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Today in Rome, Pope Pius XII and Pope John Paul II were both declared venerable by Pope Benedict XVI — the first step on the road to canonization as saints for both men
By Robert Moynihan
In a dramatic move, after long hesitation, Pope Benedict XVI has signed a decree declaring Pope Pius XII -- the Pope who led the Church during the Second World War and has been repeatedly accused by many Jewish and progressive Catholic groups of not doing enough to help the Jews during the Nazi persecution -- as "venerable," the first major step on the road toward canonization as a Catholic saint.
In the same decree, Benedict has declared Pope John Paul II, known for his friendship with the Jewish people and his dramatic visits to the synagogue of Rome in 1986 and to the Western Wall in Jerusalem in 2000, as also worthy to be called "venerable" in the Church.
Benedict's decree, published today in connection with the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, recognizes the "heroic virtues" of the two Popes, paving the way for their beatification and canonization, which can come with the approval of first one, then a second miracle attributed to their intercession.
Also approved were the martyrdom of the Polish priest Fr Popielusko and a miracle attributed to Mary McKillop (Australia).
Pius XII, the Pope who led the Church during the Second World War (he was Pope from 1939 to 1958), and John Paul II (Pope from 1978 to 2005) are now officially to be called "Venerable" (meaning able to be venerated), because Benedict XVI has confirmed that their lives displayed "heroic virtues," that they were heroes because of their remarkable virtue.
This is particularly dramatic with regard to Pius, because he has been accused, not only of not being a hero, but even of being evil, of being "Hitler's Pope." (A book under that title was published several years ago by British author John Cornwell, who later retracted much of what he had written.) The attacks on Pius seem to have given Benedict pause. Not because he believed their truth, but because he knew that many did believe they were true, and would be scandalized if Pius was declared "Venerable" without clarifying that the charges against him were false. This explains why the documentation to sign the Pius XII decree was given to Pope almost two years ago, and not signed until now.
Many Vatican observers had noted that Benedict was taking his time before signing the decree. Senior Vatican officials told me that he was waiting until Jewish and progressive Catholic groups themselves recognized that the charges of anti-Semitism raised against Pius XII were without foundation. And this is what has occurred.
Over the past several years, due in large measure to the work of committed Catholic and Jewish scholars and activists ranging from Sr. Margherita Marchione, an American Catholic nun, to Gary Krupp, an American Jewish businessman, clear evidence that Pius XII worked heroically "behind the scenes" to save nearly 1 million Jews from deportation to Nazi concentration camps has now been discovered and published. (We have printed much of this in the pages on Inside the Vatican magazine.) In fact, this evidence even suggests that Pius XII did more to help victims of the persecution than virtually any other single person in Europe during the war years, making his denigration all the more unjust. And because an increasing number of scholars have come to conclude that the charges raised against Pius XII were a calmny, the opinion about Pius in the world's Jewish community has slowly been transformed from an absolutely negative one to a far more positive one.
"I received a call from Rome just now to inform me that the Holy Father proclaimed Pius XII as venerable," Krupp emailed to me this morning. "Congratulations to all of you for the hard work over the years to right a terrible wrong perpetrated by the historical revisionists."
- War and remembrance: Vatican highlights Pope Pius XII's peace efforts (September 2009)
- Encyclicals of Pope Pius XII (June 2009)
- Strong defense of Pius XII by Cardinal Bertone (June 2009)
- 50th Anniversary of Pius XII's Death (October 2008)
- Pope Pius XII Condemned Nazism
- Funeral of Pope Pius XII
- Traditional Papal Funeral Masses
The Myth of Hitler's Pope: How Pope Pius XII Rescued Jews from the Nazis
Germany and the Church: Encyclical of His Holiness Pope Pius XI (Mit brennender Sorge)
SUMMI PONTIFICATUS: Exhorting Unity in Opposing World Evils.