Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Letter to Pope Benedict

Towards the end of last year I was invited to join a number of historians in signing a letter addressed to Pope Benedict XVI asking him to allow more time for the examination of the papacy of Pius XII.  Honoured to have been asked, I accepted.  The signatories were asked to preserve the confidentiality of the letter until such time as the Pope had recieved it and, as we hoped, and responded to it.  Such was not the case.  Within a couple of hours of the letter being sent to Rome it was "leaked" and splashed around the world.  I leave it to the reader to judge the merit of the letter.  It was done with a profound sense of respect to the Pope and with no hint of attempting to force the Pope's hand.

This is how the National Catholic Reporter (one of the best English language Catholic journals) reported the letter:

UPDATED: Scholars ask pope to slow Pius XII's canonization



Feb. 18, 2010


By Dennis Sadowski, Catholic News Service Vatican


WASHINGTON -- Nineteen Catholic scholars of theology and history are asking Pope Benedict XVI to slow the process of the sainthood cause of Pope Pius XII.

Saying that much more research needs to be done on the papacy of the mid-20th century pope, the scholars said in a Feb. 16 letter to Pope Benedict that "history needs distance and perspective" before definitive conclusions can be reached on the role of Pope Pius during World War II and the Holocaust.

Leading the effort are Servite Father John Pawlikowski, professor of ethics at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, and Holy Cross Father Kevin Spicer, associate professor of history at Stonehill College in Easton, Mass.

"We're not on a bandwagon to stop his eventual canonization," Father Pawlikowski told Catholic News Service Feb. 18. "We're saying allow some time."

Father Pawlikowski said the scholars, known widely for their research and expertise on the Holocaust, wanted to express their concerns in a respectful manner to the pope.

First sent Feb. 16 via e-mail to the Vatican and then sent a day later via overnight mail, the letter asked Pope Benedict "to be patient with the cause of Pope Pius XII."

Pope Benedict advanced the cause of Pope Pius' sainthood in a Dec. 19 decree.

Copies of the letter also were sent to Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York, episcopal moderator for Catholic-Jewish relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews.

Both Father Spicer and Father Pawlikowski said the letter was meant to be private correspondence with the pope but it was released by an unknown party to a secular news agency Feb. 17.

Father Spicer told CNS Feb. 18 that the scholars also wanted to tell Pope Benedict that concerns about the canonization of Pope Pius are not limited to the Jewish community.

"The people who signed the letter, they are ... Catholic, they work in the Catholic Church in Holocaust studies or have written in that area before," Father Spicer said.

"We're all practicing Catholics. We're faithful to the Holy Father. We wanted to be sure of writing a letter that was respectful but at the same time addresses our concerns," he added.

In the letter, the scholars said "the movement to press forward at this time the process of beatification of Pius XII greatly troubles us."

Citing controversy that surrounds Pope Pius' actions during World War II and the Holocaust, the scholars said much research remains to be done before final conclusions can be drawn about his behavior.

"History needs distance and perspective to arrive at these conclusions," the letter said. "At this moment, scholars eagerly await the opening of the papers from Pius XII's pontificate that you, Holy Father, have so graciously arranged to be made available."

The scholars said existing research "leads us to the view that Pope Pius XII did not issue a clearly worded statement, unconditionally condemning the wholesale slaughter and murder of European Jews."

"At the same time, some evidence also compels us to see that Pius XII's diplomatic background encouraged him as head of a neutral state, the Vatican, to assist Jews by means that were not made public during the war. It is essential that further research be conducted to resolve both these questions," the letter said.

The scholars also shared their concern that by discussing the beatification of Pope Pius, Catholic-Jewish relations would be set back.

Acknowledging Pope Benedict's efforts to breach misunderstandings between Catholics and Jews, the scholars still cautioned that much work remains to build relations between the two religions.

"Mistrust and apprehension still exist," the scholars wrote. "For many Jews and Catholics, Pius XII takes on a role much larger than his historical papacy. In essence, Pius XII has become a symbol of centuries-old Christian anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism.

