October 14, 1999
The Pope and the Jews
According to Rabbi Harold Schulweis, the present pope, John Paul II, has reached out to the Jews of the world in ways that far exceed any acts of his predecessors. He has begun a re-examination of the church's treatment of Jews, long overdue, but hitherto unacknowledged. Moreover, he has gone a step further and extended an olive branch to us by asking forgiveness for such wrongs as forced conversions and silence during the Holocaust.
Here is the pope speaking to a weekly general audience last month at the Vatican: "She therefore wishes to ask pardon for the sins and weaknesses of her children down the ages." I suppose it is more than fair, given these gestures, to view John Paul II as the philo-Semitic pope.
Anyway, that was my reasoning until last week, when I read John Cornwell's new biography of Eugenio Pacelli -- Pope Pius XII -- titled "Hitler's Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII." It is Pius whom the present pope is pushing for beatification and, eventually, for sainthood. And therein lies my puzzlement.
Eugenio Pacelli, of course, had served as the Vatican's secretary of state in 1933, when he negotiated an infamous treaty with Germany to silence any Catholic political opposition to Hitler. Later, when he became pontiff in 1939 (serving until his death in 1958), he adopted a policy of silence as Germany systematically liquidated Europe's Jews.