Note Concerning Decree on the Heroic Virtues of Pius XII
The Pope's signing of the decree "on the heroic virtues"' of Pius XII has elicited a certain number of reactions in the Jewish world; perhaps because the meaning of such a signature is clear in the area of the Catholic Church and of specialists in the field, but may merit certain explanation for the larger public, in particular the Jewish public who are understandably very sensitive to all things concerning the historical period of World War II and the Holocaust.
When the Pope signs a decree "on the heroic virtues" of a Servant of God – i.e., of a person for whom a cause for beatification has been introduced – he confirms the positive evaluation already voted by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. ... Naturally, such evaluation takes account of the circumstances in which the person lived, and hence it is necessary to examine the question from a historical standpoint, but the evaluation essentially concerns the witness of Christian life that the person showed (his intense relationship with God and continuous search for evangelical perfection) ... and not the historical impact of all his operative decisions.
At the beatification of Pope John XXIII and of Pope Pius IX, John Paul II said: "holiness lives in history and no saint has escaped the limits and conditioning which are part of our human nature. In beatifying one of her sons, the Church does not celebrate the specific historical decisions he may have made, but rather points to him as someone to be imitated and venerated because of his virtues, in praise of the divine grace which shines resplendently in them".
There is, then, no intention in any way to limit discussion concerning the concrete choices made by Pius XII in the situation in which he lived. For her part, the Church affirms that these choices were made with the pure intention of carrying out the Pontiff's service of exalted and dramatic responsibility to the best of his abilities. In any case, Pius XII's attention to and concern for the fate of the Jews – something which is certainly relevant in the evaluation of his virtues – are widely testified and recognised, also by many Jews.
The field for research and evaluation by historians, working in their specific area, thus remains open, also for the future. In this specific case it is comprehensible that there should be a request to have open access to all possibilities of research on the documents. ... Yet for the complete opening of the archives – as has been said on a number of occasions in the past – it is necessary to organise and catalogue an enormous mass of documentation, something which still requires a number of years' work.
As for the fact that the decree on the heroic virtues of Pope John Paul II and Pope Pius XII were promulgated on the same day, this does not mean that from now on the two causes will be "paired". They are completely independent of one another and each will follow its own course. There is, then, no reason to imagine that any future beatification will take place together.
It is, then, clear that the recent signing of the decree is in no way to be read as a hostile act towards the Jewish people, and it is to be hoped that it will not be considered as an obstacle on the path of dialogue between Judaism and the Catholic Church. Rather we trust that the Pope's forthcoming visit to the Synagogue of Rome will be an opportunity for the cordial reiteration and reinforcement of ties of friendship and respect.
© Copyright 2009 – Libreria Editrice Vaticana
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