Pope Pius XII. Should he be remembered as a Righteous among the nations or as an anti-semite? More to the point, should he be canonised (recognised as a Saint) by the Catholic church?
Dr Paul O’Shea from Sydney has written an excellent study of the life of Pius XII; “A Cross Too Heavy: Eugenio Pacelli, Politics and the Jews of Europe 1917-1943”. This book, the research for which also earned O’Shea his PhD, gives a comprehensive picture of Pacelli the man, from his days as a schoolboy and membe of one of Rome’s “Black nobility” through his rise to the papacy and his actions before, during and after the Second World War.
Saint or Sinner? O’Shjea argues for the middle road – he portrays Pacelli as a man who tried to do good, but was ultimately not up to the task. This book is very readable as history and biography, and also offers some very insightul commentary on the Catholic church in the first half of the twentieth century and at the dawn of the twenty-first.
Paul O’Shea has recently posted the unpublished final chapter of his book on his appropriately titled blog Paul on Pius. There he describes some aspects of the process by which the Church is moving towards the canonisation of Pius XII, the work of the International Catholic Jewish Historical Commission (ICJHC), and some of the controveries around this question which dogged the final years of the papacy of John Pauu II.
Among those questions are some which will inevitably open old wounds, not only for Catholics but also for Jews. Many Jewish historians and commentators remember Pius XII as a rescuer who defended the Jews of Rome, but there are also many who accuse the Pope of collaborating with Hitler and the Nazis during his tenure as papal Nuncio in Berlin before the war. Further, it is often argued, including by O’Shea himself, that the Pope must have known what was happening in the Holocaust, and whilst he did certainly take some steps to rescue some Jews, he could have (and should have) done much more.
In reference to the long awaited decision to open up the Vatican archives of the Pacelli papacy to scholars O’Shea writes
I doubt very much if a “smoking gun” will be found, but I am convinced that information that will help scholars understand the inner workings of the Vatican during the Holocaust will be found. For this reason, if for no other, the work of the ICJHC can be judged to have been successful.
Paul O’Shea ultimately argues that it is too early for any consideration of the canonisation of Pius XII. The historical evidence is only now being opened up. It will take many decades for historians, the church, and others to arrive at any consensus about the saintliness, or otherwise, of Eugenio Pacelli. In the meantime let O’Shea’s quotation of another saintly but flawed Pope be the last word.
Pope Leo XIII opened the Vatican archives in 1893 with the statement: “The Church has nothing to fear from the truth.” It remains to his successors to put that into practice.