October was a tumultuous month for Pope Benedict. During a mass commemorating Pope Pius XII (who reigned from 1939 to 1958), Benedict spoke of the good works done by the Nazi-era pope, hoping to accelerate the beatification process that would eventually lead to Pius' sainthood.
Just last week, however, the Vatican announced its decision to put the beatification on hold, hoping to maintain Jewish relations. It is not difficult to see why any Jew, or any morally decent individual, would be outraged that Pius is not being denounced for his actions during the Second World War.
Benedict used the terms "secret and silent" to portray Pius' benign stance toward Jews, but in the doublespeak of the political and religious, we may infer that he did nothing. Nothing was done to denounce the horrors in Italy under Benito Mussolini, Slovakia under Jozef Tiso and, of course, Germany under Adolf Hitler.
On the contrary, Pius signed treaties and concordats in support of such tyrants. He offered prayers for Hitler in German churches annually on his birthday and throughout the entire war the only Nazi excommunicated was Joseph Goebbels-- for marrying a Protestant.
At the end of the war, both the Vatican and the Argentinean Catholic Church played significant roles in the emigration of high-ranking Nazi officers to many parts of South America. Uki Goni, among others, lays out the details of this shameful secret in The Real Odessa.
Questions have arisen over the specifics of many events on record in the Vatican Libraries and the "secret and silent" adjectives employed are unsubstantiated while many of the records are closed to historians, for organizational reasons. New information may only be brought forth, therefore, if and when the Vatican makes the full records available.
We have no reason to remain agnostic on the charges already in place. It may turn out that efforts were made in certain instances to bring criminals to justice or save the lives of innocents, but if evidence is available presently, it is the Church's moral responsibility to make it available to all.
A good dose of skepticism should be employed when considering the academic honesty of any institution whose leader, as Benedict may have done in Paris this year, denounces the pursuit of knowledge. Evidence may, after all, lead those away from their faith. There is no doubt that the events of WWII were complex and questions regarding what more could have been done are easier now. However, we are deluding ourselves to think that the Catholic Church lived up to its guise of infallibility during that period.
We can be sure there were a great many Catholics who acted morally and without cowardice, unafraid of the response of Hitler's regime. There were a great many others too: Jews, Protestants, Muslims and atheists. There is not one faith-- or any faith at all-- necessary to act morally. All humans have the ability to decide what is good, no order need come from on high.
Pope John Paul II expressed his deep regret regarding the events that the Church was part of during that time. It seems there is no dishonour in admitting to mistakes, unless your faith keeps you from doing so.