Pius XII: What do we need to do?

While rejoicing that Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen of Haifa was invited to speak to the Synod of Bishops (read his address here and see pictures here), I must say that I am disappointed that he is still of the opinion that Pius XII in some way betrayed the Jewish people during the dark years of the Shoah.

By a strange twist of fate, today is both Yom Kippur and the 50th anniversary of the late Pontiff’s death.

Today I listened to a couple of very good reports on the question of Pius XII’s war time record from Vatican Radio. These include:

Interview with Fr Gumpel, relator of the cause for the beatification of Pius XII.
Comments by Pope Benedict at the end of a symposium on Pius XII, by Pave the Way Foundation

I also have a much longer Vatican Radio program, which unfortunately is no longer on their website, in which they play recordings of his Christmas announcements, including the 1942 message in which he condemned the persecution and near extinction of peoples simply on the basis of their race. He has been criticised for the fact that this pronouncement did not specifically mention the Jews, but his intended audience did not misunderstand him. The Gestapo reported to their master:

“in a manner never known before…the Pope has repudiated the National Socialist New European Order. It is true, the Pope does not refer to the National Socialists in Germany by name, but his speech is one long attack on everything we stand for. …Here he is clearly speaking on behalf of the Jews.”

That is only one example.

It is sad that his name is still maligned today, 50 years after his death, when most of those who so malign him have done no study of the matter at all, but simply listen to the myth. Interestingly, this program points out that very few people have asked for access to the now available archival records for the period leading up to the war itself.

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0 Responses to Pius XII: What do we need to do?

  1. FrGregACCA says:

    During Pius XII’s lifetime and at his death, many prominent Jews, including Albert Einstein and Golda Meir, praised the pope, and the Roman Church in general, for resisting the Nazis and defending Jews.

  2. Past Elder says:

    I remember that night now fifty years ago as clearly as if it were last night.

    No Internet, no CNN, TV was not the 24/7 cable it is now. Dad heard on the radio that the pope had died, and came into my room to tell me, whereupon this convert from a rural revivalist Methodism began the Sign of the Cross, in Latin, and continued with the pater noster, which his 8 year old altar boy son joined.

    Pius was a scholar and a diplomat, not an actor; he did not do things with a view to the big audience, let the reader understand. In fact, while such gestures may have secured him a greater personal reputation, given the reprisals for the statements he did make, would have caused an even greater and swifter loss of life — and you are quite right, the wider audience was not there, but the intended audience heard him loud and clear and knew exactly what he meant.

    For that matter, Pius was pretty clear that showing up for Mass and busying oneself with private devotions while something you make no effort to know or understand goes on is not OK. His intended audience there, Catholics, didn’t hear him much at all.

    And after he was gone, instead of changing people they changed Masses and the people left in droves, leaving a church he would not recognise that is false to him even as they honour him.

  3. Tony says:

    Paul O’Shea, a sometime contributor to that place concludes this in the interview about his book on The Religion Report:

    He’s not the rabid anti-Semite that Cornwell paints him to be, he’s not the lamb without stain that his hagiographers would have us believe, he is, as most of us are, somewhere in the middle. He was human, he made mistakes, I think that his mistakes were pretty grave, and he needs to be held accountable for that. But we can’t make a demon out of him because he wasn’t.

  4. Mikha'el says:

    Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen criticizes Pope Pius XII’s indirect manner of speech with a similar indirect manner of speech.

    Cohen claims that Pius XII is guilty of not satisfactorily aiding the Jewish people during their persecution in WWII. Compare Rabbi Cohen’s comments on these two occasions:

    1. ‘We cannot forget the sad, the painful fact of how many, including great religious leaders, did not raise a voice in the effort to save our brethren, but chose to keep silent and help secretly.
    ‘We cannot forgive and forget it. And we hope that you understand our pain, our sorrow over the immediate past in Europe.’

    2. ‘I did not want to offend anybody [but Pope Pius] should not be sanctified or looked up to because of his failure to save us, to raise his voice, even if he secretly tried to help [save Jews during World War II].
    Maybe he was afraid, or for other reasons known to him he did not raise his voice. And that we cannot forget.’

    The common view is that Cohen directed both of these comments at Pius XII. But the first reference is indirect, where as the second reference is direct. Why the difference? It is because Cohen delivered the substance of his thoughts in the form appropriate to the two different audiences. The first was made during his address to the Synod of Bishops and the second was made to reporters outside the Synod.

    But what is especially ironic is this: Cohen knows of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s hostile stance towards Jews, as did Pius XII know of the NAZI’s persecution of the Jews. And both the Pope and the Rabbi communicated this in the manner suitable to the circumstances. During the Synod, Cohen communicated this in a veiled manner and called on religious leaders to do their part:

    ‘I feel I cannot conclude my address without expressing our deep shock at the terrible and vicious words of the president of a certain state in the Middle East, in his speech last month at the United Nations General Assembly … We hope to get your help as Religious Leaders — as well as the help of the entire free world — to protect, defend and save Israel, the one and only sovereign state of the “People of the Book” from the hands of its enemies.’

    Pius XII used this same technique. For example, see Mr Schütz’s reference to the ‘1942 message in which he [Pius XII] condemned the persecution and near extinction of peoples simply on the basis of their race.’ Even the Gestapo acknowledged Pius XII’s support for the Jews against National Socialist’s policies. And many Jews were saved.

    I feel for Rabbi Cohen because he is living in and with the pain of the Jewish victims of WWII. But his criticisms of Pope Pius XII are mistaken, to say the least. In my opinion, it would be better for the Jewish survivors of WWII to know the truth: that for the love of God, the Head of the Catholic Church did much to preserve their lives.

  5. Past Elder says:

    Thank you, Who Is Like God.

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