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 CNS Story:

PIUS XII-BOOK Jun-17-2009 (900 words) xxxi

Vatican editor says postwar hostility toward Pope Pius XII unjustified

By Sarah Delaney
Catholic News Service

ROME (CNS) -- The hostility toward Pope Pius XII in the years following World War II was the unjustified result of his firm stance against communism and an unfair comparison with his successor, Pope John XXIII, said the editor of the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano.

In the introduction to a compilation of essays by historians and church officials, editor Giovanni Maria Vian said that the esteem awarded Pope Pius during and immediately after the war changed after his death into criticism over his failure to strongly condemn the Nazi plan to exterminate Jews.

The book, "In Difesa di Pio XII," ("In Defense of Pius XII") includes essays by Pope Benedict XVI, the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, and Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture.

Vian wrote that the memory of Pope Pius had been "deformed by such a bitter and persistent controversy as to obscure the historic reality." These negative judgments are in contrast, Vian said, with the respect he enjoyed during his lifetime and "nearly unanimously positive opinion of him following his death in 1958."

The "principle elements" of this evolving opinion of Pope Pius were his strong opposition to communism and a perceived contrast in style and personality with Pope John, who was known as "the Good Pope" and who unexpectedly called for the Second Vatican Council, Vian said.

The generally unfavorable comparison was emphasized following the death of Pope John and election of Pope Paul VI when the "polarization between conservatives and progressives became symbolized by the two late popes" at the time of Vatican II, Vian wrote.

Vian's views were shared in Rome June 10 in a presentation of the volume by some of the book's contributors, including Cardinal Bertone.

The question of whether the wartime pope did all in his power to fight the effects of the Holocaust is an open wound; the first steps toward Pope Pius' beatification have been completed but Pope Benedict has slowed down the process pending further research.

Several Jewish groups have protested the intention to beatify the pope, who they say did not stand up to Adolf Hitler as Jews were being deported to and killed in concentration camps. Pope Pius has been particularly criticized in Italy for not having come to the Jewish ghetto in Rome when more than 1,000 Jews were rounded up and deported by Nazi troops in October 1943.

The Vatican and other defenders of Pope Pius have said that he did not lodge a strong protest with the Hitler regime because he was convinced that doing so would only have worsened the situation for Jews. Many Jews were hidden in churches, convents and monasteries, and the Vatican has said that had Pope Pius spoken out more strongly, he would have turned the Nazis against the church and jeopardized those lives as well.

At the book presentation Paolo Mieli, a contributor, recalled the many expressions of gratitude from Jewish leaders with regard to Pope Pius during and immediately after the war.

"How can we forget the affirmations of esteem and homage that the most important Jewish personalities expressed with regard to Pius XII?" asked Mieli, a historian, journalist and former editor of the Italian newspaper, Corriere della Sera.


"The reasons for this campaign of denigration," he said, "are to be found in this pope's anti-totalitarian and anti-communist positions."

Mieli said members of his family had died at the hands of the Nazis, but added, "I do not put the responsibility of the dead in my family on one who is not to blame."

Mieli said the idea that Pope Pius was indifferent to the plight of Jews was "absurd." He quoted Arrigo Levi, an Italian Jewish journalist and historian, as saying that his own family members had been saved by Catholics and that had Pope Pius protested the 1943 deportations in Rome, "thousands and thousands of Jews who had taken refuge in the convents, and the brothers and sisters who had taken them in, would not have been saved."

Cardinal Bertone, speaking at the presentation, called on scholars to question the silence of the Allied forces as well as that of Pope Pius and said that scholars all over the world should open their archives so that the truth about the help Pope Pius gave to the Jews could be aired.

Cardinal Bertone said that many called for the Vatican archives during the wartime years to be opened, and that archivists were preparing the documents for examination. However, he said, no researchers had come to consult the now-opened 1930-39 archives, a time when Pope Pius XII, then Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, was the Vatican secretary of state to Pope Pius XI.

"Everyone knows Pope Pius XI as being anti-fascist and anti-totalitarian, but they worked in total synergy and empathy, and if they hadn't, Pius XI would have gotten rid of him as secretary of state," said Cardinal Bertone.

With so many testimonials of Jews who had been hidden in churches and convents during the Nazi occupation of Italy, "it would be impossible to think that this could have happened in churches all over without the knowledge or the explicit wish of the pope."

"He was a pope who went toward modernity and was the most-quoted pope during the work of Vatican II," Cardinal Bertone said.

END


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