Catholic Culture News
Catholic Culture News

The unexpected revival of the cause for beatification of Pius XII

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Dec 23, 2009

Virtually no one saw it coming. No one predicted that Pope Benedict would advance the cause for beatification of Pope Pius XII last Saturday.

There had been plenty of speculation about other candidates for beatification. A week ago we passed along the report that at the ordinary consistory on December 19, Pope Benedict XVI would affirm the “heroic virtue” of his predecessor, John Paul II. In Australia, the media had buzzed with anticipation that Blessed Mary MacKillop would be cleared to become that nation’s first saint. But no one foresaw that Pius XII would also be named in the decrees from the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

In retrospect it’s clear that we should all have been more alert to the possibility that two recent Popes, not just one, would be on that list. In May 2007, it was widely reported in the Italian media (albeit never officially acknowledged at the Vatican) that the Congregation for the Causes of Saints had voted to approve a decree testifying to the heroic virtue of the wartime Pontiff. All that was required was the Pope’s approval for that decree, and Pius XII would have the title “venerable.”

But the months passed without an announcement from Rome— presumably because Pope Benedict chose to postpone his approval of that decree. By the end of 2007, some Vatican-watchers were ready to conclude that the caused for beatification of Pius XII had been stalled. In 2008, as the Vatican planned a series of events commemorating the 50th anniversary of that Pope’s death, the director of the Vatican press office told reporters that there was no reason to expect the beatification of Pius XII in the near-term future.

Still that decree was presumably sitting on the Pope’s desk, awaiting action. In his own comments on the 50th anniversary, Pope Benedict swept aside any suspicion that he himself was skeptical about the merit of the wartime Pontiff. He said that the work of Pius XII during World War II bore witness to “a love made manifest in the intensity with which he promoted works of charity in defense of the persecuted, with no distinction of religion, ethnicity, nationality or political views."

That same year 2008 saw several new developments in historical research into the policies of Pius XII. The Pave the Way Foundation, set up to advance mutual understanding between Catholics and Jews, found volumes of evidence “available publicly but simply not known,” demonstrating that Pope Pius had worked energetically to save Jewish people from the genocidal Nazi drive. John Cornwell, the author of Hitler’s Pope-- perhaps the most damaging indictment of the late Pontiff’s reputation-- essentially retracted that indictment, conceding that Pius XII had opposed the Nazis but “his scope for action was severely limited.”

Still many Jewish leaders continued to oppose the beatification of Pope Pius XII, and after an October 2008 meeting with Pope Benedict, Rabbi David Rosen of the American Jewish Committee emerged to tell reporters that he was confident the cause would be delayed for at least several years. In light of the continued official silence at the Vatican, that statement seemed quite plausible.

Still the new historical evidence continued to weigh in favor of Pius XII—as indeed the evidence (as opposed to imaginative fiction) has always supported the wartime Pope. In February of this year, research in the archives of an Italian monastery yielded a personal directive from Pius XII directing the monks to shelter Jews: one more concrete sign of the Pope’s efforts.

Sober historians no longer argue that Pius XII was sympathetic to the Nazi regime or that he was indifferent to the suffering of the Jewish people. The documentary evidence, the historical research, the post-war tributes from Jewish leaders all refute any such claims. In June of this year Mordechay Lewy, the Israeli ambassador to the Holy See, told the Boston Globe:

It is wrong to look for any affinity between him and the Nazis. It is also wrong to say that he didn’t save Jews. Everybody who knows the history of those who were saved among Roman Jewry knows that they hid in the church.

Anyone who studies the evidence knows that Pope Pius XII is innocent of the charges that have been so frequently and irresponsibly lodged against him. By delaying the approval of the decree that he finally issued on December 19, Pope Benedict gave the world extra time to study the historical record, knowing that a bit of extra scrutiny would favor the cause of this Pope’s beatification.

So now the approval of a miracle attributed to the intercession of Pius XII will fulfill the last requirement for his beatification. The delay may have been frustrating to the many Catholics who nurture a special love for Pius XII. But it is not an injustice to the man himself. After all, he himself is not waiting for the beatification ceremony. When it comes, that honor will only testify to a judgment that God made more than 50 years ago.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: - Dec. 30, 2009 4:27 PM ET USA

    The author of the book HITLER'S POPE has admitted that it was the publisher who insisted on the photograph of Card. Pacelli leaving after a visit with President Hindenburg. A dis honest publisher, supported by a dishonest author.

  • Posted by: adamah - Dec. 29, 2009 9:41 PM ET USA

    The media conveniently doesn't cover or research Pius' vindication - only continued objection to his beatification.

  • Posted by: Lilacs2me - Dec. 28, 2009 11:47 PM ET USA

    I think Pius XII was a very holy man who was the Supreme Pontiff in extremely difficult times.

  • Posted by: skladach - Dec. 24, 2009 9:29 AM ET USA

    While the Vatican rightly insists that the decree pertains to the cause for sainthood, and is not a historical judgment on the efficacy of any prudential judgments made by Pope Pius XII, it still vindicates the work of historical researchers like Rychlak and Sr. Margherita Marchione, who have ably defended the late Pope from charges of indifference or inaction.