Saints, Sinner and Commencement Speakers

Cathy Kaveny makes a good point over at Dotcommonweal.

Saints don’t have to be perfect. And in canonizing Pope Pius XII, the Church really doesn’t mean to endorse his approach to  Nazism. And in canonizing Pope John Paul II, the Church really doesn’t mean to endorse his handling of the Maciel case.  But their whole lives cannot be reduced to one position, one action, one set of judgments, as John Allen carefully explains to us. Mmm.  I thought that was essentially the argument made by Notre Dame about the commencement invitation–rejected by many of those who are likely to support the canonization of Pius XII and JPII.  Oh. . . but it’s there’s a difference.  Obama was a commencement speaker –not a candidate for sainthood.  Saints don’t have to be perfect.  But commencement speakers, apparently do.

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James Lington
9 years ago
I sure wish logic and reason, as is expressed here, could actually change hearts.
Michael Laing
9 years ago
Yeah, I remember when it was acceptable to separate collection money from other money so that no collection money would be spent on sexual abuse settlements.  Of course it is not possible to separate government funding from private money in health care when it comes to abortion.
Logic generally means it works for me, but not for you :).
Jeff Bagnell
9 years ago
Interesting reasoning.  I'll pass over the fallacious comparisons re Obama, etc.,, and note only my disagreement with the author's implication that Pius XII's approach to Naziism was somehow something the Church would disagree with today.   
Why a Jesuit publication would continue, indirectly, the horrendously unjustified treatment of Pius on the WWII front is truly mystifying ("the Church doesn't really mean to endorse his approach to Nazism").  
Pius did more than anyone alive to save Jews during WWII (far more than the good works of Oskar Schindler or the allies or any religious order during the time), and the Chief Rabbi of Rome praised him at the war's conclusion, and converted to Catholicism. The New York Times itself hailed Pius's approach to the Nazis in 1942 and at the war's conclusion.  It called him a "lone voice" speaking out against the Third Reich. It's all there in the historical record.  
It will be a happy day when the carping criticism of Pius on this issue ends.  
Marc Monmouth
9 years ago
Before they were named saints, they had conversion experiences. Obama has not had had a change of heart in his attacks on the unborn. Wisdom would dictate that before Catholic institutions afford him praise and honorary degrees, we wait until he comes to the realization that life is sacred from conception to natural death. 
Also, JSB is correct. America is very deeply into revisionist history.  Let us sing the praises of holy men and women.
9 years ago
A quote in a blog in America online about a blog in lay edited Commonweal on-line, becomes an attack by America/Jesuits on the Pope and morphs into an attack on Obama . let's hear about how they will drag in the health reform defeat.
Jeff Bagnell
9 years ago
Ah yes I see it was a quotation now.  My mistake.  But regardless it was thought to be a "good point," so it seems that Father Martin was adopting the point of view expressed, which surprised me.  Pius will be canonized there is no doubt about it. Reported to be the only pope since Peter who had a personal vision of Jesus.
John McGuinness
9 years ago
No, it wasn't a good point.  It was a silly false equivalence.
Will JPII's canonization be used to demonstrate that his handling of the Maciel case is the correct way to handle things?
And those who express grave concerns anytime the bishops take any action or make any statement against pro-choice politicians are not in any position to pass judgement on Pius XII's treatment of Nazism
Joseph Farrell
9 years ago
First, I would challenge America to present both sides of the Pius XII debate especially when they cite such a deeply flawed article. Many, many Jews were saved by his actions. The most popular book that criticized him, ''Hitler's Pope'' has been widely debunked and even the author has admitted that it was off-base.
''I would now argue, in the light of the debates and evidence following 'Hitler's Pope', that Pius XII had so little scope of action that it is impossible to judge the motives for his silence during the war, while Rome was under the heel of Mussolini and later occupied by the Germans.''
- John Cornwell
For this one example from one of Pius XII's harshest critics, there are countless more, especially from the many Jews he personally saved with forged documents and artful hiding at great risk to himself and the Vatican.
I also take issue when, at the end of the article cited, Ms. Kaveny states:
''And I think we need a Devil’s Advocate. Otherwise, how can the faithful trust that making saints isn’t a process of pure expediency?''
Well, because some of us believe that the Holy Spirit is guiding the Church. That's how we can be sure.
Whether President Obama should have been invited to Notre Dame is a valid debate, but those who engage it should not make far-fetched comparisons between sainted popes and politicians and then undermine themselves with a misunderstanding of how the Spirit operates in the Church’s canonizations.  Sadly I've come to expect this from Commonweal but would hope for something better from America.
9 years ago
Ed Gleanson: LOL. Well done.
david power
9 years ago
What a mean-spirited article!Not only ignorant of history but also hissy about those who would have the temerity to question the One . It is in good and holy men such as Pacelli and Wojtyla that we see a life of service and a love of Christ.Men of maturity and intelligence.How badly the Church needs such men now!.
Jim McCrea
9 years ago
" - how the Spirit operates in the Church’s canonizations -"
