October 14, 1999
The Pope and the Jews
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.