I call it Benedict XVI's Christmas surprise for Catholics - and the Italian media is all over the story - of both Pius XII and John Paul II being declared Venerable. One of the best commentaries comes from Luigi Accattoli, who writes it for his former newspaper:
On the Pius XII-John Paul II pairing:
Benedict XVI"s resolve in the face
of intimidation also carries on
his predecessors' balanced approach
by Luigi Accattoli
Dec. 20, 2009
First, Pope Benedict XVI does not allow himself to be intimidated and will beatify Papa Pacelli despite controversy.
Second: In 'pre-announcing' Pius XII's beatification along with that of Papa Wojtyla, he is affirming in this highly significant way the 'continuity' of the Roman Pontificate beyond the often divergent variety of the individual office holders.
One is the Pope most loved by the Jews, the other, the one they most oppose - and their successor honors them equally.
These are the messages contained in Benedict XVI's decision yesterday: the first has greater public impact, and the second is more subtle as well as more strategic.
Both together tell us that the theologian Pope is proceeding surely along his chosen path - flexible when he has to be, but tenacious in carrying out a program that honors the history and legacy of the contemporary papacy.
He demonstrated his flexibility in waiting two and a half years - which the Vatican had earlier described as a time for 'reflection and deeper analysis' of the cause for Pius XII - before promulgating the decree that had been unanimously approved in May 2007 by the Congregation for Saints on the heroic virtues of Papa Pacelli.
In the meantime, he repeated (last February) Papa Wojtyla's plea of forgiveness for Christian responsibility in anti-Jewish persecutions in the past; he went to Israel in May; and he has committed himself to visiting the Rome Synagogue next month.
Meanwhile, he has reflected, he has asked for further study of the problem and has carried on the dialog of rapprochement with the Jews.
But he intended to get around to Papa Pacelli's beatification process, and here we are. He has been encouraged by the fact that in the meantime, the front of the Jewish opposition appears to have been reduced and fragmented. [Is it??? There will always be a hard core of militants who will never think well of Pius XII, and those who will always be ready to think the worst of Benedict XVI.]
Then there is the coupling of the two papal beatifications: the contemporaneous announcement may even herald a paired proclamation, though it would be premature to say so.
Paul VI showed the way when, at the end of the second Vatican Council, in December 1965, he opened the cause for beatification of both Pius XII and John XXIII. But although both causes started together, they soon took different paths, and only John XXIII reached the first goal - beatification.
Papa Wojtyla, to avoid any risk of polarization, chose to proclaim Papa Roncalli along with Papa Mastai-Ferretti (Pius IX) 'Blessed' together in September 2000.
Benedict XVI's decision announced yesterday shows him to be an heir who continues the balanced approach exercised by his predecessors.
Andrea Tornielli has a similar analysis:
The courage of Benedict XVI
by ANDREA TORNIELLI
Dec. 20, 2009
Benedict XVI's courageous decision was totally unexpected.
There had been those who were convinced that the German Pope, who more than any other Pope has reflected much on the special link that binds Christians and the 'people of Israel', would wait until after the Vatican archives on Pius XII would be fully open to researchers before proclaiming the heroic virtues of the wartime Pope - which would allow the cause for his beatification to proceed. [Some had even written that it was most likely Benedict XVI would leave the 'problem' for the next Pope!]
But now it isn't so.
Joseph Ratzinger took some time, he commissioned a supplementary review of archival material in addition to what had been presented by the postulator for Pius XII, and satisfied that the new results were still positive - confirmed moreover by the most recent historiography which is abandoning the stereotypes of the 'black legend' that had been built around Pius XII - he acted.
He did so, demonstrating remarkable courage, especially considering that his approval of the decree comes lest than a month from his scheduled visit to the Synagogue in Rome, and already, the reactions from Jewish circles are coming down on Benedict XVI's supposed 'insensitivity'.
And he did it, it must be recalled, at the end of a year which opened in a painful way because of the Williamson case, also causing much rancor on the part of the Jews - because one of four Lefebvrian bishops whose excommunication the Pope decided to lift happens to be a Holocaust denier.
And he did it in the year of his visit to Israel, which included a visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem.
But Benedict XVI - who has always been unequivocal and firm against anti-Semitism - is also the Pope who halted the beatification, already scheduled, of the French priest Léon Gustave Dehon, founder of the Dehonian order [whose written works are being reviewed in response to charges of anti-Semitism levied by a number of individuals and organizations, both clerical and secular].
His promulgation of Pius XII's heroic virtues indicates that he obviously does not think there is any anti-Semitism involved at all in Pacelli's case.
