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W.E. Gutman: Rewarding silence filled with guilt

Posted: February 6, 2010 4:27 p.m.
Updated: February 7, 2010 4:55 a.m.
Last December, spurning the raw feelings and grievances of world Jewry, Pope Benedict XVI signed an edict proclaiming Pope Pius XII, who reigned from 1939 to 1958, “venerable.” The pre-beatification formality is intended to hype the late pontiff’s “heroic virtues.”

In carrying out the first sacrament leading to canonization, German Pope Benedict no doubt intended to market his predecessor and make him an object of veneration for all Catholics. This initiative is at the very least troubling in that Pius’s “heroism” remains largely suspect.

In so doing, Benedict has reopened the long and often bitter polemic about the Vatican’s attitude toward the Nazis and their ethnocidal plans.

For 12 years, Eugenio Pacelli, the future Pius XII, served as papal nuncio in Germany. He was then promoted to Vatican secretary of state in 1933, coinciding with Hitler’s rise to power.

Other than a bland Christmas 1942 message that evokes “people sometimes destined for death or progressive extinction on account of their race,” Pius XII remained remarkably tight-lipped for the remainder of the war.

Since his election in 1939, Pius XII had scrapped the encyclical of Pius XI against racism and anti-Semitism. Prelate turned diplomat and deferred to the Nazi state.

Worse, he uttered not a word about the “Final Solution,” of which he had been informed since 1942, and kept mum about it well after the last extermination camps were liberated by American, British and Russian forces.

He never protested or condemned the extermination of the Jewish people whom he viewed, to the end of his days, as the “deicidal race” — Christ killers.

Of course, “sainthood” is a symbolic status. It earns “saints” the privilege of worship by the faithful who, candle in hand, can ask for favors no mortal can grant them.

Long dead, they serve no other function than to dwell eternal in the pantheon of Roman Catholicism. But symbolism is a powerful idiom. The enshrinement of Pius XII, in defiance of poignant and widespread objections, speaks volumes about Benedict’s own unexpurgated anti-Semitism.

As prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith — also known as the Holy Inquisition — then pope-in-training Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger became known as an inflexible enforcer of Catholic doctrine.

Fawning praise of René Descartes, the celebrated 17th-century French rationalist philosopher (“I think, therefore I am”) soon turned to vilification. Benedict forbade Catholics to read his books “on pain of sin.”

He maligned Liberation Theology, the oxygen-rich ministry that redefines and, for the poor and voiceless, enlivens otherwise stolid Roman Catholicism, and he punished its disciples with public humiliations, defrockings and excommunications.

Benedict also delivered manic and hostile orations against abortion, homosexuality, stem-cell research and the ordination of women to the priesthood.

When Benedict became pope, his election was half-heartedly welcomed by some Jewish groups (among them the right wing and very accommodating Anti-Defamation League, which is more interested in ingratiating itself with the Vatican than in rehashing history).

His “Holiness” received a more tepid reception from world Jewry who had hoped that Benedict would “continue along the path of popes John XXIII and John Paul II in supporting the state of Israel and committing to an uncompromising fight against anti-Semitism.”

On the whole, Benedict’s papacy has been insensitive to Judaism (and Islam) — when it wasn’t overtly hostile. He expanded the use of the Tridentine Mass, which urges the conversion of Jews to Christianity. He reinstated four excommunicated bishops, all members of the Society of St. Pius X, a virulently anti-Semitic organization.

One of these bishops is American Richard Williamson, an outspoken Holocaust denier who struggled to mumble a limp apology but did not recant his position on the well-documented event.

Pope Benedict is a man with a record of contestable decisions and regrettable faux pas.

Woefully out of touch with reality, oblivious to human nature and disdainful of the secular world, he has reached the ethereal summit of his “profession” and the promise of his own beatification in the afterlife has already imparted him with the trancelike aloofness of a canonized saint.

He is preparing for the final voyage, not with humility and compassion, but with the poise and absent smile of a mystic high on his own godliness. Behind the smile is the seething fury of a wounded reptile.

If he can help it, he will not embark for kingdom come without leaving posterity a taste of his own venom — the canonization of a coward.

The least Pope Benedict could do before he crosses the Pearly Gates is open the Vatican archives to public scrutiny, lest the beatification of Pius XII take on the aura of a dastardly recompense for a silence brimming with guilt.

W. E, Gutman is a widely published journalist and author. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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