Saturday, December 19, 2009

Pope Pius XII Beatification

VATICAN CITY (AFP) - – Pope Benedict XVI on Saturday moved controversial wartime pontiff Pius XII closer to sainthood by declaring him "venerable", bestowing the same honour on beloved predecessor John Paul II.

The beatification process of Pius XII has been a source of tension with Jewish groups due to the view among many historians that he remained passive while Nazi Germany killed millions of Jews.

The decree was unexpected on a day when Benedict also paved the way for the beatification of John Paul II's Polish compatriot Jerzy Popieluszko, the "Solidarity chaplain" who was murdered by Poland's secret service in 1984.

Announcing the three milestones simultaneously reflects a damage control strategy by the Vatican since Pius XII's progress towards sainthood is "sure to create problems with Jews," said Vatican expert John Allen.

"There is a kind of strategy of taking the sting out of it by bundling it with a pope who is very popular like John Paul II," he told AFP.

The move came as no surprise, since Benedict -- who was himself at the centre of a controversy over his past membership of the Hitler Youth -- "has publicly defended Pius XII at least three times," Allen added.

The Vatican has argued that Pius XII, who was pope from 1939 to 1958, saved many Jews by having them hidden in religious institutions in Rome and abroad and that his silence was born out of a wish to avoid aggravating their situation.

Meanwhile, John Paul II's sainthood dossier has been criticised as a "fast-track" campaign to answer the prayers of millions who adored the Polish pope, who headed the Roman Catholic Church for nearly three decades.

Benedict launched the lengthy process -- which can take decades if not centuries -- just two months after the death in 2005 of John Paul II, whose funeral was marked by calls of "Santo Subito" (Saint Now).

The final stage for beatification is providing evidence of a miracle, usually a medical cure with no scientific explanation which is reviewed by several commissions.

In John Paul II's case, the miracle under consideration -- and subject to another papal decree -- involves a French nun who was cured of Parkinson's disease in 2005.

Vatican watchers expect Benedict to approve the beatification, which could be celebrated next year, either on the April 2 anniversary of John Paul II's death or in October on the anniversary of the start of his papacy in 1978.

Popieluszko's beatification dossier does not require evidence of a miracle because he is considered a martyr.

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