Archive of December 23, 2010

US government interested in Pius XII’s wartime role, WikiLeaks cables show

Vatican City, Dec 23, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - The controversy over Pius XII’s role in protecting Jews from the Nazis is not merely an academic dispute but involves U.S. State Department interests, new WikiLeaks documents show.

The British newspaper The Guardian released four U.S. government cables related to research into the papacy of Pope Pius XII.

The first cable from the U.S. Vatican Embassy, dated Aug. 13, 2001, recounts a meeting with Fr. Peter Gumpel, S.J., who is involved in opening the Vatican archives. The document alluded to a previous cable which explained U.S. government interests in promoting a “positive productive dialogue” quickly because of the passing of the Holocaust generation.

Fr. Gumpel explained to the U.S. officials the procedures for accessing the Vatican archives and also reported inadequate staffing for his task. According to the cable, he recounted the perceived inadequacies of the Jewish-Vatican commission studying Pius XII’s role in the Second World War, such as most members’ inability to read the relevant documents in the original Italian.

The priest told the U.S. officials that Pope John Paul II was aware of the situation regarding the research.

He also objected to media descriptions of him as the “German Jesuit.” He recounted that his family had been victims of the Nazis and he himself fled Nazi Germany as a refugee. He also noted that at one point a reporter had planned to print an assertion that he was himself a Nazi, which Fr. Gumpel said was libelous.

Another confidential cable from the Vatican Embassy, dated Dec. 31, 2001, discussed the Jewish-Vatican commission in its report on a conversation between U.S. Ambassador Jim Nicholson and Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity.

Nicholson said the commission had dissolved “amid some acrimony,” according to the cable, and there was interest in the U.S. about whether it would be re-formed. The cardinal attributed the commission’s failure to personality problems and its lack of a clear mandate, insisting this was not a failure of Catholic-Jewish dialogue.

The cardinal called Fr. Gumpel the Vatican’s best-informed living expert on Pius XII’s papacy and he expressed hope that a commission could be re-formed with highly qualified academics not directly associated with either the Catholic Church or with Jewish agencies.

Cardinal Kasper “averred” that claims Pius XII was pro-Nazi were “without foundation” and he thought the archives would bear this out, the U.S. cable reported. The cardinal cited Israeli leader Golda Meir’s post-war praise for the Pope and he claimed that the Jewish community “became obsessed” with Pius XII’s wartime actions only after revisionist historians began publishing in the 1960s.

In the cable’s words, the cardinal thought the Pope communicated opposition to Nazism “subtly but clearly.”

"The convents all around here were full of Jews, at great risk, even though the SS was in this very building," commented Cardinal Kasper, who was speaking in the Apostolic Palace.

The cable’s analysis said that the Vatican remains “highly sensitive” to criticism of Pius XII and characterized the Vatican archive as “a hard nut to crack.” It also noted the Vatican’s insistence that its twelve-volume series culled from the Pius XII archive was a reasonable start.

A Feb. 22, 2002 cable followed up on the issue, noting the announcement of the archives’ partial opening. The cable’s author saw the move as an attempt by Pope John Paul II to “silence accusations of anti-Semitism leveled against his predecessor Pius XII” and also as a possible sign of renewed Vatican interest in beatifying the pontiff.

Pope John Paul II’s decision to sidestep standard release procedures shows that “whatever the Pope wants, does in fact happen,” concluded the cable, which was apparently signed by Nicholson.

The fourth cable dates from Oct. 16, 2009 and concerns the Holy See’s withdrawal from an agreement to become an international observer on the International Task Force on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research. The Vatican Embassy cable speculated that the Vatican’s “relatively inexperienced” new deputy foreign minister Mgsr. Ettore Balestrero made the decision, but it also wondered whether the move also signaled concerns about the task force’s pressure to release records related to Pius XII’s pontificate.

Task force members, including Austrian Ambassador Ferdinand Trauttsmandorff, U.S. Professor Steve
Katz of the Elie Wiesel Center at Boston University, and Israeli academic advisor Dina Porat, expressed “considerable disappointment” about the setback. Trauttsmandorff insisted that the task force sought a relationship with the Vatican not only to access the archives but also to work jointly with Catholic leaders in many countries on anti-racism and Holocaust remembrance education.

The cables have their source in the WikiLeaks website, which acquired more than 250,000 of the documents. Its media partners, which include The Guardian and The New York Times, have helped shape the selection and the timing of the released cables and have also redacted information believed to be sensitive.

The insights into U.S. officials’ views of the investigation of Pius XII’s papacy comes just before the publication of French scholar Joël-Benoît d'Onorio’s new analysis criticizing a “myth of the archives.”

In an article excerpted in the Dec. 23 edition of L’Osservatore Romano, d’Onorio argued that the archives will never produce proof of “what doesn’t exist … proof of the voluntary weakness of Pius XII.”

D’Onorio, who is president of the federation of Catholic jurists of France, wrote a Dec. 22 response in the French newspaper La Croix to Richard Prasquier, president of the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions.

Prasquier contended there is “no certain historic proof” that Pope Pius XII saved numerous lives during World War II. He rebuked the wartime pontiff’s alleged “silences” and “fear of speaking out.”

To this, d’Onorio replied that there are documents that already attest to Pius XII’s acts, such as 1943 records from Rome’s Augustinianum which show he ordered a monastery to open its doors to thousands. When Nazi occupiers asked Jews for 50 kilograms of gold to ransom 300 Jewish hostages, the Pope quickly ordered 15 kilograms to supply what the Jews lacked.