"It is challenging to separate Pope Pius XII from this legacy. Proceeding with the cause of Pope Pius XII, without an exhaustive study of his actions during the Holocaust, might harm Jewish-Catholic relations in a way that cannot be overcome in the foreseeable future," the letter said.

In addition to Father Spicer and Father Pawlikowski, the list of signers includes Jesuit Father James Bernauer, philosophy professor, Boston College; Suzanne Brown-Fleming, independent scholar; John Connelly, associate history professor, University of California at Berkeley; Frank J. Coppa, history professor, St. John's University in New York; Donald J. Dietrich, theology professor, Boston College; Sister Audrey Doetzel, a member of the Congregation of Notre Dame de Sion and associate director of the Center for Christian-Jewish Learning, Boston College; Lauren N. Faulkner, assistant history professor, University of Notre Dame in Indiana; Eugene J. Fisher, retired associate director of the U.S. bishops' Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligous Affairs in Washington; and Dominican Father Elias H. Fullenbach of the Institute for Church History, University of Bonn in Germany.

It also includes: Beth A. Griech-Polelle, associate history professor, Bowling Green State University in Ohio; Robert A. Krieg, theology professor, Notre Dame; Martin Menke, associate history professor, Rivier College in Nashua, N.H.; Paul O'Shea, senior religious education coordinator, St. Patrick's College, Strathfield, Australia; Michael E. O'Sullivan, assistant history professor, Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.; Michael Phayer, professor emeritus of history, Marquette University in Milwaukee; Mercy Sister Carol Rittner, professor of Holocaust and genocide studies, Richard Stockton College of New Jersey; and Jose Sanchez, professor emeritus of history, St. Louis University.

Here is the text of the letter:

16 February 2010

His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, Apostolic Palace, 00120 Vatican City

Your Holiness,

As faithful, practicing Catholics, consecrated and lay, we urgently write to you concerning the cause of Pope Pius XII. We are educators who have conducted research and are currently carrying into effect more research on Catholicism under National Socialism and the Holocaust. The movement to press forward at this time the process of beatification of Pius XII greatly troubles us. Needless to say, the controversy over Pius XII’s actions during the Second World War and the Holocaust is long-standing. Numerous books and articles have been written on the topic. Nevertheless, the scholars still have a great deal of research to complete before final conclusions can be drawn about Pius XII’s behavior during the Holocaust. History needs distance and perspective to arrive at these conclusions. At the moment, scholars eagerly await the opening of papers from Pius XII’s pontificate that you, Holy Father, have so graciously arranged to be made available. At the same time, as researchers, we also realize that there are numerous archives, both secular and ecclesiastical, that scholars have yet to access or consult, many of which might shed more light on Pope Pius’s actions during the Holocaust. Currently, existing research leads us to the view that Pope Pius XII did not issue a clearly worded statement, unconditionally condemning the wholesale slaughter and murder of European Jews. At the same time, some evidence also compels us to see that Pius XII’s diplomatic background encouraged him as head of a neutral state, the Vatican, to assist Jews by means that were not made public during the war. It is essential that further research be conducted to resolve both these questions. As scholars of theology and history, we realize how important the historical critical method is to your own research and we implore you to ensure that such a historical investigation takes place before proceeding with the cause of Pope Pius XII.

A greater issue, of course, arises with the discussion of the beatification of Pius XII. For centuries the Christian churches, including the Roman Catholic Church, have propagated both religious anti-Judaism and religious anti-Semitism, however unintentionally or in ignorance. “Nostra Aetate,” however, ensured that Catholics’ views of Jews would be definitively changed. Your most recent comments, Holy Father, in the synagogue of Rome, endeavored to breach centuries of misunderstandings between Catholics and Jews. Your actions were moving and courageous. Still there is a great deal of work to be done in this area. Mistrust and apprehension still exist. For many Jews and Catholics, Pius XII takes on a role much larger than his historical papacy. In essence, Pius XII has become a symbol of centuries-old Christian anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism which, for example, the late Rev. Edward H. Flannery has documented and spelled out in his work “The Anguish of the Jews: Twenty-Three Centuries of Anti-Semitism.” It is challenging to separate Pope Pius XII from this legacy. Proceeding with the cause of Pope Pius XII, without an exhaustive study of his actions during the Holocaust, might harm Jewish-Catholic relations in a way that cannot be overcome in the foreseeable future.

