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Pope Pius XII [1939-58]

On 19 December 2009 Pope Benedict XVI signed decrees designating Pope Pius XII and Pope John Paul II as "Venerable" - the first step towards sainthood [before beatification, which immediately precedes canonisation]. There are three degrees in the canonization process, to which severally belong the titles of venerable, blessed, and holy - Venerabilis, Beatus, Sanctus.

Pius XII's beatification has been a topic of heated debate between Catholics and Jews since 1967 when the process was initiated. Shear-Yushuv Cohen, the Grand Rabbi of Haifa, Israel, opposed such an honor for the Italian pope, saying Pius XII "should not be seen as a model and he should not be beatified because he did not raise his voice against the Holocaust."

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) said it was "deeply troubled" by Pope Benedict XVI's decision to move Holocaust-era Pope Pius XII one step closer to sainthood. The League today called on Pope Benedict to suspend the sainthood process until the relevant Vatican archival documents are made accessible to qualified historians and scholars. "We are deeply troubled that this step would be taken without the Vatican opening up its Secret Archives for the period before, during and after the Holocaust," said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director and a Holocaust survivor. "While we fully recognize that the process of sainthood is an internal matter for the Church, the issue of what Pope Pius XII did or did not do to help save Jews during the Holocaust is a profound question that should be resolved first, for the sake of the Jewish-Catholic relationship. We cannot understand the need to rush to do this now, especially while there are still survivors who are alive who feel the issue very, very deeply."

Pisu XII was controversial. The attitude of Pius XI was one of outspoken opposition to Fascist claims in matters that he considered within the sphere of the Church. His successor displayed a more conciliatory attitude toward the Fascist regime. The year 1965 saw the banning of Rolf Hochhuth's play "The Representative" in Rome, which was denounced as an attempt to cause friction in the coalition government, comprising Socalists, Christian Democrats and Republicans. The Catholic Herald newspaper indicated that the banning of the play, which attacks the late Pope Pius XII for not speaking out against Nazi persecution of the Jews, was justified under the Lateran Treaties of 1929 - signed by Fascist Italy and the Vatican.

There are at least four points of controversy concerning Pius XII.

  1. Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli and the rise of Fascism - Prior to becoming pope, he promoted the political rise of Mussolini in Italy and Hitler in Germany, as a bulwark against Communism. His admiration for Fascism was widely shared, and outside of Communist and Jewish opponents, the evils later commited by these regimes were not widely foreseen.
  2. Pope Pius XII and the Holocaust - During World War II, he knew of the Holocaust but neither spoke out against it nor acted to save its victims. In this, he was no different that other leaders such as Roosevelt or Churchill, who knew of the Holocaust but who said little and did less.
  3. Pope Pius XII and Anti-Communism - Pius XIII continued to assert that the socialist system imposed by the Soviet Union on Catholic countries in Central Europe represented an accidental, temporary phenomenon which was doomed to disappear from the historical scene within a short period of time. In this his judgement proved more prescient than some of his contemporaries, though perhaps not of the more militant anti-Communists of his time.
  4. There are three degrees in the canonization process - venerable, blessed, and holy - Venerabilis, Beatus, Sanctus. First Beatus and then Saint require heroic Christian virtue that preeminently high degree of excellence by which he who practises it acts in a more exalted way than ordinary men act in the exercise of the same virtue. That is, they require outstanding and noteworthy virtue, not simply behavior that was no worse than prevailing community standards.

Born Eugenio Pacelli, Pius XII was elected Pope in March 1939, having previously served as papal nuncio in Germany from 1917 to 1930 and as Vatican secretary of state from 1930. Eugenio Pacelli came from an old aristocratic family, whose members were some of the largest landowners and bankers in Italy.

Through the centuries, Church law had been built up of the edicts, papal bulls, instructions, decrees, regulations, and precedents issued by the Holy See. Ecclesiastical authorities considered codification impossible, since all these data were in an unordered state; however, the Holy Father, Pope Pius X, during his reign, 1904-1914, directed Cardinal Gasparri, Secretary of the Congregation of Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs, to undertake the Herculean task of codifying Canon Law. To bring order out of such a welter of material required a sound knowledge of jurisprudence and an all-embracing concept of the doctrines of the Church. Cardinal Gasparri chose wisely when he selected Monsignor Pacelli, later Pope Pius XII, as his assistant in this task. Monsignor Pacelli organized the work, and it wasn't long until priests and bishops throughout the world were searching their archives for papal documents of all kinds. The findings were sent to Rome, where they were classified, indexed, and ultimately codified. The work was completed and the first draft sent to the bishops of the world shortly after the death of Pope Pius X.

During the Hitlerite regime of bestial murder and torture, the reigning Pope Pius XII had very little to say. After all the Vatican had a concordat with Germany and Hitler had been born and brought up a Catholic. Pope Pius XII could have excommunicated both Hitler and Mussolini, instead there were concordats; Father Tiso, the Jew-baiter, was promoted to Monsignor. Pius honored Marshal Petain and gave to the dictator Franco the highest papal honors.

Spain was developing closely along Fascist and totalitarian lines; the economic reorganization followed the syndicalist and corporate model; the close relationship with the Church, implied in the special benediction of Pope Pius XII, and the presence of strong royalist elements in Franco's councils were maintained, and the alignment with the Fascist powers, in foreign affairs, was subject to economic conditions and a resurgent Spanish nationalism.

Pope Pius XII died October 9, 1958 (aged 82).



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