Monday, October 20, 2008

On Pius, Don't Pressure the Pope

Amid renewed controversy over the Yad Vashem caption panning Pius XII's response to the Holocaust -- namely, the assertion by the postulator of the wartime pontiff's cause for beatification that the exhibit was a deal-breaker for any possible papal trip to Israel -- and continued outcry over the likelihood of Eugenio Pacelli's beatification, the "Vatican spokesman" told all sides in the dispute to back off:
Jesuit Father Peter Gumpel, one of the promoters of Pope Pius' sainthood cause, said in an interview Oct. 18 that Pope Benedict could not possibly travel to Israel until curators of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem removed a photo caption stating that Pope Pius did nothing to condemn the Nazis and their slaughter of the Jews.

Father Gumpel, speaking to the Italian news agency ANSA, said the caption was "an obvious historical falsification" and that as long as it remained, a papal visit to Israel "would be a scandal for Catholics."

A few hours after the interview appeared, the Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, reiterated the Vatican's objections to the Yad Vashem display, but said it was not a decisive obstacle to a papal trip.

Pope Benedict wants to travel to the Holy Land, but for now nothing has been planned, the spokesman said.

Father Lombardi emphasized that Pope Benedict has not signed the decree of heroic virtues of Pope Pius, the next step necessary for his sainthood cause to advance.

"That is the subject of study and reflection on (the pope's) part, and in this situation it is not appropriate to exercise pressure on him in one direction or the other," Father Lombardi said.

In recent months, many Catholic experts have expressed their strong hope that the sainthood cause for Pope Pius would be moved forward, after the Vatican Congregation for Saints' Causes completed its documentation work and unanimously recommended beatification.

At the same time, Jewish groups have reiterated their strong opposition to beatification of Pope Pius, saying it would set back Catholic-Jewish dialogue.

At the Yad Vashem memorial in Jerusalem, the controversy surfaced in 2007, when the Vatican's nuncio to Israel, Archbishop Antonio Franco, threatened to skip a ceremony there because of the offending photo caption.

In his latest statement, Father Lombardi noted the Vatican's previous objections.

"It is hoped, therefore, that this be the subject of a new, objective and thoughtful reflection by those responsible for the museum," Father Lombardi said.
Controversy notwithstanding, the Israeli invitation for a B16 visit was renewed over the weekend; before the latest outbreak of tensions over Pius, a Holy Land pilgrimage had been foreseen in some circles for as early as next year.

PHOTO: AP/Kevin Frayer