Recently we discussed the impending expedited canonizations of the blessed popes John XXIII and John II, and the difficulties raised by the haste involved (not by any doubts regarding their sanctity). Two principal areas of concern were noted:that it might appear to be a case of popes looking after their own; and that their expedited canonizations might be part of an agenda to canonize Vatican II by canonizing the conciliar popes, which struck an atheist observer as a dubious strategy given the conflict that has riven the Church in the Council’s wake. Such an agenda gains a little more plausibility when we remember that Paul VI is also being considered for canonization. So it was with a mild sense of startlement that I read today the assertion that Pope Francis is considering canonizing Pope Pius XII, the last pre-conciliar pope, the bane of progressivist Catholics and often calumnied as “Hitler’s Pope” ( a charge historians are debunking with hearteningly increased frequency). The report cites an anonymous source in the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. The import of the piece is that not only is Francis considering canonizing the Venerable Pius XII, but doing so in the same way as with Bl John XXIII: without the validation of any miracles, but as a pure act of papal authority, invoking “scientia certa (certainty in knowledge), thereby jumping over the step of beatification”.
The mixed feelings with which I read this article take some sorting through. One the one hand, it is cheering to see Pius XII being accorded the attention he deserves, given the calumny his reputation has endured over his policy towards the Nazi regime and its persecution and genocide of the Jewish peoples of Europe. History will prove, and is proving, that Pius XII charted a highly difficult path through the murkiest of waters during World War II, balancing his concern for the welfare of the Church (surely a primary responsibility of a pope) and the need to afford assistance to the victims of Nazi persecution. He was never going to please everyone. In the end he opted to refrain from public and explicit condemnation for fear of a backlash against the Church in Nazi-controlled Europe, including the Vatican itself (as actually happened in Holland after its bishops spoke out too explicitly, a victim of which was Edith Stein, now St Theresa Benedicta of the Cross). Instead he used the resources of the Church in Italy and elsewhere, especially convents, to hide thousands of Jews and help them to escape. He was a brave, prudent pope, who loved the Church dearly and manifested a pastor’s heart, and suffered from the misunderstanding (and deliberate misrepresentation) of his policy of public silence and private assistance. His encyclicals are exceptional, and in them we can see the birth of the modern style of papal encyclical. He is yet another of a remarkable series of holy popes in the last 150 years.
On the other hand, if true, this intended course of action suggests yet again an easily misconstrued preference for papal canonizations, reinforcing the sense that popes look after their own. In Pope Francis’ case it is probably completely unjustified, and the possibility that an action could be misrepresented is no adequate reason for not doing it. Of more concern is the haste. Not haste post mortem, since the normative 50 years have now elapsed since Pius XII’s death, but haste in the completing of the process, bypassing miracles and beatification to bring Pius XII straight to sainthood. Again, this is not to doubt either Pius XII’s sanctity nor the legitimacy of such an act of papal infallibility. Rather, more consideration should be given to the public perception of yet more corner-cutting for papal canonizations. If they are holy men (and I feel they are) their causes can withstand the rigorous process of investigation normally employed by the Vatican.
Of course, if Pope Francis does act to expedite Pius XII’s advance to sainthood, it will be for a reason. Would it be to balance the post-conciliar popes with a pre-conciliar one, one indeed whose policies many see as having been rebuffed by the Council? In other words would he be seeking to show a symbolic impartiality towards both progressive and traditionalist? Could it be to raise the controversy over Pius XII’s papal policy to fever-pitch (an example of that making of “noise” he commended to youth in Rio) so that it might also finally be dealt with by such an act of approbation? (Would the secular world be impressed by such an exercise of papal authority, given that it rejects such papal authority except when it suits them?)
Given Francis’ reluctance to call himself “Pope”, preferring “Bishop of Rome”, it would be a striking example of papal power. Whatever the pitfalls, problems and implications, one thing is sure enough: Pius XII is worthy to be raised to the altars of the Church. Surely all Catholics could agree with that.