D’Onorio said there is “much more evidence” in Pius XII’s favor. “The valid studies are numerous and come from different sources, but they are deliberately ignored to sustain a black legend,” he charged.

The Pope’s alleged fear of speaking out in fact hid “a grand charity in action.”

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Catholic Health Association defies Phoenix bishop over abortion case

Phoenix, Ariz., Dec 23, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Catholic Health Association has once again found itself at odds with Church authority– this time, over Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted's decision to revoke the Catholic status of a hospital that admitted to serious ethics violations, including a highly-publicized abortion.

“Catholic Healthcare West and its system hospitals are valued members of the Catholic Health Association,” said that group's president, Sister Carol Keehan. Her remarks came less than 24 hours after the Bishop of Phoenix stripped one of those hospitals, St. Joseph's in Phoenix, of its Catholic affiliation.

The Bishop of Phoenix announced his decision on Dec. 21, after negotiations with St. Joseph's hospital, and its parent company Catholic Healthcare West, ended without an agreement. Their main dispute concerned a November 2009 incident, in which medical ethics advisers at St. Joseph's authorized an abortion for a pregnant woman who was seriously ill.

Bishop Olmsted, in consultation with his own diocesan medical board, concluded that the abortion was a direct violation of the Church's ethical health care guidelines. He also accused the hospital and its parent company of “formally cooperating” in the management and administration of a government program that offers abortion, birth control, and sterilization procedures at other hospitals. 

Sr. Keehan, however, opined that Catholic Healthcare West facilities were “well-known” for a “long and stellar history in the protection of life at all stages.” Her brief statement did not address the company's alleged cooperation with government-funded abortion and sterilization.

But she did defend St. Joseph's decision to perform the abortion. “They had been confronted with a heartbreaking situation,” she stated. “They carefully evaluated the patient's situation and correctly applied the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services to it, saving the only life that was possible to save.”

Sr. Keehan is not a physician, although her official biography mentions “more than 35 years” in “administrative and governance positions at hospitals,” as well as her bachelor's degree in Nursing.

However, two obstetrician-gynecologists from the Diocese of Phoenix's Medical Ethics Department said Sr. Keehan was misrepresenting both the facts of the St. Joseph's Hospital case, and the ethical principles of Catholic health care.

According to those principles, doctors may perform a necessary and non-abortive medical procedure in order to treat a serious illness, even if it has the secondary effect of harming or killing an unborn child. However, the pregnancy itself can never be regarded as an “disease,” nor may a doctor perform an abortion as a means of treating a different condition.

“It goes back to the basic issue that you can never do an evil, to achieve a good,” Dr. William Chavira told CNA on Dec. 22. “The act is inherently evil.”

Dr. Chavira is a practicing obstetrician and gynecologist who also serves on the Phoenix Diocese's medical ethics committee. 

Although the hospital maintains that the abortion occurred as part of a “placentectomy” – the removal of the placenta that connects a developing fetus to the mother's uterus – Dr. Chavira explained that the placenta of the woman in the St. Joseph's case “was not diseased,” though it may have been producing hormones that aggravated the woman's heart and lung condition.

“If something's not diseased,” he explained, “then we can't act on it – as opposed to a cancerous uterus, or an infected placenta.”

Nevertheless, Dr. Chavira stated, the “placentectomy” – which killed the woman's child– could not be regarded as a necessary medical treatment. The medical condition threatening her life was not the pregnancy, but the preexisting heart and lung condition.

The removal of the placenta, he explained, could not have been intended to treat that condition. Rather, it was intended to mitigate the effects of the woman's heart and lung disease – by ending her pregnancy through an abortion.

As such, he said, the abortion was direct and intentional, and could not be compared to other necessary medical procedures that might cause the death of an unborn child.

Dr. Clinton Leonard, another OB-GYN who belongs to the medical ethics board in Bishop Olmsted's diocese, stated to CNA on Dec. 22 that Sr. Keehan and other defenders of St. Joseph's were attempting to distract the public from a fundamental moral principle.

“They're making it too complex,” he said. “It's really a simple issue: the ends never justify the means. And the means that they used was a direct abortion,” Dr. Leonard stated. “That's not a treatment for pulmonary hypertension.”

“I would do everything possible to offer her cardiac support,” Dr. Leonard said, when asked what he would regard as an appropriate treatment under the circumstances. “If it's pulmonary hypertension, generally you use medications that are going to reduce the work that the heart has to do.”

In response to the assertion of Sr. Keehan and others, who regard the woman as having been on the brink of death, Dr. Leonard said it was “in debate, whether or not her life was at that point.”

But, he clarified, even under those circumstances, authoritative Catholic teaching would not have permitted the hospital to consider abortion as a form of necessary medical treatment. Pope John Paul II's encyclical “Evangelium Vitae” stated that “the deliberate decision to deprive an innocent human being of his life is always morally evil and can never be licit ... (even) as a means to a good end.”

Previously, Sr. Keehan and the Catholic Health Association sparred with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on the question of health care reform, which the bishops criticized for funding abortion. Some observers have noted the critical role that she played, along with a social justice lobby of sisters called Network, in the bill's eventual passage.

In his farewell address before resigning the presidency of the U.S. Bishops' conference this fall, Cardinal Francis George – who directly opposed the health care bill, for its abortion funding – spoke of unnamed groups he said wanted to “remake the Church according to their own designs or discredit her as a voice in ... public discussions” such as the debate over abortion and health care reform.

As for who truly “speaks for the Catholic Church,” the cardinal left no room for doubt: “The bishops in apostolic communion and in union with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome, speak for the Church in matters of faith and in moral issues and the laws surrounding them.”

Staff Writer Marianne Medlin contributed to this report.

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