With his carefully measured decisions, Papa Ratzinger also probably meant to send another message - because it is not by chance that the decree on Pius XII was promulgated at the same time as that for John Paul II.
When, at the end of the Second Vatican Council, there were those who demanded 'instant sainthood' by acclamation for John XXIII [much as they did for John Paul II at his funeral], his successor, Paul VI, decided that it should follow the regular process, and contextually opened the causes for beatification of both John XXIII and Pius XII.
There was, in such a decision, the clear intention to avoid a reading of the history of the Church as a succession of fractures and sudden leaps that serve to wipe the slate clean of the past.
But the two Pope's causes took on different courses. John XXIII was beatified in September 2000 in the midst of the Jubilee Year. And John Paul II paired his beatification with that of Pius IX.
And now, Papa Ratzinger is doing the same thing by declaring both Pius XII and John Paul II 'Venerable' at the same time.
Of the latter, he is not only the immediate successor but also his faithful and esteemed collaborator for decades. He knew him very well, he helped him in his decisions, and he allowed his beatification process to start without waiting the required five years following the candidate's death.
With his concomitant signing of the decree on Pius XII, Benedict XVI is also underscoring once more that 'hermeneutic' of Vatican II that he has called 'a renewal in continuity' and not 'a rupture with the past'. And in this perspective, the figure of Pius XII is emblematic.
Pacelli, who in the popular mind is identified with the 'pre-conciliar Church', is, in fact, the Pope most cited in the documents of Vatican II, and his Magisterium had contributed greatly to prepare for the Council.
For now, given the time necessary to certify a miracle - Papa Wojtyla's beatification miracle is in the process of certification. and Papa Pacelli's has yet to start - one cannot foresee a simultaneous beatification of two Popes as in 2000. But neither can it be excluded.
The following commentary focuses on the objections to Pius XII's beatification by non-Catholics:
Non-Catholics can have
nothing to say about
the beatification of Pius XII
by Franco Cardini
Dec. 20, 2009
It is evident that this is not - and cannot be - an objective article. For the simple reason that for those who question the cause for beatification of Eugenio Pacelli, Pope Pius XII, nothing can be objective. And yet this matter concerns the Church and the Catholic world exclusively.
Canonization is the conclusive formal act, of canonical and liturgical nature, through which the Catholic Church, after careful examination of sources and proofs, at which anyone freely testify [for or against the candidate] - in short, a true and proper, exhaustive investigation - declares that someone is with certainty, 'in the glory of God', and as such, worthy of veneration as a saint.
In declaring sainthood, Catholic teaching says, the Church is assited by the special grace of the Holy Spirit and is therefore infallible in this respect.
Infallibility is an exceptional prerogative that the Church claims in rare cases: when the Pope speaks ex cathedra, when the Sacred College of Cardinals proclaims a dogma, when a saint is canonized, and in general - as Vatican-II puts it - "whenever the episcopal college, in communion with the Bishop of Rome, converges on a definitive decision in matters of faith or morals".
Catholics cannot doubt the infallibility of the Pope and the episcopal college in the few cases when they prescribe dogma, which, like a mathematical postulate, is undemonstrable, indisputable and irrefutable.
One must be very clear about this. Catholics are held to respect dogma. Whoever does not do that cannot call himself Catholic. And whoever is not Catholic cannot be concerned in any way by dogma, since he does not believe it, and therefore it does not concern him in any way.
The Italian Church is often accused of interference in issues of civilian society - which is hard to understand, since prelates, priests and the faithful are all Italians, and entitled - by right and civic duty - to speak about such issues as Italian Citizens.
It is even more difficult to understand how and why non-Catholics -whether they are 'secular' citizens, as they like to say, or adherents of other Christian confessions or religious faiths - could claim the right to be heard about the choice of Catholic saints, which is something that concerns only the Church, and which it carried out according to established principles and methods which pertain exclusively to her.
In 1963, an East German playwright, Rolf Hochhuth, staged a play, The Deputy
, which, reiterating charges earliery made by the French writers Albert Camus and Francois Mauriac, accused Pius XII harshly of having done nothing to prevent, or at least to denounce, the genocide committed by the Nazis against the Jews in the Second World War.
Since then, the polemics have not died down. At the time, the charges were strongly sustained by those in Italy who never forgave Pius XII for his firm condemnation of Communist atheism (in line with the encyclical Divini Redemptoris
of his predecessor Pius XI).
Today, Hochhuth's play and the old attacks against the Pastor angelicus
are being dredged up all over. A theater group in Milan has staged it anew, and Hochhuth himself has surfaced to say that if he had to write the play all over, he would be even more harsh since he is convinced of Pius XII's anti-Semitism.