Holy Father, we implore you, acting on your wisdom as a renowned scholar, professor and teacher, to be patient with the cause of Pope Pius XII. Patience is not passive, it is active; indeed it is condensed strength and courage to bring one forward in hope to a central conclusion and point. In this regard, we humbly ask that scholars be given the access and time to carefully and thoroughly examine the documents relating to the pontificate of Pius XII before embarking on the beatification process. We thank you for hearing us and reflecting upon the urgent concerns of our request. We have the honor to be, Your Holiness,

Rev. Dr. John Pawlikowski, O.S.M., professor of ethics, Catholic Theological Union

Rev. Dr. Kevin P. Spicer, C.S.C., Kenneally associate professor of history, Stonehill College

Rev. Dr. James Bernauer, S.J., Kraft professor of philosophy, Boston College, director, Center for Christian-Jewish Learning

Dr. Suzanne Brown-Fleming, independent scholar

Dr. John Connelly, associate professor of history, University of California, Berkeley

Dr. Frank J. Coppa, professor of history, St. John’s University; associate editor, New Catholic Encyclopedia; currently working on biography of Pius XII

Dr. Donald J. Dietrich, professor of theology, Boston College

Dr. Audrey Doetzel, N.D.S., associate director, Center for Christian-Jewish Learning, Boston College

Dr. Lauren N. Faulkner, assistant professor of history, University of Notre Dame

Dr. Eugene J. Fisher, retired associate director, Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

P. Elias H. Fullenbach, O.P., Dominikanerkloster Dusseldorf, Institut fur Kirchengeschichte der Universitat Bonn

Dr. Beth A. Griech-Polelle, Ph.D., associate professor of history, Bowling Green State University

Dr. Robert A. Krieg, professor of theology, University of Notre Dame

Dr. Martin Menke, associate professor of history, Rivier College

Dr. Paul O’Shea, senior religious education coordinator, St. Patrick’s College, Strathfield, NSW, Australia

Dr. Michael E. O’Sullivan, assistant professor of history, Marist College

Dr. Michael Phayer, professor emeritus of history, Marquette University

Dr. Carol Rittner, R.S.M., distinguished professor of Holocaust and genocide studies and the

Dr. Marsha Raitcoff Grossmann professor of Holocaust Studies, Richard Stockton College of New Jersey

Dr. Jose Sanchez, professor emeritus of history, St. Louis University

1 comment:

  1. Paul,

    I think part of the problem is that Prof. Kertzer has relatively little to say about Pius XII. He also concedes in his book that the papacy of Pius XI was more tolerant of Jews than those of his predecessors.

    I think the essential point to take away from Kertzer's book is that throughout the 19th century and into the early 20th century the Vatican fomented, directly and indirectly, extreme antipathy and animosity to Jews and Judaism that ended up burning into an uncontrollable fire in the Nazi annihilation campaign.

    The Vatican may not have intended for their venom to spill over into official murder, but it should suprise no one that it did.

    I think we could say that the Vatican reaped a bitter Nazi harvest of the anti-Semitic seeds it sowed so voluminously throughout the period from 1815 - 1940.

    I do not think we should allow the discussion to get sidetracked about the philo-Semitic efforts of Pius XII. I think that is almost irrelevant. I think there is ample proof that he did much to aid Jews during the War.

    However the salient point is that the steady onslaught of Catholic vitriole against Jews laid the groundwork for the horrors perpetrated by the Nazis. This is the point that must be acknowledged.

    A related question is whether the reforms of Vatican II constitute sufficient atonement for the Vatican endorsed campaign of Jew-baiting and vilification. This perhaps gets to the crux of the matter.

    I would be interested to know, for example, what additional changes Prof. Kertzer would like to see the Vatican implement in light of their sordid history of fomenting anti-Semitism in the pre War period.

    ReplyDelete

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