web analytics
September 30, 2014 / 6 Tishri, 5775
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post
Meir Panim with Soldiers 5774 Roundup: Year of Relief and Service for Israel’s Needy

Meir Panim implements programs that serve Israel’s neediest populations with respect and dignity. Meir Panim also coordinated care packages for families in the South during the Gaza War.



Home » InDepth » Op-Eds »

Promoting Pius XII


Ten years ago, the Catholic-Jewish Historical Commission, established to investigate Pope Pius XII’s response to the Holocaust, met for the first time to discuss its future work. I was the only Israeli historian among the six scholars (three Catholics and three Jews) designated by the Vatican and leading Jewish organizations to study this hotly contested issue.

A little under two years later, the project was abandoned as a result of the Holy See’s unwillingness to release materials from its own archives that could help clarify issues our team of scholars raised in our provisional report. Already at that time there were moves afoot to place Pius XII on the fast track to sainthood, but they were probably slowed down by Israeli and Jewish protests and a desire by Church authorities to prevent a serious rupture in Catholic-Jewish relations.

At issue was the silence of Pius XII during the Holocaust and his indirect complicity in the Nazi mass murder of Jews. These allegations had prompted the Vatican to publish eleven volumes of its own documents (edited by four trusted Jesuit scholars), most of them appearing in the 1970s. It was these documents in Italian, German, French, Latin and English that we were originally asked to review. The million or so unpublished documents from the pontificate of Pius XII (1939-1958) will only be available in about four years.

It is in this context that we need to see the recent decree on the “heroic virtues” of Pius XII, just signed by Pope Benedict XVI. Most Jews have interpreted this act as yet another signal that the Vatican is determined to beatify the controversial wartime pope – regardless of what the historical evidence may indicate.

The sharp response of Jewish leaders to Benedict’s decree prompted the Vatican’s Press Office director, Father Federico Lombardi, S.J., to release a conciliatory note distinguishing between the historical judgment of Pius XII’s actions (still an open question) and the saintly Christian life he apparently led. In particular, Father Lombardi was concerned to disclaim any notion that this decree was “a hostile act towards the Jewish people” or an obstacle to Catholic-Jewish dialogue.

Nevertheless, the decree on Pius XII raises concern not only about the continuing drive to beatify the wartime pontiff but also about the present pope and the state of relations between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people.

I personally have never seen Pius XII either as “Hitler’s Pope” (the theory of British historian John Cornwell, a “lapsed” Catholic), or as the “Righteous Gentile” evoked by Rabbi David Dallin. My own provisional conclusion drawn from the study of thousands of documents is that the mass murder of Jews was fairly low on his list of priorities. Of course, much the same could be said of Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin, but they did not claim to be the “Vicar of Christ” or to represent the Christian conscience.

Pius XII strikes me as a polished diplomat far more worried about the Allied bombing of Rome than about the thousand Roman Jews who were being deported by the Germans to their deaths in Auschwitz, virtually under the windows of the Holy See. True, other Roman Jews were discreetly given sanctuary in ecclesiastical establishments in and around Rome after October 1943, but it remains unclear if this was the result of a direct papal instruction.

In some instances we know Pius XII did try to intervene against Nazi or racist anti-Semitic legislation, but in general this was almost always on behalf of baptized Jews since they were protected by the Church as Catholics. Pius’s rare references to the mass murder of Jews were invariably veiled and very abstract, as if he found it difficult to utter the word itself.

Was it fear of further German reprisals? A latent anti-Semitism? Was it his visceral anti-Communism that led him to hope for a Nazi victory in the East? Or perhaps the desire to spare German Catholics a conflict of conscience between their loyalty to Hitler, the fatherland, or their Church? Whatever the reasons, this was hardly heroic conduct.

So why has Benedict XVI chosen to take this step now? My own inclination is to think the present pope regards Pius XII as a soulmate, both theologically and politically. He shares with the wartime pontiff an authoritarian centralist world-view and a deep distrust of liberalism, modernity, and the ravages of moral relativism. He was 31 years old when Pius XII died in 1958, and already then regarded him as a venerated role model.