The Church, Catholic scholars, and public opinion have spoken enough about all this. It serves no use to listen to biased polemics, to voices in bad faith, to instrumental statements.
The words that count can only be from the Church organisms assigned to examine facts and evidence. If they conclude that the opinions are unfounded of those who maintain that Pius XII did not do enough for those who were persecuted, or worse, that he was an accomplice in this persecution, and that he exercised heroic Christian virtues, then they will recommend that he should be raised to the glory of the altar.
And that is the final and exclusive prerogative of the Church. At that point, protests will only be a vain attempt at intimidation and interference. And the protesters would not be from the Church. There is nothing else to say.
What led Benedict XVI
to sign the decree on Pius XII
by Gian Guido Vecchi
Dec. 20, 2009
... In December 2007, more than any external objections, what led Benedict XVI to order supplementary documentation about Pius XII's wartime activities was the objection registered by a member of the Congregation for saints, that the postulator had only presented favorable documentation. The Pope entrusted the new task to a German Dominican priest, Fr. Ambrosius Eszeer.
Soem said that Benedict XVI delayed signing the decree on Pius XII because he did not want to irritate the Jews. But the explanation appears to be more internal.
Says Giovanni Maria Vian, editor of L'Osservatore Romano
: "Paradoxically, the combative attitude of the extremist defenders of Pius XII had greater influence on Benedict XVI's decision."
At the same time, Vian opened the Vatican newspaper to a discussion of the Pius XII question, which later became a book, In difesa di Pio XII
, subtitled 'Le ragione della storia' [The reasons of history].
Historians and theologians, Jews and Catholics, names like Paolo Mieli, Saul Israel, Andrea Riccardi, Archbishops Rino Fisichella nd Gianfranco Ravasi - wrote articles based on historical research that advanced the argument beyond the Black Legend that had grown around Pius XII as 'Hitler's Pope'.
The book, said Vian, "indicated a new climate" and "the reactions from the Jewish world appeared to correspond to Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone's expressed hope: that the outside world should respect a religious act which is internal to the Catholic Church."
"There seemed to be greater calm, even by those who did not share the conclusions, who expressed respect nonetheless, and there were favorable reactions as well"
What about Pius XII"s 'silence'?
"There is no doubt about it. But it was not the silence of someone in fear, or worse, of an accomplice or outright sympathizer of Nazism. It was a considered and sorrowful choice, more religious than political, of someone who wanted to save as many lives as possible. And it was Pius XII who ordered that the Church, its monasteries and convents, give asylum to persecuted Jews.
"Pacelli, the anti-Communist, also convinced American Catholic leaders that the United States needed to ally itself with Stalin against Hitler. Internally, he had made arrangements that the regency of the Church would go to the Archbishop of Palermo, since Sicily was the first to be lievrated by the Allies, in case the Nazis captured and deported him (Pius). His figure is completely part of history. Available documents are numberless, and more will turn up."
But Vian also warns that analogous to the Black Legend, "there is also 'the rosy one', equally insidious, put forth by unconditional apologists".
P.S.It turns out John Allen did comment on the Pius XII news rather promptly, and calls attention to the John XXIII-Pius IX 'pairing' in 200, as the Italian Vaticanistas did. I was half expecting him to lead off by saying yet again that the timing of the Pope's announcement so close to his scheduled visit to the Rome synagogue proves he has 'a tin ear' for certain things...
Thank Heaven for little things... even if his use of the word 'strategy', like Paolo Rodari two days earlier, makes the Pope sound calculating rather than courageous, principled and pure, which was the whole point, I think, of his decision which caught even the most experienced Vatican observers compeltely by surprise!... Likewise, the label 'two-fior-one' is cheapening, and yet another instance of Allen's penchant for inappropriate colloquialism when discussing things papal or ecclesial.
A 'two-for-one' strategy
in declaring Popes as saints
Two instances of something may not constitute a trend, but they can at least suggest a strategy. This morning an apparent Vatican strategy on turning popes into saints came into view: When you’re going to move a Pope along the path whose cause is sure to cause friction in Catholic/Jewish relations, bundle it with a popular Pope also seen as a friend to the Jews.
Call it a “two-for-one” strategy with regard to pope-saints.
This morning, the Vatican announced that Pope Benedict XVI has approved decrees of heroic virtue for several figures, including two of his 20th century predecessors: Pope John Paul II, and Pope Pius XII.
