A senior Vatican official has confirmed that Pope Francis will preside over a consistory on September 30, principally to determine the date of the canonisations of Blessed John Paul II and Blessed John XXIII. Both were great and holy men, and most Catholics will be glad that these canonisations will soon take place. But these events always make one wonder about why some other — one other in particular — proceedings towards canonisation don’t seem to be moving at all: I had thought, for some reason, that Pope Pius XII had been declared beatus at the same time as John XXIII (I think quite a few people are under the same impression, perhaps because it would have been such a right and obvious thing to do): but apparently not: my question is, why not? And whatever the reason, if not then why not now? Has the Church been cowed by the massive weight of all the “Hitler’s Pope” propaganda? It would be shameful if true: but what other explanation can there be?
In fact, Pius XII was declared venerable in 2009 (on the same day as Pope John Paul — that’s why I thought they had both been beatified together, I suppose): when this happens, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints certifies the “heroic virtues” of the person thus designated, although the final decision on that lies with the Pope: in December the same year, Pope Benedict XVI indeed confirmed the “heroic virtues” of Pius XII. So all that was needed was evidence of a miracle attributable to Pope Pius: and in fact Father Peter Gumpel, the relator of the Pius XII’s cause, claims that there are already several miracles attributable to Pius XII, including “one quite extraordinary one”.
Father Gumpel is an interesting man: he is now ninety years old, a German jesuit priest and Church historian, a Professor emeritus of the Gregorian University. Under the Nazis, he and several members of his family were in danger because of their anti-Nazi views, and he had to flee twice, first to France and then to the Netherlands, where during the war he went underground and helped Jews to flee: His views on the “Hitler’s Pope” calumny can be imagined.
His claims that there have been miracles attributable to Pope Pius appear not to have been accepted by the Vatican, at least not yet: this is a process that takes time, though it can be skipped by the decision of the Pope: and this pope is not one to hang around waiting for the bureaucrats to make up their minds: in the case of John XXIII, that’s just what happened.
It may well be the case that he is considering doing exactly the same in the case of Pope Pius: well, not exactly, because what Pope Francis is thinking of doing, so it is being claimed, is even more radical, taking Pius XII straight from venerable to saint in one giant step. Unlikely, you say? Not the way things are done? Well, I repeat: this is Pope Francis we are talking about: he doesn’t necessarily do things the way they have always been done. This tendency to an impatience with established practice has led liberal Catholics to conclude that this is no conservative: and in one way I suppose they are right. But that doesn’t necessarily mean he is one of them. It has always seemed to me clear that his informal way of doing things does not mean that he isn’t a traditionalist, in the sense of one who defends the Church’s traditio, its fundamental tradition and teachings. And if his frisky batting aside of the usual procedures speeds up the canonisation of Pius XII of all people, it would hardly confirm his membership of the liberal confraternity, for whom Pope Pius is a major bête noire.
Well, it could indeed be happening: according to the Catholic News Agency, a reliable source from within the Congregation for the Causes of Saints says that’s exactly what Pope Francis is thinking of doing; “just as [he] moved ahead with John XXIII’s canonisation, he is considering the same thing for Pius XII,” the CNA quotes the source as saying.
If Pope Francis decides to go ahead without the formal confirmation of the miracles claimed by Father Gumpel, says the source, he could “canonise him with the formula of scientia certa (certainty in knowledge), thereby jumping over the step of beatification. Only the Pope is able to do it, and he will, if he wants to, he asserts: “Pope Francis is very interested in Pius XII,” says this CCS source, because “he considers him ‘a great,’ in the same way as John XXIII is, even if for different reasons.”
It would hardly be a rushed procedure: more a catching up, in a process which has been several times been artificially slowed down. The canonisation process of Pope Pius was initiated less than a decade after his death in 1958.
When Pope Paul VI started the beatification and canonisation process in 1967, he formed a committee of historians to conduct an in-depth study of his predecessor’s life and behaviour, giving particular attention to the events of World War II. The committee was made up of four Jesuits, whose work led to the publication of “Actes et Documents du Saint Siège relatifs à la Seconde Guerre Mondiale” (Acts and Documents of the Holy See related to the Second World War), an 11-volume collection of documents from the Vatican’s Archive. The remainder of the documents from Pius XII’s papacy is not expected to be released (because of the sheer volume of the work involved) until 2014. The completed catalogue of these papers will include approximately 16 million documents from Pius XII’s papacy (1939-1958).
Pope Benedict initially decided to postpone Pius XII’s cause until the archives open for researchers in 2014, but changed his mind and declared him venerable in 2009: there was of course a flood of criticism from all too predictable sources.
It might be thought that if Pope Francis does simply canonise him, without waiting for the papers to be opened in 2014, he is taking a huge risk: what if the “Hitler’s Pope” boys turn out to be right after all? Is he being typically reckless? I don’t think so: Pope Francis is sensible enough to know perfectly well that all that is just nonsense. He also, it seems, has a firm conviction of Pope Pius’s transparent sanctity. And he is not prepared to wait for 16 million documents to be read before Pius can even be beatified. Enough already: he’s just going to do it. Or so I devoutly hope.
This story may well just collapse, of course, so we would then be back to square one. But I have a feeling that it’s not going to. The CNA’s account seems to me to have the ring of authenticity about it. If it were simply nonsense, it would have been denied by now. And Father Lombardi appears to have remained resolutely silent. Fingers crossed; mine anyway.