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Pope Francis defends Pius XII’s wartime record

By Sarah Mac Donald - 14 June, 2014

In wide-ranging interview, Pope says persecution of Christians today “stronger than in the first centuries of Church.”

pope-francis1Pope Francis has given another wide-ranging and insightful interview to a Spanish newspaper in which he defended Pius XII’s record on the Jews during the Nazi persecution of World War II.

In an interview published on Friday in La Vanguardia, the Pontiff said “I want to say that sometimes I have a little existential rash when I see the attacks by all against the Church of Pius XII, and the role of the great powers is forgotten.”

He admitted that Pope Pius “made mistakes” but stressed that his actions should be seen “in the context of the times”.

The Pope also said the opening of the Vatican archives on World War II, which is expected to go ahead in a few years’ time, will “shed a lot of light” on Pius XII’s role.

Pope Francis recognised on his trip to the Holy Land that Pius XII’s beatification cause is stalled.

He said that historical records will show that the wartime Pontiff took great strides to protect Jews, and expressed confidence that the archives will show the extent of Pius’ efforts.

Elsewhere in the interview, the Pope spoke about the persecution of Christians today, saying it is “stronger than in the first centuries of the Church.”

He said that he did not often speak about persecution because he does not want to give offence, but he remarked that “in some places it is prohibited to have a Bible or teach the catechism or wear a cross.”

The Pope also revealed that when he first thought of inviting Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to the Vatican to pray together, virtually everyone in the Holy See was sceptical about his invitation.

“Some 99% of them said we shouldn’t do it,” Pope Francis told La Vanguardia. “I heard from people we were overreaching…then the 1% grew”.

Last Sunday, the Pontiff welcomed Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to the Vatican Gardens for prayer after making a surprise invitation during his visit to the Holy Land.

The Vatican said the success of the event was symbolised by an embrace shared by Abbas and Peres.

Pope Francis explained that he decided to visit the Holy Land in view of President Peres’ upcoming retirement later this summer.

“I knew his term was coming to an end. One way or another, I had to visit him first,” the Pope said.

Regarding the world’s economic system, the Pope insisted that a healthy system should be centred on the needs of men and women.

“But we have put money at the centre, the god of money,” he lamented. “We have fallen into a sin of idolatry, the idolatry of money.”

Commenting on the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, the Pope spoke of the possibility that his predecessor would be one of many eventual “popes emeritus.”

He pointed out that until recently there were no emeritus bishops, but now there are many all around the world.

When asked about his own place in history, the Pontiff responded, “I have not thought about it but I like it when someone remembers someone and says: ‘He was a good guy, he did what he could. He wasn’t so bad.’ I’m OK with that,” he told La Vanguardia.

The Pope shrugged off concerns about his personal safety, and his refusal to travel in a bulletproof popemobile. “I know what could happen, but it is in God’s hands,” he said.

He added that he could not tolerate travelling in an armoured “sardine can,” and laughed that “at my age I don’t have much to lose.”

Lastly, on his loyalties in the World Cup, the Pontiff, who is known to be an avid soccer fan, said he would try not to be partisan.

“I have promised to be neutral,” he said.   “I have to keep my word because Brazil and Argentina are always big rivals.”

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