Saturday, November 26, 2011

Pius XII's Legacy Divides Catholics Too

From Forward 25 November 2012.

Adam Gregerman's comments are worth the read.  He places much of the "debate" over Pius XII within the context of current tensions within contemporary Catholicism.  And while I disagree with the naming of sides as "progressive" and "conservative" - too black and white in my opinion - I recognise that they are convenient terms.  However, I hope that readers go beyond the labels and show a willingness to explore the subtleties within different positions.

This is my response to Gregerman's article posted on the Forward website:

Adam Gregerman has written a well balanced summary of the current tensions within Catholic Christianity.  His comments about Pius XII are based on what is known from the available historical record, a record that is incomplete and in need of ongoing serious study - a process that has been underway for nearly half a century in the work of mainstream scholars, Christian, Jewish and neither. From my reading of the available material, and especially of the published Vatican records from WWII, the war objectives of the Catholic Church under the leadership of Pius XII were to preserve the Church throughout Europe, and then Asia once Japan began expanding, prevent the spread of Communism in whatever ways it could, speak and act for the victims of the war using the extensive networks of papal representatives, local bishops and Catholics of good will and work for the establishment of a new world order built on Christian principles.  Pius XII did act for the Jews of Europe, but in an emerging and reactive manner that was always tempered by diplomatic protocols.  Whereas he spoke out clearly in defence of "innocent victims" of war, for POWs, for refugees and displaced people, he spoke of Jews using a cumbersome and non-explicit language that was interpreted as support for the suffering Jews of Europe, but was not a vigorous protest in the same manner as used for other groups.  From my reading of the published data as well as documents emerging from the Vatican archives (up to 1939) the picture emerges of a very able and competent diplomat who understood Hitler, Nazism and the hatred that motivated them, but whose first priority was the safety and well being of the Church, and that is in accord with his position.  Concern for the Jews was also there, but it was never a "top" priority in the way the fear of a communist takeover of Europe was.  Pius was no antisemite or Jew-hater.  He was a devout, conservative Tridentine Catholic who believed Judaism was a superceded religion.  In the noise surrounding Pius XII, historians need a quiet space to get on with what we do best - read, research and write.  The full story of Pius XII may never be completely known, but there is a mass of evidence that is available and broad lines can be seen clearly and there are several clear statements that can be made: Was he "silent" - no.  Was he a "saviour" of the Jews - no. Was he a good man - yes.  Did he make mistakes - yes. 

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