By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
Probably the most delicate cause for sainthood currently working its way through the Vatican system will be further studied this year, according to the Holy See’s top official for saints, but he offered no projection of when Pope Pius XII might be formally beatified and, eventually, canonized.
Portuguese Cardinal José Saraiva Martins, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, spoke in a Feb.1 interview with the newspaper of the Italian bishops’ conference, L’Avvenire.
The cause of Pius XII is particularly explosive because of lingering debate over his role during the Second World War, and specifically whether he did enough to condemn the Nazis and to resist the Holocaust. Many observers believe that beatifying Pius XII would have serious repercussions for Catholic/Jewish dialogue.
One reminder of those tensions came last May in Israel, when the papal nuncio, or ambassador, briefly threatened to boycott an annual memorial at Yad Vashem, Israel’s leading Holocaust museum, because of a dispute over how Pius XII was depicted. In the end, museum officials agreed to review the critical photo caption in question and the nuncio attended the memorial, but the standoff nevertheless suggested the intensity of feeling on both sides.
Last May, the cardinals and bishops who make up the Congregation for the Causes of Saints voted in favor of a “decree of heroic virtue” for Pius XII, one of the preliminary stages towards sainthood. Upon approval by the pope, the decree would entitle Pius XII to be known as “venerable.”
In the nine months since that vote, however, Benedict has not issued the required approval, leading to speculation that the Vatican has decided to put the cause on a temporary back burner. In his L’Avvenire comments, Saraiva seemed to indirectly confirm that hypothesis, while also insisting that the cause has not been abandoned.
The following is the question put to Saraiva and his response, in an NCR translation from the Italian.
Has the cause of Pius XII, after the positive vote expressed unanimously by the ordinary congress of the congregation on his heroic virtue, really been delayed or shelved?
Saraiva Martins:: “Technically it has not been delayed, much less shelved. This year is the 50th anniversary of the death of Pope Pacelli [Pius XII], and for this reason various initiatives will be promoted, including deeper research in the Vatican Archives. This will certainly contribute to the cause of Pius XII.”