Fifty years ago, Rabbi Isaac Herzog was among the Jews who acknowledged that Pope Pius XII worked to banish anti-Semitism: "God willing, may history remember that when everything was dark for our people, His Holiness lit a light of hope for them."
Incidentally, a Jewish group threatened to sue for access to church archives. On January 27, 2005, Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, vice president of the Coalition for Jewish Concerns, said in Washington, DC, that his group would take legal action unless the Vatican Secret Archives were opened within a week. The group believed the material could identify Jewish children baptized as Catholics during World War II. Vatican officials were unimpressed and responded: "It doesn't make much sense, if you know how archives function. We certainly aren't going to be intimidated."
There are a couple of reasons why such demands for documents are not taken very seriously at the Vatican. For one thing, delayed opening of archival materials-typically from 50 to 100 years-is a practice adopted by states all over the world. Second, the Vatican has made extraordinary efforts to open some document sections in advance in recent years and very few scholars bother to examine the material.
The Vatican Congregation for the Causes of saints will soon begin an examination of the Positio on the beatification of Pius XII. With regard to Pius XII's sanctity, Father Peter Gumpel, relator, judge, and leading authority on this process, stated: "After reading over 100,000 pages of the documents related to the process of beatification, I am more and more convinced that Pius XII was a saint."
A beatification is strictly an internal affair of the Catholic Church. This is not an honorary title. It is the declaration of an individual's holiness. The requirements for beatification and canonization demand years of investigation. The life of the individual is scrutinized; miracles are scientifically examined; documentation of his heroic virtues is made available to the Congregation for Sainthood Causes. This is done through the work of collecting testimonials and documentaries as well as through theological and medical assessments. The moral certainty and the formulation of a judgment must be well-founded, serious and precise. Finally, the case must be submitted to the Holy Father who determines the required miracle and decides on the promulgation of the decree.
Since the beginning of the year 2005, there has been an increased interest in the beatification of Pope Pius XII among Catholics throughout the world. Current attacks are insults against the integrity of the Catholic Church. Pius XII was a man of deep faith and extraordinary charity. No other head of state or religious leader before, during, and after World War II did as much as Eugenio Pacelli to save Jews fleeing from Nazi persecution.
The present controversy first appeared in Italian newspapers on December 28, 2004. It was an analysis of the position of the Catholic Church with regard to the placement of orphaned Jewish children. Then, on January 9, 2005, the New York Times article by Elaine Sciolino and Jason Horowitz was misleading and misrepresented historical facts. It presented a distorted aaved during World War II. It quoted from an incomplete document cited in an article by Alberto Melloni in the Corriere della Sera, an Italian, anticlerical newspaper. The authenticity of the document was questioned, for it was simply a new attack on Pius XII, whose courage and charity towards Jews has been documented.
To evaluate the controversy one must analyze the correspondence between Rabbi Isaac Herzog and Pope Pius XII. After several weeks of distorted information by the media, thanks to historian Andrea Tornielli, the Italian newspaper, Il Giornale, printed Rabbi Herzog's letter of March 12, 1946, requesting the return of orphaned Jewish children to Jewish organizations who would then transport them to Palestine.
Herzog began with an expression of gratitude to His Holiness for the help given by the Catholic Church throughout Europe to save Jewish children from extermination. He then appealed for support of his request that these children be entrusted to Jewish organizations who have the means to care for them. As the spiritual leader in the Holy Land, Rabbi Herzog would nominate a rabbinical commission to provide for their transfer and future education. He referred to the situation in Poland where, at least, three thousand Jewish children were living in Catholic convents, or with private Catholic families. He spoke of the importance of these children to the future of Israel. He stated that about 1,200,000 children died: "Those that remained are a small number compared to the millions of Catholic children. For the people of Israel, each orphaned child is worth a million." Rabbi Herzog asked the Pope to intervene and to stop the "poison of anti-Semitism."
Based on this letter which was written after the encounter between the Pope and the Rabbi, Vatican Foreign Minister Cardinal Domenico Tardini sent a one-page letter to Nunzio Angelo Roncalli in France with instructions on how to respond to the request for orphaned Jewish children.
Documents testify to the fact that the Catholic Church could not enstrust these children to organizations who had no legal rights to them. Each request had to be considered individually. If Rabbi Herzog had been offended by Pius XII's response, would he have sent the following telegram to the Holy See at his death on October 9, 1958? "The death of Pius XII is a terrible loss for the free world," he wrote. "Catholics are not alone in sorrow for his demise. I recall the audience in 1946, when I asked him to return Jewish children separated from their parents during the Nazi genocide. I was profoundly touched by his great preparation, his noble ideals and by his awareness of the great responsibility he had." Herzog's message proves that he had understood the position of Pius XII and the Catholic Church with regard to the orphaned Jewish children. Parents had entrusted their children to the Catholic Church, not to organizations interested in sending them to Israel. These children were to be returned to their own relatives.
The incomplete, alleged, unsigned document printed in Il Corriere della Sera was not written by Pius XII: the handwriting is unknown, it has no signature; it is not written on official Vatican stationery; it is written in French (ordinarily such documents from the Vatican to the Nuncios were in Italian), and the researcher wished to remain anonymous. Within days, however, the Italian journalist, Andrea Tornielli of Il Giornale, located the original in the Archives of the French episcopate. It is an internal French memo written under the oversight of the then apostolic nuncio in Paris, Angelo Roncalli, the future Pope John XXIII. It was meant to explain to the French clergy the instructions received from the secretary of the Congregation for Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs, Domenico Tardini. Roncalli followed Pius XII's policy that baptized Jewish children should be returned to their parents or relatives. The French version misrepresented Vatican instructions.
The terms of the proposal states, in fact, that the children should be returned to their Jewish families. Regarding "Jewish institutions," which during those months were working in Paris and throughout Europe to transfer children to Palestine, the document states that each case must be examined individually.
The history of the document began in March 1946, when Isaac Herzog, the chief rabbi of Jerusalem, addressed a letter to Pope Pius XII in which the former wrote: "The Jewish people very much remember with profound gratitude the help given by the Holy See to the people that suffered during the Nazi persecution." Profound thanks are given for the "thousands of children who were hidden in Catholic institutions," and the rabbi requests that these children be returned to the Jewish people.
Herzog emphasized how Pius XII "has worked to banish anti-Semitism in many c ountries" and concluded with an invocation: "God willing, may history remember that when everything was dark for our people, His Holiness lit a light of hope for them."
Pius XII took to heart the fate of these Jewish children and, in that same month of March, asked the Holy Office to study the case. The Holy Office, after hearing from several consultors, prepared a document in response to the Pope's request. In August 1946, some French bishops and, specifically, Coadjutor Archbishop Emile Guerry of Cambrai and Cardinal Pierre Gerlier of Lyon, asked Nuncio Roncalli for pointers as to how to resolve the situation of Jewish children saved from Nazi persecution. At the end of September, Roncalli sent a letter to the Vatican Secretariat of State requesting instructions. Monsignor Tardini answered.
Thus the Church in France resolved the problem in the vast majority of cases by returning the children, whose lives it saved, to their surviving families. During the war, priests and religious had received orders from the Holy See and bishops not to baptize these children. Baptism requires the consent of the person receiving the sacrament or of the parents, if the recipient does not have the use of reason. This is revealed in documents. These were the instructions. This debate was absolutely inconsistent with the truth.
Jewish parents entrusted their children to Christians in order to save their lives. Many of these parents did not survive the Holocaust. After all, the Church had a moral obligation to investigate each request, especially those coming from organizations. Some children were adopted. Others were sent to relatives. There is absolutely no indication that children were not given to their parents or relatives who claimed them. The claim that baptized Jewish children should not be returned to their parents is outrageous. The controversy following the manipulation of a document attributing alleged anti-Semitism attitudes to Pius XII is "unjust," according to Cardinal Georges Cottier, theologian of the Pontifical household: "And the accusations that for some time have been launched aainst the person of Eugenio Pacelli go beyond the field of historiography and enter that of sterile controversy."
Incidentally, in Washington, DC, January 27, 2005, a Jewish group threatened to sue for access to church archives. Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, vice president of the Coalition for Jewish Concerns, said that his group would take legal action unless the Vatican Secret Archives were opened within a week. The group believed the material could identify Jewish children baptized as Catholics during World War II. Vatican officials were unimpressed and responded: "It doesn't make much sense, if you know how archives function. We certainly aren't going to be intimidated."
Eugenio Pacelli was the Pope during a tragic period of history. He was a model of sanctity. In him was manifested the heroism of the one who works under extreme responsibility: it was the sanctity that flows from decisive action; a sanctity that knows it cannot stop because of torment and indecision. The miracle of Pius XII is that of the house built upon the rock (Mt. 7:24), which he kept intact in silence and, by virtue of silence, it was capable of providing shelter and protection.
Pope Pius XII is a lofty model of charismatic responsibility and rational rigor, of which we have a tremendous need in today's world. When he passed away on October 9, 1958, an editorial, "Fighter for Peace," in the Los Angeles Examiner, expressed the sentiments of Catholics and non-Catholics: "It was God's will that the leader of the Roman Catholic Church through years of grave trial should be a man with beautifully sensitive hands, a face of compassionate wisdom, a frail body, and a voice of quiet and profound solace.
"Yet this Pope's hands could clench in battle, his face could be that of a warrior, his body could endure the rigors of disease and the erosion of the years, his voice could thrust like steel against Godless Communism. The incredible strength of the Spirit lived beneath that delicacy of manner, that fragility of frame.
"Pius XII was known as "the Pope of Peace." He called himself a fighter for peace. His self-description was more accurate, for the years of his reign, beginning in March, 1939, were those of the horrible violence of war or the stealth and treachery of Communist evil. It was in these and through these continuous ordeals that the gentle and ascetic scholar became God's warrior; a bulwark against despair, a magnificent fighter for peace, a repository of the hopes of mankind.
"Never, during these troubled years, did Pius XII lose his gift of gracious beneficence. No other Pope received so many people. They numbered many millions. Whether the audiences were large or small, he conveyed a sense of intimacy and understanding. His gifts to them were hope and courage. This fighter for peace is now in peace with God."
There are volumes of depositions for the beatification of Pius XII. His sanctity has been recorded. Pius XII was a humble person who did not want his many good works and accomplishments revealed. Respecting his wishes, Sister Pascalina Lehnert-his housekeeper-implemented the Pope's charitable works and served him faithfully from 1923-1958. In her deposition, Sister Pascalina clearly stated that Pius XII did not issue a condemnation of Nazism because the German and Austrian bishops dissuaded him from making additional protests that would undoubtedly irritate Hitler. They feared increased retaliation.
Sister Pascalina also wrote (Session CLXIII, March 17, 1972): "The Pope not only opened the doors of the Vatican to protect the persecuted, but he encouraged convents and monasteries to offer hospitality. The Vatican provided provisions for these people. The accusation that Pius XII was indifferent to the needs of the victims is without foundation. He ordered me to spend his inheritance and personal funds to provide for those who wished to leave Italy and go to Canada, Brazil, or elsewhere. Note that $800 was needed for each person who emigrated. Many times the Pope would ask me to deliver to Jewish families a sealed envelope containing $1,000 or more." In general, while begging for help, the Jews who were in contact with Pope Pius XII insisted that he avoid any public action.
Pius XII's pontificate left a lasting mark on the history of the Catholic Church. His life was one of action, inspired by profound piety. He brought consolation, peace and encouragement everywhere. He instituted numerous liturgical reforms: the evening Mass, the new Eucharistic fast regulations and increased lay participation in liturgical functions. The Eucharistic Liturgy was the source from which Pius XII drew strength and wisdom to lead the world.
Pius XII has been called the "Pope of Mary" for his great devotion to the Mother of God, evidenced in the infallible definition of the Assumption. The consecration of Russia and of the whole world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the solemn proclaiming of the Marian Year, the institution of the feast of the Queenship of Mary, and the proclamation of the Centenary of the Apparitions of Our Blessed Lady to St. Bernadette, were also made by Pius XII.
Pius XII spoke numerous languages, but the only language that inspired others, was the language of his heart. He was a minister of peace in a world at war. When he was told that Stalin inquired about the number of divisions in his army, he said: "You may tell my son Joseph he will meet my divisions in heaven." That was Pacelli's secret. Even of Stalin he could say "my son." And mean it.
Pacelli's prayerfulness was noted throughout his life. Very reserved, he did not speak about his personal spirituality, but whoever approached him would realize that he was in constant union with God. When he died, Cardinal Domenico Tardini, Vatican Secretary of State, declared [Voice over]: "Often the Church bells would ring at noon during our discussions. Immediately Pius XII would stand, fold his hands, lower his eyes and begin to recite the Angelus Domini."
Those who worked closely with Pius XII claim that he lived a life of exemplary temperance and mortification. He was an ascetic and practiced every virtue in an extraordinary way. He wanted only simple food. His meals were that of a poor person. He ate very little and did not eat desserts. He did not use alcoholic beverages or tobacco. Even though he needed special foods, during the war years he forbade any exceptions for his own meals. His weight was reduced to fifty-seven "kilos."
He did not want his apartment heated because the thousands of refugees hidden by the Vatican could not have their rooms heated. He slept only four hours each day, after working until two in the morning and getting up at six a.m. Even when the time period for fasting in order to receive Holy Communion was lessened, he continued to observe the original fast regulations.
Pope Pius XII weighed everything in light of Gospel revelations and Christian traditions. His official speeches and writings alone amount to more than twenty-two volumes. He restored Church prestige and provided the faithful and the world with extraordinary leadership. In 1954, Pius XII became gravely ill. He soon resumed his duties, and continued his mission. and gave four more years of fruitful service to the Church. During his final illness in 1958, as he prepared to meet his Master, when he could no longer celebrate Holy Mass, he repeated constantly the prayer, Anima Christi, [Soul of Christ, Sanctify me, Body of Christ, save me.In the hour of my death, call me..]
Cardinal Angelo Roncalli-the future Pope John XXIII-revered Pius XII and gave a eulogy in St. Mark's Basilica, Venice, on October 11, 1958. He recalled the magisterium of Pius XII who "adapted himself to modern thought and progress." He stated that history will recall his example, his messages. As leader of the Catholic Church, his name would be listed among the great and most popular of modern history. In his first Christmas Message (1958), Pope John XXIII unofficially canonized his predecessor and referred to "our Father and Pontiff, whom we see already among God's saints in heaven: Supreme Doctor, Light of Holy Mother Church, Lover of the Divine Law." ("Doctor Optimus, Ecclesiae Sanctae Lumen, Divinae Legis Amator.")
In the 1960s, there began a campaign of vilification against Pius XII. Today, his detractors continue to claim that he lacked courage, human compassion, and a sense of moral rectitude. Hostile attacks by the media replace the historical record that showed him as a great leader.
In contrast to the esteem Pius XII enjoyed until his death, his reputation today suffers many unjust attacks. However, according to Michael Novak, these critics "are deflecting attention from themselves. .Today's charges against Pope Pius XII cannot stand scrutiny." What Pius XII did for the Jews directly and indirectly through his diplomatic representatives and the bishops is well documented. At the end of World War II, Dr. Joseph Nathan, representing the Hebrew Commission, addressed the Jewish community, expressing heartfelt gratitude to those who protected and saved Jews during the Nazi-Fascist persecutions. "Above all," he stated, "we acknowledge the Supreme Pontiff and the religious men and women who, executing the directives of the Holy Father, recognized the persecuted as their brothers and, with great abnegation, hastened to help them, disregarding the terrible dangers to which they were exposed."
The Romans gave Pope Pius XII the title, Defensor Civitatis; his contemporaries throughout the world acclaimed him, Pastor Angelicus. Indeed, the voice of the people is the voice of God. Vox populi, Vox Dei!
Pope Pius XII is a unique figure in modern history, an extraordinary man who fulfilled his duties with courage and great wisdom, and who was in his personal life an exemplary Christian, priest, bishop, cardinal, and pope. Though one of the most distinguished prelates ever to serve the Church, today he is subjected to more unjust criticism than any of his predecessors. He continues to be vilified and praised, judged and defended. His papacy achieved a wider respect than it had had since the Reformation. He restored Church prestige and provided the faithful and the world with extraordinary leadership. Pope Pius XII's aspirations toward truth and goodness and his extraordinary achievements may be considered one of the great events of the twentieth century. The opinion of many of his contemporaries was that he was a saint. Long after his detractors are forgotten, Eugenio Pacelli will go down in history as one of the great religious leaders of his age, or indeed any age. He will be remembered as St. Pius XII.
Sister Margherita, popularly known as "the fighting nun," is a member of the Religious Teachers Filippini, holds a Ph.D from Columbia University, was a Fulbright scholar, and is author of more than 50 books. At least a dozen of them, in English and Italian, have been devoted to the life and work of Pope Pius XII during the Holocaust (including Pius XII: Architect for Peace , and Pope Pius XII: Consensus and Controversy ). Her first book on Pius, Yours is a Precious Witness (1997), was a groundbreaking oral history of Jewish and Catholic survivors of the German occupation of Rome, who paid tribute to Pius XII for his life-saving measures taken during the War. She can be reached at 973-538-2886, Ext. 116