Talk of Sainthood for Wartime Pope Stirs Anger Among Jewish Groups

By Marc Perelman

Published October 16, 2008, issue of October 24, 2008.
  • Print
  • Share Share

After years of quiet diplomacy, the controversy over the beatification of Pope Pius XII, the World War II-era pontiff, has once again burst into the open and renewed tensions between the Vatican and Jewish groups.

PIUS XII: The World War II Pope is again stirring up controversy.
PIUS XII: The World War II Pope is again stirring up controversy.

Jewish leaders are calling on the Vatican to ensure that all relevant archival materials related to Pius XII, also known as Eugenio Pacelli, be made available before deciding on his sainthood.

The Jewish umbrella group in charge of official relations with the Holy See is planning to raise the issue during a meeting with Pope Benedict XVI later this month. The issue also is likely to be broached at a high-level biennial Jewish-Vatican meeting in mid-November in Budapest.

Abraham Foxman, the national chairman of the Anti-Defamation League, called on the body, the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations (IJCIC), to “take a strong stand” in insisting that the Vatican fulfill its promise to open its wartime archives to independent scholars.

The latest spat began earlier this month when Rabbi Shear Yeshuv Cohen of Haifa, the first Jew invited to attend the Vatican’s annual meeting of bishops, known as a synod, spoke out against the move to canonize Pope Pius XII, stressing that Jews cannot “forgive and forget” that he did not speak out enough against the Holocaust. Later, he told reporters that Pius “should not be seen as a model and he should not be beatified.”

Pope Benedict XVI then declared during a commemorative mass on the 50th anniversary of the wartime pope’s death that Pius XII had worked “secretly and silently” to save Jews during the war and that he hoped his beatification, the last step before sainthood, would “proceed happily.”

In a world in which each word is carefully vetted, observers saw the pope’s comments as supporting the advocates of Pius XII who have for years been locked in a dispute with more liberal Catholics over his beatification and, more broadly, the direction of the Church.

“It would be fair to say that ‘hardliners’ have gained the upper hand within Vatican circles,” said Father John Pawlikowski, a liberal-leaning professor at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.

While he and other Vatican watchers noted that the pope spoke on a legitimate occasion –– the anniversary of Pius XII’s death – they pointed to the role played by a conference that featured speakers who defended Pope Pius XII’s wartime behavior. The conference, held in Rome on September 15- 17, was organized by the Vatican and a small U.S.-based interfaith group called Pave the Way Foundation. The group is led by Gary Krupp, a Jewish-American former businessman with close ties to the Holy See. At the conference, Krupp presented what he calls evidence of the pope’s role in saving the lives of some 860,000 Jews.

“I was raised believing Pius was Hitler’s pope but I now believe that he was the world leader who did the most to save Jews during World War II,” Krupp, who hails from the town of Long Beach, N.Y., told the Forward.

The conference has been attacked by a variety of Jewish leaders, liberal Catholics and historians for its pro-Pius XII bent. “This was a one-sided campaign rally rather than a serious intellectual inquiry,” said Michael Marrus, a history professor at the University of Toronto who declined to attend.

Krupp said he was outraged by the decision of several Holocaust museums and scholars not to attend. “How come a schlemiel from Long Beach was able to find some material on the pope that all those PhDs can’t dig up?” he said.

Critics reply that Krupp, who previously worked in the medical equipment industry, is hewing too close to advocates of Pius XII, who reigned from 1939 to 1958, within the Church. In 2000, Krupp received the papal honor of Knight Commander in the Order of St. Gregory the Great “as a result of his success recruiting medical equipment companies to donate $15 million worth of equipment for the Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza Hospital in Italy,” according to the Web site of his Pave the Way Foundation.

“I helped them get equipment, but I never raised money for the Vatican,” Krupp said. “They did not ask me to do all this.”

Over the last several years, Jewish groups and the Vatican had reached an implicit compromise whereby Jews would tone down their criticism of the Vatican’s intentions to beatify Pius XII in exchange for an opening of all the archival material relevant to his tenure.

“We understood that the beatification issue would remain on the backburner until the archives are open,” Foxman said. “Then Gary Krupp happened. He feels he is on a mission to reconcile the Jews and the Vatican and rides his hobby horse to beatify Pius XII. But he doesn’t represent the Jewish people.”

Pope Benedict XVI gave no indication as to whether he would sign a decree on the “heroic virtues” of Pius XII – an essential part of the process, which officially began in 1967. The Vatican’s Causes for the Congregation of Saints unanimously voted in favor of recognizing those virtues in May of last year, but the pope has yet to sign the relevant decree.

Rabbi David Rosen, the director of the department for interreligious affairs at the American Jewish Committee, and the current chairman of IJCIC, said the issue of the archives was continually being brought up with Vatican officials. While he acknowledged that “there is clearly a more concerted campaign to prepare the way for beatification,” he stressed that it should not come as a surprise, given Pope Benedict XVI’s long-held views on the issue.






Find us on Facebook!
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.