Vatican to commemorate controversial World War II pope


Vatican City : A Vatican academic conference later this year, commemorating the 50th anniversary of Pope Pius XII’s death, will focus on the pontiff’s influence on church reforms, but not on his controversial role during World War II.

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Vatican officials who Tuesday presented the conference, also reported no progress in moves – opposed by Jewish groups – to make Pius a saint.

“We decided on a different approach, something which has not been studied enough,” said Bishop Salvatore Fisichella, rector of Rome’s Pontifical Lateran University.

Fisichella was referring to the theme of the Nov 6-7 conference which deals with the teachings of Pius and their impact on the 1960s Second Vatican Council, a process which sought to modernize the Roman Catholic Church.

Italian-born Pius XII, who reigned from 1939 until his death in 1958, has been accused by some of showing indifference to the Nazi massacre of the Jews and of failing to speaking out against Hitler.

But the Vatican and other supporters say he strove to save those persecuted by the Nazis, including opening the doors of monastries, convents and other Church premises to shelter Jews.

“Various different historical situations of great significance came together in the life of Pius XII,” Fisichella said: “The genocide of the Jews, the communist occupation of various Christian nations, the Cold War, new advances of science, and the innovations of certain schools of theology.”

“The theme of condemnation for all forms of totalitarianism is mentioned in a very clear way from his first Encyclical as pope in 1939,” he said of a major document issued by Pius XII’s at the beginning of his pontificate.

Still, historians and Jewish rights groups continue to ask the Vatican to allow them to examine classified archive material on Pius XII, especially documents dealing with the period 1939-45.

“I don’t understand these grievances over access to the Vatican archives,” the president of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences, Monsignor Walter Brandmueller, said Tuesday.

According to Brandmueller, while the Vatican has de-classified most of its records on the matter, permission has yet to be granted to examine documentation on Pius contained in “15 archives in Israel.”

Asked by reporters to comment on progress being made in Pius XII’s seemingly stalled beatification – the first step towards sainthood – the Vatican officials said that there had been none since May 2007.

Then, the Vatican’s saint-making department voted in favour of a decree recognizing Pius’s “heroic virtues,” but the decision has yet to be approved by Pope Benedict XVI.

Besides the November conference, the Vatican also plans to open a photographic exhibition on Pius XII in October.