Should the Catholic Church declare Pope Pius XII a saint? His supporters say he was a quiet servant of God who worked behind the scenes to save his Church and what Jews he could from the horror of Nazism. His detractors see in his public silence regarding the Holocaust a sign of moral cowardice unbecoming a saint. The argument might be settled if the Church would, as it has promised, release the records of Pope Pius XII papacy for scholarly review. But once again the Church prefers silence and secrecy to bold transparency. One can only assume that they know what many suspect: Pope Pius XII was a moral coward.
I have no idea of Pope Pius XII is a saint. But if I were asked to vote for or against Pius XII, I would vote against. Here is why:
This week’s Torah portion contains the story of Abraham arguing with God for the salvation of Sodom, demanding that even the Judge of all the World do justly (Genesis 18:25). In Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch’s commentary, he imagines God’s response to Abraham this way, “If there are still, in a state like Sodom, fifty righteous men who not only publicly live a moral and just life, but who even can stand up for morality, justice and humaneness” then God will spare the city. Righteous people must be righteous in public as well as in private if their righteousness is to be true and authentic. Pope Pius XII fails the public test of righteousness. He was not willing to risk all to save the innocent.
Just imagine how history might have turned out if the Pope and his Bishops threatened to deny communion and salvation through the Church to any Catholic who was either a Nazis or a Nazi sympathizer. Millions of lives could have been saved—not just Jews destined for the death camps, but such a call would have prevented Catholic Italy from allying itself with Hitler, caused the collapse of Nazism from within, and either prevented WWII all together or ended it much sooner.
This is in fact what American Bishops do all the time to politicians and voters who support abortion rights. Just this week the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said that any move to promote abortion rights would be considered “an attack on the Church.” Auxiliary Bishop Robert Hermann of St. Louis said, “Any one of us here would consider it a privilege to die tomorrow—die tomorrow—to bring about the end of abortion.”
Whether or not you agree with Bishop Hermann, his outspokenness and his willingness to be martyred for the unborn is an act of moral courage (yes, it would have been more courageous so say that he would be willing to die today rather than tomorrow since tomorrow never comes, but cut the guy some slack). Unless the Church wishes to argue that the life of the unborn zygote is more valuable that the lives of over eleven million Jews, Gypsies, Gays and Lesbians, and others sent to the Nazi death camps, it is clear that Pope Pius XII is not as righteous as Bishop Hermann.
If either of them deserves sainthood, it is Bishop Hermann, may he be worthy of consideration speedily in our day.