a large extent, this meeting is the result of passionate protests, by independent scholars and the Vatican's nuncios in Jerusalem, who've pointed out that the statements on display were not only biased but factually inaccurate.
And on March 8-9, Yad Vashem (Photo: the Hall of Remembrance at Yad Vashem. The museum consists of a long corridor connected to 10 exhibition halls, each dedicated to a different chapter of the Holocaust, telling the story of the Holocaust from a Jewish perspective) convened a meeting of Pius scholars from around the world to offer documentary evidence that supports or contradicts Yad Vashem's description of Pius XII's actions in the face of Hitler's genocide.
Essentially what Yad Vashem did was to arrange an off-the-record debate among Pius experts (though the word "expert" should be used with caution, as some so-called "experts" can be quite wrong-headed about Pius XII). On one side were its own in-house authorities (who composed the display). They were augmented by two anti-Pius American historians, and an Australian, who have criticized Pius for years. On the other side were five European scholars who are convinced, especially by new archival evidence, that Pius was a fierce foe of Hitler and a passionate defender of Jews.
What is the likely result of the Yad Vashem debate? Foremost, if a careful record of all that was said has been kept, the meeting could provide a fascinating portrait of the way certain contemporary historians work and how they arrive at their conclusions. But will there be any drastic shift in attitudes, any overwhelming consensus? Not very likely. In an Israel National News report last fall, Yad Vashem (Photo: A view of Jerusalem from Yad Vashem) stood by the description that appears next to the photograph of Pope Pius XII.
"The study of the Holocaust period in general, including the role of Pope Pius XII, is ongoing and dynamic," a museum statement says. "The presentation of the subject in the Holocaust History Museum at Yad Vashem is based on the best research regarding this topic."
As historians themselves realize, complete objectivity is seldom achieved. We have to keep in mind the elderly Lord Acton's carefully considered observation: "Impartial men make good historians, but it is the partial and one-sided who hunt out the material." Too often in the case of Pius, historians have found only what they wanted to find.
There is, however, a rising tide of documents touching on Pius that must, sooner or later, move fair-minded scholars to make sounder judgments. It is only a question of time before the narrow, political biases that have been at work will be overcome. Maybe that time arrived in early March at Yad Vashem. Inside the Vatican will do its best to find out exactly what happened.
Ironically, one of the major players in the new wave of pro-Pius XII research is an American, Gary Krupp (Photo — At a special investiture ceremony on June 3, 2006 in Washington DC., Krupp was awarded the "Benemerenti Medal" of good works by the Sacred Constantinian Order of St. George by His Eminence Theodore Cardinal McCarrick, Archbishop of Washington). Krupp is Jewish, and he heads the Pave the Way organization (http://www.ptwf.org), a non-sectarian public foundation devoted to "identifying and eliminating non-theological obstacles between the faiths." Krupp believes hard facts, rather than emotion, should guide such debates, and are the best way to overcome unnecessary conflicts among the world's religions. His organization hosted a very important Symposium on Pius XII in Rome last September, attended by many distinguished guests. The conference, which received extensive media coverage and was endorsed by Pope Benedict, who received the participants, presented new documentary evidence and videotaped testimony, revealing how Eugenio Pacelli not only "spoke out" against Nazism — early and often — but repeatedly intervened for Jews as papal nuncio to Germany (1917-1929); Cardinal Secretary of State under Pius XI (1930-1939); and as Pope himself (1939-1958). (Pave the Way's website has already posted much of this new information online).
The evidence is having its effect. Three acclaimed books, all of which come to a favorable conclusion about Pius, have recently appeared: The Pope who Defied Hitler: The Truth about Pius XII by Michael Hesemann, an eminent German historian, associated with Pave the Way; The Longest Winter, 1943-1944: Pius XII, the Jews, and the Nazis in Rome by Andrea Riccardi, Professor of Modern Church History at the University of Rome; and Pius XII: A Man on the Throne of Peter, a 661-page biography by Andrea Tornielli, who was one of the top scholars chosen for the Yad Vashem discussions.
Until the final truth about Pius XII is fully established, however, politics will keep the battle raging.
Maybe the most important development in the restoration of Pius XII's good name will come from Benedict's visit to the Holy Land from May 8 to 15. If the Yad Vashem meeting achieved any substantial understanding, its effect should be public by the time of the Pope's visit. A positive development there would contribute greatly to an improvement in Jewish-Catholic relations, and might well move Benedict to announce his long-delayed decision.
Here below is an English translation of a document discovered several years ago. It is the diary written by a Catholic nun, in late 1943, shortly after the Nazi occupation of Rome. (The original Italian appeared in 30 Giorni (30 Days) magazine, in 2006, but only now is getting publicity.)
The nun confirms that Pius XII "orders" her convent to open its doors, to take in the persecuted, including, specifically, Jews, and she actually lists the name of the people being taken in, and explicitly mentions that some are Jewish. Also remarkable is her awareness of the Holocaust ("a ruthless war against the Jews has begun...they wish to exterminate...") and the passion of Pius XII: "The Holy Father Pius XII, of paternal heart, feels in himself all the sufferings of the moment....In this painful situation the Holy Father wants to save his children, also the Jews, and orders that hospitality be given in the convents to these persecuted." We think this is incontestable, primary, wartime evidence of a "papal directive" from Pius XII to rescue Jews. —The Editor
The previously unpublished memorial of the Augustinian nuns of the convent of the Santi Quattro Coronati in Rome
OF THE SANTI QUATTRO CORONATI
[The last nine lines from 1942]
During the year no news of importance. We go ahead with the anxiety caused by the great war. Continuous frights because of nocturnal alarms. Lack of necessities. Bread, pasta, oil etc.
The Easter Station is nevertheless celebrated with the usual solemnity. The functions of Holy Week by means of the Irish students. Thus the solemnity of our sainted father Augustine, then of the Santi Quattro and we reach the year’s closure blessing the Lord who has saved us from so many dangers, because of the appalling war, because of the privations and preoccupations of all kinds. The Te Deum was sung thanking God who has protected us.
Anno Domini 1943
With the traditional small function of the procession with the Holy Child, a pious practice that assures divine blessing for us, this year begins amid the horrors of the war, privations of all kinds, and the uncertainty of the outcome of the war itself.
Providence assists us, and enables us to face all the difficulties, through the work on sacred vestments and the washing of the church linen of the Pontifical Gregorian University, of the Pontifical Biblical Institute, of the Borromeo College, and other churches. Monsignor Respighi exerts himself as usual so that the liturgy of the Lenten station will be as solemn as always. The community can perform the spiritual exercises, and have the two sermons every week during Lent. So we approach Holy Week, and the functions of the Triduum take place. The Holy Sepulchre is visited by many faithful. We proceed with the same rhythm up until the solemnity of Saint Augustine which is celebrated with intense fervor. We approach the titular feastday of the Santi Quattro which is celebrated with pontifical vespers and the pontifical mass the morning of day 8, on which many read masses are celebrated.
Having arrived at this month of November we must be ready to render services of charity in a completely unexpected way. The Holy Father Pius XII, of paternal heart, feels in himself all the sufferings of the moment. Unfortunately with the Germans entry into Rome, which happened in the month of September, a ruthless war against the Jews has begun, whom they wish to exterminate by means of atrocities prompted by the blackest barbarities. They round up young Italians, political figures, in order to torture them and finish them off in the most tremendous torments. In this painful situation the Holy Father wants to save his children, also the Jews, and orders that hospitality be given in the convents to these persecuted, and that the cloisters must also adhere to the wish of the Supreme Pontiff, and, from the day of 4 November, we lodge the persons listed below up to the following 6 June:
from 4 November to 14, Mrs Bambas, wife of a political figure. The husband was hidden in another religious house and she wanted to reach him.
From 1 December to 27, all the Scazzocchio family of nine people.
From 1 December through all of the following February, the mother of Doctor Scazzocchio. These people were settled in the Chapter room, with the small room next to it, and the adjacent corridor. The meals are eaten in the refectory.
From 7 Decemebr to 23 January, Ravenna, Jewish (Rabbi) in the sacred vestments’ room.
From 15 December to 18 January, Mr Viterbo with father-in-law, Jews, only to sleep.