Saturday, November 27, 2010

Benedict on Pius - New Zealand and USA Today

The fallout from the pope's interview-now-book continues.  Ultra-orthodox Catholics are up in arms at the very suggestion that the man they have championed as the worthy successor to John Paul appears to have had a change of mind on the use of condoms.  That is one issue. The other is, of course, Benedict's comments about Pius XII.  I made some comments of my own in an earlier post and won't repeat them here.  These two articles, one from the Southland Times (New Zealand) and an op-ed by Cathy Grossman of USA Today.  There are no new facts, but there are some nuances of interpretation.

I was asked a couple of years ago by a reporter in the USA if I believed the seemingly never-ending battle over Pius was indicative of a "culture war" within contemporary Catholicism.  At first I thiought the question was overblown.  Now I think the reporter was spot on.  Watching the reactions to Benedict over the last week has revealed a new layer of internal Catholic upset.  Whether it be condoms or the role of Pius XII, Catholics (who care) are pretty much divided between those who believe any suggestion that Eugenio Pacelli made mistakes is tantamount to heresy, and those who believe any suggestion that the same man should be canonised is tantamount to supporting flat earthers.  And for those of us who try to walk the via media, the road gets narrower every day.

The Southland Times

Last updated 05:00 24/11/2010

OPINION: Maybe they need the Devil's Advocate back.

The Catholic Church's interest in making the loudly decried Pope Pius XII a saint may be an appalling example of a recalcitrant church stuck in its own holy huddle, showing supreme disregard for ugly truths about a leader who, to protect his own people, abandoned the Jews to Nazi persecution before and during the war.

Or it may be a case of the church defying a chorus of damning anti-Pius rhetoric because it really does have the information in its capacious vaults to prove that this was one cruelly defamed pope.

We are not, as yet, in a position to know which scenario is true.

But the church must surely stump up with the evidence, which needs to be, in a word, compelling. And not just to the satisfaction of Pope Benedict and his cardinals.

This is a case in which the church disregards at its peril the views of the watching world. To take the view that whomsoever Catholics choose to call saint is a matter of no legitimate interest to those outside the faith would be a vanity that ignores the hugely provocative implications.

At such times we surely miss the rigour of the Devil's Advocate; a role that served the church for centuries. The advocate, usually a lawyer, was appointed by church authorities to put the case against anyone's elevation to sainthood.

Pope John Paul II abolished the position and replaced it with a Promoter of Justice, who is more a tester of accuracy, and apparently an altogether more agreeable type, considering how the number of new sainthoods went through the fluffy-clouded roof during John Paul's watch.

Attempts to rehabilitate Pius' reputation have already been published, by Jewish as well as Christian writers, casting him as something between a Scarlet Pimpernel figure and an Oskar Schindler quietly set about offering strategic and effective sanctuaries, saving as many Jewish lives as he could, in preference to impotently railing against the wrongdoers.

The Vatican points to a wealth of documentary evidence that Pius ordered monasteries to shelter Jews, though Benedict admits he had not, himself, studied it all.

Within the Catholic church, the view has been put that liberal Catholics have been demonising Pius as a Holocaust quisling because it's an effective way to undermine the traditionalists and to advance their own reformist agendas.

Mind you, even if a bit of corrective revision does prove to be in order on Pius' behalf, this still raises the question of whether there is a distinction to be drawn between a man being not half as bad as he's painted, and a saint. In this case it would apparently be a saint who, rightly or wrongly, made some fairly tactical decisions about the best result gettable, rather than the come-what-may approach that surely typified the more traditional saints. Especially the martyred ones. Still, behind the church's invocation of life on a higher plane, you will quite often find its representatives are capable of all-too-human assessments and, yes, manipulations.

And, can we airily conclude, although the Devil's Advocate is no longer among us, the Vatican may still informally recruit the testimony of critics of a candidate for canonisation. A columnist Christopher Hitchens was asked to testify against the beatification of Mother Theresa, which he lightly described as "representing the Evil One, as it were, pro bono".

Pope book reopens Jewish-Catholic rift
By Cathy Lynn Grossman, USA TODAY

A newly released interview with Pope Benedict XVI revives a bitter Catholic-Jewish dispute over whether the Roman Catholic Church did enough to save Jews from Hitler.

Wartime Pope Pius XII was a "righteous" pope who "saved more Jews than anyone," Benedict told German journalist Peter Seewald in a book out today, Light of the World: The Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times.

But Jewish Holocaust experts sharply disagree.

"If the Catholic Church had any evidence, it would long ago have been taken out of the dustbins of the Vatican and shown to the world," said Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles. He noted that Pius XII saved Jews in Rome in 1944, "but where was he (from 1939 to 1943)? … He could have made a critical difference."

Theologian Victoria Barnett, director of church relations at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, says, "We don't know what (Pius XII) did, because the Vatican archives are not open. We know that only 1,100 of Rome's 10,000 Jews were deported; the rest hid, many of them in convents, churches or monasteries, but it's not clear what his role in those rescues was, because we don't have the evidence."

Barnett said Benedict brings up a larger question about all leaders in that era: "Not just what people did or did not do, but what was the expectation of moral leadership?"

Abraham Foxman, Anti-Defamation League director and a Holocaust survivor, called the pope's remarks "a great disservice to the families of Holocaust victims, qualified historians and Catholic-Jewish relations."

All three echoed scholars' decade-old call for access to the Vatican's wartime archives. The Vatican has said all the records of Pius XII's 1939-58 papacy must to be catalogued first.

Jewish frustration with the Vatican's support of Pius XII deepened last December when the church recognized Pius XII as a Servant of God for his "heroic virtues."

It's the first step toward possible beatification, when someone is proven to have persuaded God to work a miracle, and, ultimately, sainthood, which requires two proven miracles.

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