Editorial of the president
Published on 3 December 2010
The press reported the statements of Pope Benedict XVI about Pius XII, his predecessor at the time of the Second World War, in a forthcoming book. Let’s recall that last year, the Pope had signed a decree establishing the "heroic virtues" of Pius XII, the first step toward beatification, but the procedure had not been undertaken.
In this book, Benedict XVI would have presented Pius XII as a great Righteous, as the man who during the war was responsible for the greatest number of Jews saved.
This sentence is astounding. It can not be accepted by historians today. It is true that it relies on the very old claim of an Israeli diplomat during the 50s, Pinchas Lapide, and the enthusiastic comments of Golda Meir, neither of whom was a historian. This view was put forward by some clerics who have had, and they alone, access to Vatican archives for that period. These men venerate Pius XII, the last Pope to have exercised his pontificate in the glory and the pomp of a bygone era, before Vatican II. They hold, maybe for theological reasons, to honor his personality and are tireless promoters of his beatification.
If we stick to what we know from history (and many historians of high quality wrote on the topic since Saul Friedlander in 1966), there was no evidence of organized action by Pius XII to protect the persecuted Jews. Certainly he was not the pro-Nazi Pope described in some books. He knew, as the editor of the encyclical "Mit Sorge brennender" during the time of Pius XI, that racist Nazism was not compatible with Christianity. Certainly, many Jews (in the Nazi definition of the term), like the Rabbi of Rome, who was then converted to Christianity, had been sheltered inside the Vatican, undoubtedly with his agreement (Most were, by the way, Christians). During the roundup of Rome, many Jews were hidden in convents of the city, thanks to the organization Delasem and the wonderful father Benedict. But nothing allows making the Pope be the Master of these heroic rescue operations. Or, he should also reversely be charged for the fact that many Nazis escaped from justice after the war (Operation Odessa) as some monasteries have played an overriding role in this leak.
What is most striking is the timidity of expression of Pius XII before the tragedy, when the Jews of Rome, present in the city for centuries, were rounded up, almost in front of his windows. He was silent. When he had previously received intelligence about the extermination of millions of men, women and Jewish children in Eastern Europe, he had already stayed silent, apart from an isolated and ambiguous allusion in his radio message of Christmas, 1942. Nor had he protested when thousands of Polish priests were executed by the Germans, eager to break the framework of a rebirth or a national resistance. And yet, who better than him could be informed by the myriad networks of the Church about the crime’s extent? Certainly, he was not the only one, nor Roosevelt, nor Churchill, nor de Gaulle had spoken. But they were fighting the war. From the Pope, we would have expected to speak out, to yell. It would not have been worthwhile? Maybe. Many Righteous gave their lives to witness the values that Pius XII was supposed to carry more than any other. It would have put other Catholics in danger? Maybe. But the courageous Bishop von Galen denounced from the pulpit many killings of the mentally disabled, despite the possible retaliation on the Catholic Church. It would have helped the Soviet Union while Germany, even Nazi, was a bulwark of Christian civilization against Marxist atheism? Maybe. But does such a choice -- making Jews unimportant collateral victims -- deserve beatification?
And this silence is not the only one. Once the war ended, while paradoxically Pius XII had become an absolute icon, he still continued not to speak. As if he had never considered that the extermination of six million Jews in the heart of Christian Europe deserved his thinking, his word and his moral guidance. And yet, what were the risks of speaking out once the war ended? Indirectly giving arguments to communism? But that was worthy of a Machiavellian politician on a small scale, not the Pope.
Yes, we hold the radical transformation of the relations and mutual glances between Jews and Christians in the wake of Vatican II as a magnificent event of the XXth century and we cherish the friendship that developed between them. Yes, we know that Pope Benedict XVI is attached to it, as much as his predecessor John Paul II and he profoundly rejects anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism. But, with the deep sense of respect we owe to the Pope, we say that history does not meet the words he would have pronounced in his recent book. Pius XII was not the greatest of the Righteous. We are the first to regret it.
Photo : © 2007 Erez Lichtfeld