A decree of heroic virtue is an official finding that someone lived a saintly life. It allows the candidate to be referred to as “venerable,” and means that the only hurdle left for beatification is a documented miracle, with one more miracle necessary for canonization, the formal act of declaring someone a saint.
The obvious parallel is to September 2000, when Popes Pius IX and John XXIII were beatified in the same ceremony. Among other things, Pius IX was known for corralling the Jews of Rome back into their ghetto and for the famous case of a Jewish child forcibly removed from his family and raised in the Vatican.
John XXIII, on the other hand, was the popular “Good Pope John” of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). Among other gestures of outreach to the Jewish community, John XXIII had removed a reference to the “perfidious Jews” from the Church’s Good Friday liturgy. [Leaving the prayer substantially as is, with references to blindness and darkness, for which the Jews rose up in arms against Benedict XVI when he revived John XXIII's Missal in Summorum Pontificum! Double standard, anyone?]
The similarity with today's announcement is striking.
Pius XII, of course, was the Pontiff during the Second World War, whose alleged “silence” on the Holocaust has long been the subject of fierce historical debate.
Whether one regards Pius as a hero or a villain, the progress of his cause will produce new tensions in Jewish/Catholic relations – even if the result has seemed a foregone conclusion for some time, since Benedict XVI has repeatedly insisted that Pius XII did everything possible under the dramatic circumstances of the war to save Jews and other victims of the Nazi regime.
Those tensions were not long in surfacing. Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League told the Associated Press, "We are saddened and disappointed that the pontiff would feel compelled to fast-track Pope Pius
at a point where the issue of the record — the history and the coming to a judgment — is still wide open." [Nothing 'fast track' about it! Foxman is being hateful, as usual. Paul VI opened the cause in 1965, the Congrgeation for saints approved rthe decree on heroic virtues in May 2007, and now, Benedict XVI, has allowed the controversy-stalled beatification process to proceed.]
Hence the logic of moving Pius XII along at the same time as John Paul II, since John Paul is credited with revolutionizing ties between Catholic and Jews.
John Paul II is the pope who visited the Great Synagogue in Rome in 1986, the first time any modern Pontiff had entered a Jewish place of worship; he’s the pope who visited the Western Wall in Jerusalem in 2000, leaving behind a note apologizing for centuries of Christian anti-Semitism; and in a thousand other ways large and small, he signaled a new sensitivity to the Jewish world.
Among other things, the timing suggests that bundling John Paul II and Pius XII
wasn't entirely an accident. [Ach! this rampant colloquialism really sets my teeth on edge!]
The Congregation for the Causes of Saints approved a decree of heroic virtue for Pius XII in May 2007, more than two years ago.
News reports at the time indicated that Benedict XVI had decided to slow things down, not out of doubt about Pius XII's worthiness, but concern for the wider implications of declaring him a saint.
[No, as it turns out, it was to order a review of available documentation regarding the Pope's wartime activities, in response to a Congregation member's objection that only favorable documentation had been presented! Even if the objector misses the point that failure to say anything cannot be directly documented - the absence of any written or recorded statements would have to prove it. And no one has suggested that Pius XII could have, at any time in his life, ever expressed any anti-Semitic sentiments, or approval of Hitler's persecution of the Jews! Benedict XVI simply bent over backwards to show his good faith with respect to objections about Pius XII.]
To be sure, John Paul II's outreach to the Jews is hardly the only aspect of his resume that merits consideration, and the same thing was true with John XXIII. Arguably, even if neither Pope had ever done anything with regard to Judaism, they both still would have been compelling candidates for sainthood.
Yet putting each man into the same sainthood “class,” so to speak, with a fellow Pontiff whose public image on Judaism is more mixed is, at least in part, a way of trying to soften the sting.
Substantively, it sends a signal that the Catholic church is not honoring those pontiffs in order to promote hostility to Jews; in terms of PR, it tries to ensure that whatever negative publicity may surround the controversial popes will be balanced (and, perhaps, outweighed) by positive reaction to the popular ones.
It remains to be seen whether John Paul II and Pius XII, having been declared venerable together, will also be beatified together. Sources say the beatification of John Paul II could come as early as October 2010, while it’s not clear that Pius’s cause will move quite that swiftly.
Yet the two pontiffs are, for the moment, linked, as was the case for Pius IX and John XXIII almost a decade ago. How well that strategy may play out is anyone's guess, especially since Pius IX’s history with Judaism was a sore point only in Italy and among experts, while the debates over Pius XII have a more global [and entirely false and unfounded]
It is a strategy nonetheless, and for an institution sometimes accused of being tone-deaf with regard to communications, perhaps that alone is worthy of note.