ROME — Vatican officials will look you straight in the eye and say that decisions about naming saints are never driven by politics, but the truth is that those assurances, plus a Euro, will get you a cappuccino at a bar across from St. Peter’s Square.
Anyone with eyes can see that politics often enters the picture, especially with regard to how fast or slow a case moves. Nowhere is that clearer than with Pope Pius XII, the pontiff during World War II whose record on the Holocaust remains a flash point in relations between Jews and Catholics.
Conventional wisdom holds that the Vatican is convinced Pius XII deserves a halo, but is going slow out of deference to Jewish sensitivities. One oft-made argument is that no judgment should be reached until the Vatican’s archives from the war years are completely open, so researchers can explore what Pius knew and when he knew it.
From a purely political point of view, however, there’s a strong case for a highly counterintuitive conclusion: the best thing for Catholic-Jewish ties would be to canonize Pius XII tomorrow.
Perhaps no Catholic figure of the 20th century has been the object of more heated debate than Eugenio Pacelli, the given name of the pontiff who reigned from 1939 to 1958. The vast literature makes up what wags call the “Pius Wars,” referring to polemical exchanges between the pope’s critics and his defenders.
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