The battle over Pope Pius XII

The 50th anniversary of Pope Pius XII’s death is causing renewed tensions between the Roman Catholic Church and Jews. The Economist has a good summary of the dispute over history:

Eight years ago, when Pope John Paul II prayed at Jerusalem’s Western Wall, there seemed to be a new level of trust between Roman Catholics and Jews. But so heavy is the historical baggage that the relationship still creaks under the strain.

The latest problem is a nasty flare-up in an old argument over the role of Pius XII, who was pope during the second world war. Was he a hero who deserves to be beatified, or was he, as some Jews say, guilty of neglectful silence?

. . .

The flare-up began when the Vatican, in what was meant as a friendly gesture, invited an Israeli rabbi to address the Synod of Bishops convening in Rome to discuss the teaching of the Hebrew scriptures. Rabbi Shear-Yashuv Cohen discovered too late that his trip coincided with ceremonies marking the 50th anniversary of Pius XII’s death. “We cannot forgive or forget,” the rabbi told the bishops, in an oblique reference to the pope. He also told journalists the pope should have done more to save Jews. The Vatican responded that this was a “black legend”.

The arguments go back more than 40 years. Writers in the 1960s, most famously Rolf Hochhuth in his 1963 play “The Representative”, condemned Pius XII for passivity and pusillanimity. The reading was reinforced in John Cornwell’s best-selling “Hitler’s Pope” (1999). But Mr Cornwell himself retracted many of his allegations after criticism. The Vatican archives, meanwhile, hardly helped the pope’s case by refusing, for technical reasons, to open critical diplomatic files to scholars.

Still, historians are reassessing the record. Sir Martin Gilbert, official biographer of Churchill, who is a Jew and an authority on the Holocaust, has said that Pius XII, far from deserving obloquy, should be a candidate for Yad Vashem’s order of “righteous Gentiles”.

Read it all here.

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