POPE PIUS XII AND THE STATE OF ISRAEL
The Vatican, from Pius XII through John Paul I, had refused to recognize the State of Israel. This was underscored in Pius' major disciple, Pope Paul VI who, during his trip to Israel in January of 1964, refrained from even mentioning Israel other than to refer to it in terms of the Holy Land. Since those popes insisted on the internationalization of Jerusalem, the effect was to harden Israel's view towards the Vatican. However, Pope John Paul II turned all that around by recognizing the State of Israel in the agreements signed on December 30, 1993. By following this up with his historic trip to Israel in March of 2000, he dramatically changed relations between Israel and the Vatican in this great turnaround.
Certainly, one of the basic rules of historical judgment is to evaluate a person not only according to our own times but also according to his times. According to his own times, Pius XII was a hero, but according to our own times he is a villain. While that turnaround can be attributed to the works of Rolf Hochhuth, Carlo Falconi, and John Cornwell, this revisionist view of the Pope is tending to irrational behavior since ideas do have consequences. And this is evident today in the outrageous interference in the internal affairs of the Catholic Church by some Jewish leaders who, to the public embarrassment of their own religious colleagues in the Jewish community, have called for a halt to any process leading to the beatificaiton of Pius XII.
At his death, some Israelis had suggested that a forest be planted at Yad Vashem for all that Pope Pius XII had done to save the Jews during the Holocaust. To this day, that expectation remains unfulfilled to the amazement of those who know how widespread was the expression of gratitude by Jews at the end of the war and at the time of the pope's death. That this development has paralleled the attacks by some Jews for the alleged failure of Pope Pius XII during the Holocaust is incomprehensible. This is particularly so when one recalls that the State of Israel wanted to honor a chief assistant to Pius, the future Pope Paul VI, who did not think that he should accept such a distinction for merely doing his duty in organizing the papal relief effort during World War II.
Although leading Americans like Dean G. Acheson, George C. Marshall, and James V. Forrestal also opposed the creation of the State of Israel as a homeland for the Jews, they have not been subjected to the criticism to which Pope Pius XII has been exposed. Certainly, Pius XII had sympathy for the Zionist dream of a homeland for the Jews, but he never did recognize the State of Israel and was not at all enthusiastic about Jersualem becoming the capital of the new nation. After all, the Pope's position was based on his concern for the Roman Catholics living in Israel and for the holy shrines in Jerusalem itself. Obviously, these legitimate interests complicate the current controversy surrounding Pope Pius XII whom some contemporary Jewish leaders criticize as being more concerned about safeguarding the church, objectively his primary obligation as pope, than in saving Jews during the Holocaust.
While it is easy today for the Pope's critics to put the Catholic Church on the defensive by saying that Pius XII could have done more, this was not so clear during those horrible days of World War II when he was recognized as "a lonely voice" (and the only voice) raised in defense of those victims, among them many Catholic priests whom he could not save from extinction. Yet, despite what his critics say today to confuse the issue and to belittle the testimonies from prominent Jewish agencies and their representatives during the Pope's own lifetime, such opponents of Pius XII cannot annul the historical record of his help during the Holocaust when he did at least as much as he could for the Jews as he did for his own persecuted Catholics. All this was recognized and affirmed by the World Jewish Congress, the World Zionist Organization, and the State of Israel itself, not to mention such a prominent newspaper as THE NEW YORK TIMES, even though today these same sources hold a contrary view of Pope Pius XII. And today, no less an authority than the Jewish historian, Sir Martin Gilbert, is grateful in his new book, NEVER AGAIN (2000), for all that the Catholic Church did under Pope Pius XII to save Jews during the Holocaust.