FROM JOHN THAVIS IN VATICAN CITY
THOUSANDS of documents demonstrate that Pope Pius XII worked quietly but effectively to help Jews and others during World War II, a top Vatican official has said.
Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone the Vatican seemtar)' of state, said that the documentation of papal charity is the most convincing response to the "black legendthat has depicted the late pope as indifferent toward the victims of Nazism. The cardinal said a fair reading of history must recognise "the enormous work of charity that the pope promoted, by opening the doors of seminaries and religious institutes, welcoming refugees and the persecuted, and helping all.
"The church of Pius XII continued to work not only with a prophetic voice but above all with daily prophetic action," he said.
Cardinal Bertone made the comments in Rome at the presentation of the book, Pius XH, Eugenio Pacelli: A Man on the Throne of Peter, by Italian journalist Andrea Tornielli. The cardinal's comments came four weeks after the Congregation for Saints' Causes declared that the pope heroically lived the Christian virtues and recommended that Pope Benedict XVI advance Pius's sainthood cause.
Cardinal Bertone said the legend about Pope Pius's supposed "silence" during the war had its mots in the post-war period, specifically 1946-48, a time when the state of Israel was being formed and when the pope was calling for respect and justice for Palestinian residents of the Holy Land.
Over the years, Cardinal Bertone said, the false accusation of papal unconcern for Jewish suffering under Na7ism gained acceptance, despite historical evidence to the contrary. On several occasions the pontiff did denounce Nazi persecutions, he said.
But the pope measured his words carefully and prudently, Cardinal Bertone said, because he was convinced that speaking more bluntly would end up causing greater ha.mi to Jews and other groups. He said Pope Pius explained this policy of discretion when he spoke of the Jews in a public address in 1943, saying that people should not expect him to divulge "all we have attempted and achieved to mitigate their suffering, imcmave their moral and juridical conditions, (and) protect their indispensable religious tights".
In fact. Cardinal Bertone said, immediately after the war former Nazi officials confirmed that papal denunciations would have only accelerated the killings of Jews and the Church's own ministers. For similar reasons, he said, popes chose discreet action over strident criticism during the decades of persecution of Christians under Communism "Popes do not speak with the aim of prefabricating a favourable image for posterity. They know that on their every word could depend the fate of millions of Christians; they have at heart the fate of men and women in flesh and blood, not the applause of historians,Cardinal Bertone said. The cardinal said Pius chose to give verbal instructions to his aides and others, who used the Church's resources to save many lives. "The bishops, priests, religious and laypeople understood very well the mind of the pope and what needed urgently to be done,he said, adding that many of the Church's activities on behalf of Jews and others have been detailed in published documents.
But he said there also exists an immense amount of unpublished documentation in the Secretariat of State's own archives, detailing the Vatican's response to thousands of personal cases. The cardinal said these documents are not accessible today because they have never been organised, and he suggested that the Vatican would hie to do so quickly — perhaps with the help of funding from some foundation.
Even without access to all the archival information, Cardinal Bertone said people should consider the widespread thanks and recognition given to Pope Pius by European Jews.