About the Author: Robert S. Wistrich is Neuberger professor of European and Jewish history at Hebrew University in Jerusalem and director of the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism. This essay was adapted from his new book, “From Ambivalence to Betrayal: The Left, the Jews, and Israel” (University of Nebraska Press).


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “Promoting Pius XII”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
Arabs throwing rocks and firecrackers at Jewish children in Maaleh HaZeitim, near the Mount of Olives on Sept. 30, 2014.
Children Evacuated as Arabs Attack JM Neighborhood of Maaleh HaZeitim [video]
Latest Indepth Stories
FE_PR_100112_22Learning_CableTV425x282

Can teenagers seriously be expected to behave properly when they are surrounded by so much suggestive material? Is it fair to expose them (and ourselves) to so much temptation and then tell them, “Just say no”?

Narendra Modi

Washington remains ignorant of the need to dismantle alliances with various Muslim countries.

ISIS terrorist

Defeating IS requires bombing its strongholds and recognizing the violent nature of Islam.

PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas speaking in Ramallah, July 1, 2014.

Abbas again used the UN to attack Israel, distort history, and undermine prospects for peace.

Israel and the Palestinian Authority cannot even agree to move their clocks back on the same day.

Shemita is about relating to each other by temporarily eliminating gaps of wealth power & status

David transcended adversity to become a leader; Who are we to make excuses for a lack of greatness?

sympathy: Feeling sorrow or pity for another’s tribulations; Empathy:sharing an emotional experience

Last week the president announced a four-point plan. Unfortunately, there’s little buy-in from our European and Middle Eastern allies. Here’s my own four-point plan that may be more palatable to our allies.

Rosh Hashanah has an obvious connection to God’s Kingship. We constantly refer to Him during the Asseres Yemei Teshuvah as Melech/King. The nusach of the tefillah, referring to Rosh Hashanah as “a remembrance of the first day” (of Creation), implies a certain dimension of divine kingship operating at the time of Creation and replicated every […]

Yes, God judges, but His judgment is that of a loving father who longs for his child’s quick return.

Anti-Semitism has returned to the mainstream of European society and Israel has become its focus.

Home is Milwaukee where their congregation, Beth Jehudah, and community always await their return.

A murderous uprising is taking place in Israel; On the roads, In the mixed Jewish-Arab cities.

“It’s a lousy column and a dishonest one,” Halberstam wrote. “So close it. Or you will end up just as shabby as Safire.”

More Articles from Prof. Robert S. Wistrich
Front-Page-062212

The main title of my new book, From Ambivalence to Betrayal: The Left, the Jews, and Israel, may raise a few eyebrows. To what “betrayal” am I referring? Surely neither anti-Semitism nor hostility to Israel can be seen as prerogatives of leftism; and if they do exist in some quarters of the Left, is that not an example of “legitimate criticism” of Israel, a country regularly pilloried in international forums as one of the last remaining bastions of Western colonialism?

Wistrich-012012

The Muslim Brotherhood did not initiate the current upheavals in the Middle East, but the Islamist parties in Egypt, as in Tunisia and Libya, have been the chief beneficiaries of the collapse of longstanding authoritarian repressive regimes across North Africa.

It is almost ten years since the UN-sponsored World Conference against Racism in Durban, South Africa, inaugurated a new stage in the history of “anti-racist” anti-Semitism.

Ten years ago, the Catholic-Jewish Historical Commission, established to investigate Pope Pius XII’s response to the Holocaust, met for the first time to discuss its future work. I was the only Israeli historian among the six scholars (three Catholics and three Jews) designated by the Vatican and leading Jewish organizations to study this hotly contested issue.

On November 9, 1938, a massive nationwide anti-Jewish pogrom took place during peacetime across the entire territory of the Third Reich. The pretext for this explosion of violence against German Jews was the shooting in Paris two days earlier of German diplomat Ernst vom Rath by Herschel Grynszpan, a 17-year-old Polish-Jewish refugee.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/promoting-pius-xii/2009/12/30/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: