Thursday, June 25, 2009

Pope Pius XII canonization obstacles

Pope Pius XII promoter says Jewish pressure an obstacle to sainthood

By Sarah Delaney
Catholic News Service

ROME (CNS) -- A top proponent of the beatification of Pope Pius XII said Pope Benedict XVI has not moved the cause forward because Jewish groups have warned it would permanently damage Catholic-Jewish relations.

Jesuit Father Peter Gumpel said Pope Benedict has not given the green light to proceed with the controversial beatification, a major step toward sainthood, because he was concerned about the warnings by the World Jewish Congress, the Anti-Defamation League and other groups.

After Father Gumpel spoke, the Vatican swiftly issued a statement saying that the pope alone is in a position to determine the progress of the cause and that any interference was "unjustified and inopportune."

Speaking at a Vatican bookstore in Rome June 19, Father Gumpel said Pope Benedict has not signed the decree recognizing the heroic virtues of Pope Pius XII because representatives of several Jewish groups have told him "loud and clear" that "if you do the least thing in favor of the cause of Pius XII, relations between the Catholic Church and the Jews are definitively and permanently compromised."

Pope Pius has been criticized by many Jews and some historians who say he did not speak out forcefully enough against Nazi Germany and the deportation and extermination of millions of European Jews in World War II.

Defenders say Pope Pius did all he could by encouraging Catholic institutions to hide Jews from Nazi persecution, and that an open clash with the Germans under Adolf Hitler would have resulted in many more deaths.

Distancing the Vatican from Father Gumpel's declarations, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said late June 19 that "signing the decrees regarding beatifications are the exclusive competence of the pope, who must be left totally free in his evaluations and decisions."

"If the pope thinks that more study and reflection on the cause of Pius XII is required," the statement continued, "this position must be respected without unjustified and inopportune interference."

Statements by Father Gumpel, a German who said that as a boy he knew the future Pope Pius when he served as papal nuncio to Germany and who has worked enthusiastically on the sainthood cause for decades, have prompted clarification by the Vatican in the past.

When his most recent statements caused a stir in the media, Father Gumpel said he had been misinterpreted.

During the bookstore conference June 19, Father Gumpel said he has a good relationship with Pope Benedict and did not judge him negatively for his position, "which I understand." The current pontiff, he said, "wants to do everything he can to promote better relations with Jews, and this is very admirable."

Still, he said, he thought it was time that "these people change, the attacks stop and we make them realize that they are mistaken and that Pius XII did much for the Jews."

However, Rabbi Riccardo di Segni, the chief rabbi of Rome, told the Italian news agency ANSA June 19, "I doubt that the responsibility lies with the Jewish associations that have expressed reservations regarding the beatification of Pius XII."

The rabbi said he believed the delay is the result of "an internal problem of the church, first of all. Evidently this is something burdensome that divides the church itself."

Father Gumpel said all the necessary documents for the beatification of Pope Pius had been gathered by the Vatican Congregation for Saints' Causes by 2004. Subsequent evaluations by historians, theologians and a panel of cardinals and bishops, he said, had resulted in the "enthusiastically positive" recommendation to proceed with the advancement of the beatification process.

Verification of a miracle attributed to Pope Pius cannot go ahead until the signing of the decree recognizing the pope lived the Christian virtues heroically, he said, adding that there are a number of allegedly miraculous healings waiting to be evaluated by medical authorities.

Progress with the cause also has been hindered by ideologically motivated media, he said, but "things are changing, and I hope that the Holy Father realizes this and signs the decree."

Pope Benedict, he said, "has great admiration for Pius XII; he knows he saved hundreds of thousands of Jews and wants the procedure to continue."

"When it will happen, I don't know; we are not in a hurry," said Father Gumpel. "Sooner or later, the beatification and then the canonization will go through."

In October 2008, Father Lombardi issued a statement requesting a halt to all pressure on Pope Benedict regarding Pope Pius, whether for or against the sainthood cause. He was prompted by a statement by Father Gumpel who said that a visit to Israel by Pope Benedict "would be a scandal for Catholics" because of a critical caption on a photograph of Pope Pius in the museum of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem.

Father Gumpel said that when the pope visited the memorial in May he did not enter the museum where the photograph with the "scandalous" caption is displayed. "He visited the monument to the victims of the Shoah, and this was admirable," Father Gumpel said. "But he didn't set foot in the room with the photograph, because if he had Catholics would never have forgiven him."

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