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 Cuases 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 particuarly 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 clarifyinf 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 occcurred.
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.”
The Congregation for the Causes of Saints today published a series of decrees in which the pontiff recognizes 5 miracles attributed to several people (including the venerable Mary McKillop, Australia) and also recognizes the “heroic virtues” of a further 10 people, among them the two Popes.
These decrees pave the way for their beatification, as soon as there is the recognition of a miracle attributed to them.
Another decree recognizes the martyrdom of the Polish priest, Fr Jerzy Popieluszko, killed by the communist police in 1984.
Benedict XVI met with all the members of the Congregation for the Cause of Saints for celebration marking the 40th anniversary of the dicastery.
In his address, citing the various stages leading to the canonization of a candidate, the Pope said: “In the first instance, the People of God are invited to look at those brothers who, after an initial careful discernment, are proposed as models of Christian life; the a cult of veneration and invocation confined within local churches or religious orders is urged; finally, we are called to rejoice with the whole community of believers in the certainty that, thanks to solemn papal proclamation, a son or daughter has reached the glory of God, where they participate in perpetual intercession of Christ in favor of his or her brethren (cf. Heb 7:25).”
We will have a more complete report on all the implications of this decision for Catholic-Jewish relations in future reports.
Five of the December 19 decrees testified to the authenticity of miracles attributed to candidates who have already been beatified, and are now qualified for canonization. They are:
Bl. Stanislaus Soltys (Kazimierczyk) (1433-89), whose liturgical cult was formally recognized by Pope John Paul in 1993.
Bl. André Bessette (1845-1937), a Canadian renowned for his devotion to St. Joseph who developed a reputation as a miracle worker in his lifetime.
Bl. Mary MacKillop (1842-1909), who founded the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart and will become Australia’s first canonized saint.
Bl. Giulia Salzano (1846-1929), foundress of the Congregation of the Catechetical Sisters of the Sacred Heart.
Bl. Camilla Battista da Varano (1458-1524), a Poor Clare nun.
The Congregation also approved miracles for five other candidates who, like Father Popieluszko, will now be scheduled for beatification:
Father José Tous y Soler (1811-71), a Capuchin Franciscan.
Brother Leopoldo de Alpandeire (1866-1956), a Capuchin Franciscan.
Manuel Lozano Garrido (1920-71), a Spanish layman.
Teresa Manganiello (1849-76), a Third Order Franciscan.
Chiara Badano (1971-90), a laywoman of the Focolare Movement.
In addition, the Congregation declared the heroic virtue of Bl. Giacomo Illirico da Bitetto, a Franciscan.
The Congregation also proclaimed the heroic virtue of nine others, who now qualify for the title “Venerable” and may be beatified with the approval of a miracle:
Pope Pius XII (Eugenio Pacelli) (1876-1958).
Pope John Paul II (Karol Wojtyla) (1920-2005).
Father Louis Brisson (1817-1908), founder of the Oblates of Saint Francis de Sales.
Father Giuseppe Quadrio (1921-63), a Salesian.
Sister Mary Ward (1545-1615), an Englishwoman who founded the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Loreto Sisters).
Sister Antonia Maria Verna (1773-1838), foundress of the Sisters of Charity of the Immaculate Conception of Ivrea.
Sister Francesca Farolfi (Maria Chiara Serafina of Jesus) (1853-1917), foundress of the Missionary Franciscan Clarists of the Blessed Sacrament.
Sister Enrichetta Alfieri (1891-1951).
Giunio Tinarelli (1912-56), a layman and member of the Silent Workers of the Cross.
(Here is a link to the official decree, published in Italian: Promulgazione Di Decreti Della Congregazione Delle Cause Dei Santi (Holy See)