A Son of the Church of Pius XII Breaks the Silence on His
The beatification of pope
Pacelli brings division again. Some Jews and Catholics reject it. Pietro De
Marco defends it. And he explains what is the real miracle accomplished by this
ROMA, January 27, 2005 – In relations between the Jews and the papacy, lights
alternate with shadows.
One great moment of light was the January 18 meeting in the Vatican between John
Paul II and 130 Jewish rabbis from various countries.
The purpose of the meeting – initiated by the rabbis and organized by the Pave
the Way Foundation, headed by Gary Krupp – was to thank the pope for his
extraordinary commitment to reconciling Jews and Christians and to defending the
Jewish people, ever since he was a young priest in Poland. After saying "thank
you" and "shalom" with great emotion in their voices, three rabbis blessed John
Paul II with formulaic prayers in Hebrew and English.
The previous evening, in a conference in Rome at the Pro Unione center, rabbi
Jack Bemporad of the Center for Interreligious Understanding had faced the
question of Pius XII and his much-discussed "silence" on the exterminations
carried out by the nazis.
"By his judgement Pius XII did what he had to do," he said. "Look at what
happened in Greece and Thessalonika, where over 96 percent of the Jews were
rounded up and sent to the camps. There both the Catholic and the Orthodox
bishops did speak out, and they were rounded up and shipped off too."
In Poland, too, the bishops repeatedly asked the pope to raise a public protest
against the killing of priests and religious sisters. But he didn't do it. "Are
we supposed to think that Pius XII was anti-Catholic because he didn’t condemn
the killing of Catholics in Poland?"
Bemporad concluded that it is extremely difficult to express judgments on Pius
XII, given the extreme threats he had to face. "It was not clear who was going
to win the war, and if the Church would even be able to survive."
He was echoed by another rabbi of the delegation, Moses A. Birnbaum of the
Plainview Jewish Center in Long Island, New York: "Let’s not forget that Jewish
groups praised Pius XII after the war." The Jews, he added, should stay out of
the discussion about the possibility of his beatification.
* * *
But the chief rabbi of Rome, Riccardo Di Segni, had indeed spoken out against
the beatification of Pius XII a few days earlier.
Using as his launching point the new Vatican documents that had appeared in the
newspapers, dealing with the Jewish children sheltered during the war by
Catholic families and institutes – documents he defined as "horrible" – Di Segni
told the news agency Apcom on January 11:
"The Church has every right to elevate to the altars whoever suits it. If
anything, the problem is ours, because if the Church beatifies someone it is
doing nothing other than indicating a model of spiritual perfection to
Christians. Faced with a Church that identifies as a spiritual ideal a subject
who has behaved in a certain way, we [Jews] can, as a consequence, also decide
whether and how to engage in dialogue."
During those same days, Catholic historian Alberto Melloni, of the Institute for
Religious Studies in Bologna founded by Fr. Giuseppe Dossetti and headed by
Giuseppe Alberigo, also spoke out against the beatification of Pius XII, started
by Paul VI in 1965. Melloni wrote in "Corriere della Sera" on January 9:
"A process [of beatification] is not a dogma before which historians and
Catholics, and above all Jews, must bow down in order not to block its
Pius XII, in the judgment of Melloni and Alberigo, was "a solitary and
calculating pope, whose person was dominated by the internal logic of political
But curiously, in the most recent edition of the magazine directed by Alberigo
and Melloni, "Christianity in History," there appears an essay by Kenneth L.
Woodward which records the unanimously positive opinions about Pius XII that
appeared in the English-language press after his death in 1958.
"For example," Woodward writes, "an editorial in ‘The New York Times,’ now one
of the most sympathetic forums for Pacelli criticism, praised the pope for
standing up to the Nazis [...] noting [his] intense spirituality." The only
criticism that the most critical newspaper at the time, the liberal 'The
Reporter', directed against the deceased pope was his "failure to replenish the
much-depleted College of Cardinals."
Woodward adds that judgments on Pius XII would change in "another five years
[with] the publication of Rolf Hochhuth’s play, ‘The Deputy,’ generally regarded
as the event that precipitated the revised and largely negative assessment of
Pacelli in our own time, at least in some circles."
In short, Pius XII
continues to be a sign of contradiction, both within and outside of the Church.
And he would be so even more as soon as he was proclaimed blessed.
But behind the curtain of the polemics, the authentic Pius XII is in danger of
disappearing. And any understanding of his sanctity remains elusive.
In the note below, Pietro De Marco – who was a son of the Church of Pius XII –
penetrates this wall of incomprehension and traces a profile of this pope free
from the usual categories. Free, and liberating.
Pietro De Marco, a specialist in religious geopolitics, is a professor at the
University of Florence and the Theological Faculty of Central Italy. He wrote
this note for www.chiesa: