Recent Vatican moves in the direction of sainthood for Pope Pius XII have intensified interest in the long-simmering matter of the pope’s role or lack of same in resistance to the Holocaust.
A recent summation of the Vatican position was given front-page treatment in the Feb. 4 issue of The Catholic Messenger. It was not, however, compelling enough to deserve to be the last word.
The Pius XII papacy, 1938-58, has been relentlessly controversial concerning its response to the Nazi genocidal policies toward European Jewry during World War II. Critics have charged that Pope Pius, while fully aware of the magnitude of the persecution of Jews in German-occupied Europe, remained silent while 6 million people were systematically exterminated.
The position of the Vatican has been, even before the death of the pope in 1958, that Pope Pius was appalled and saddened by the crimes of the Nazis but remained silent in the belief that to voice condemnation would not be helpful, but would antagonize the unbalanced Hitler to accelerate and widen the scope of the persecution. “If I speak out I will do them harm,” Pope Pius is quoted as telling an associate as details of the unspeakable emerged during the 1940s. Critics of this position have rejected the argument as absurd since Hitler’s criminality had evolved to an unsurpassable level.
The state of Israel has long been critical of Vatican moves in the direction of beatification. The Vatican responds by claiming that the historical record is incomplete and is not likely to be completed for at least another half-dozen years.
Faced with an incomplete historical record, Jewish unease and no shortage of saints to extol, it would seem to be the better part of wisdom to set aside the Pope Pius XII sainthood project for future reference.
Robert F. Miller