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Scholar defends Pope Pius' record

11 May 07 19:10 GMT
By Christian Fraser
BBC News, Rome

A senior Catholic scholar has defended the Vatican's decision to put Pope Pius XII, who led the Catholic Church from 1939 to 1958, on the road to sainthood. Pope Pius has long been accused by Jewish groups and scholars of turning a blind eye to the fate of the Jews.

A Vatican commission of cardinals and bishops unanimously voted this week for him to be considered for beatification. Professor Peter Gumpel said there was no truth in any of the allegations raised about the late Pope.

He said that, as far as he was concerned, the objections that had been raised over the years had now been researched and discounted.

"The case against Pius has been studied at length and in detail by many serious and independent scholars," said Professor Gumpel, a German Jesuit who contributed to the commission's work.

"I would not have signed the research papers that we put forward to the commission if I believed there was any truth behind the objections or allegations that were raised."

Criticism

The commission, called the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, has considered the case of Pope Pius for more than three months.

The cardinals and bishops - from Italy, Spain, Portugal, Mexico, Japan and the US - pored over six volumes of work comprising more than 3,000 pages and hundreds of documents.

The file was compiled by a number of scholars and historians, of all nationalities, who have investigated many of the criticisms that have been levelled against the wartime Pope.

Pope Pius abstained from signing the Allied Declaration condemning the extermination of the Jews.

There have also been many objections to his case for beatification, fuelled over the years by the publication of several books that claimed the Pope cared more about securing a concordat with Nazi Germany than he did about saving Jewish lives.

Critics have included John Cornwell, author of Hitler's Pope, and Daniel Goldhagen, who wrote A Moral Reckoning.

Hurdles

The Vatican has always contended that the wartime Pope led quiet diplomacy that saved the lives of thousands of Jews.

With the opening of the Vatican's pre-war archives to scholars in February, Professor Gumpel says researchers will soon have access to new evidence that proves Pius actually helped the Jews.

With the investigation now complete, Pope Pius XII has overcome one of the biggest hurdles on the path to sainthood.

Pope Benedict must still sign the decree and Pope Pius XII must still be credited with one miracle before he can be beatified - and another before he will become a saint.

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