I have yet to see ANY proof that the Spirit drives or even guides anything this church does.  Papal elections anyone?
Wishful thinking is not the same as proof positive, especially if this thinking is posited by those who stand most to benefit from it.
Jeff Bagnell
9 years ago
I read Ms. Kaveny's full article, which is worse than the excerpt above makes it sound.  Here is a real doozy:
"But it is okay for the Roman Catholic Church to advocate the cause of sainthood for Pope Pius XII, who was at best lukewarm in his opposition to Nazism and the original Holocaust."
This is about as accurate as saying that Hitler was fond of Churchill and Roosevelt.  It's Alice in Wonderland revisionist history.
9 years ago
Father Martin, I disagree with your assessment that Cathy Kaveny makes a good point in her article.  The comparisons made are faulty and weak at best.  "False equivalency" seems to be a good description.  I really take issue with Ms. Kaveny's statement about Pope Pius XII "who was at best lukewarm in his opposition to Nazism and the original holocoust".  She shows ignorance of much recent scholarship regarding this pope.  To add to the posts of JSB and Joe Farrell, I'd refer readers to the scholarship of Sr. Margherita Marchione and Robert F. Graham, S.J. and other Catholic scholars.  For those who suspect anything coming out of the Catholic Church or from its scholars, I heartily recommend reading the works of Sir Martin Gilbert.  He is an observent Jew and a renowned historian of the Holocaust.  One of his books, "The Righteous: the Unsung Heroes of the Hoolocaust" features Pope Pius XII.  AT the end of the war, this pope was honored by Golda Meir.  Sir Martin Gilbert has recommended the book: "The Myth of Hitler's Pope", written by Rabbi David G. Dalin. 
The question remains:  why and how did this libel of the pope occur and why is it still being perpetuated even by such distinguished journals as Commonweal and America.  Nothing fair and balanced in these articles.
Finally, how can the destruction of tens of thousands of human beings, through abortion, not be called a "holocaust"?    The right to life is the civil rights issue of our day.
Gabriel Marcella
9 years ago
Fr. Martin:
Reprinting the Kaveny article under your imprimatur makes one wonder what happened to the scholarly rigor expected of the America Magazine. She repeats discredited revisionist history, and so do you by saying that she makes a "good point" in her article. Pope Pius may not make it through the process of canonization but we owe him and the historical record more than mere polemics authored by a lawyer who demonstrates a rudimentary study of history. Kudos to the commentators on this blog who point this out so eloquently. Some months ago America Magazine editorialized its concern about the distance between the Catholic universities and the Catholic hierarchy, and by extension the Catholic flock in the United States. Let's hope that you, intellectuals like Kaveny, Notre Dame, and America work hard to repair the breach.
Beth Cioffoletti
9 years ago
I respect, support, and join the efforts of pro-life Catholics to end abortion.
I also know that there are a lot of "Holocausts" going on in our world today.  I work with prisoners and know first hand that there are thousands of good, redeemable lives that are thrown away every day. 
From my perspective, it seems that very few people even have much interest in prisoners, much less care about these human beings.  It's hard to drum up support for them. Everytime I drive by one of the many huge prison complexes (every couple hundred miles) and think of the human lives being warehoused there, I am reminded of the concentration camps of WW2.  Right in their midst, yet people paid no notice.
So - I have a hard time believing that one issue, abortion, is THE civil rights issue of our day, and should be the defining characterist of whether or not someone is "worthy" to be either a saint or a commencement speaker.
We each are led in different ways.  As Fr. Martin said somewhere else, holiness comes in many forms.
9 years ago
Mr. Marcella, I'm afraid that the dispute about the role of Pope Pius XII is not rightly characerized as a series of one-sided polemics against him, already decisively refute by serios scholars. Many of the defenses are also motivated by ideology, rather than by scholarlydy disinterest in the truth. In general, it is quite difficult to move beyond the polemics on both sides-which is why responsible scholars are calling for more access to the information in the Vatican archives before rendering a definitive jugment.
I think this summary of the status questionis from the Shoa Resource Center to be very helpful an even-handed way:
Note that the critics of Pope Pius XII's reticence with respect to the Holocaust make arguments very similar to those made by pro-life activists with respect to abortion:  the matter is to grave and fundamental to refrain from speaking out, no matter what the consequences.
It was that point that I found most striking.
Jeff Bagnell
9 years ago
No doubt that ideology and anti-Catholicism provokes most of the current criticism of Pius also.  
Here are two other excellent sources of information refuting the canard that Pius was somehow a passive observer of the Nazis, didn't care about the Jews, etc.  Rabbi David G. Dalin's The Myth of Hitler's Pope - How Pius XII Rescued Jews from the Nazis; and the writings of Jesuit Peter Gumpel.
"For Gumpel, the record is clear: Pius couldn't issue scathing indictments of Jewish deportations because he thought public outcry would only enrage the Nazis and result in more deaths.
"I do not see what he could have done more," Gumpel says, adding that if he had found ample evidence that Pius had spoken out, he might have refused to sign off on the investigation for his saintly cause."
In fact, as Rabbi Dalin points out in his book, early condemnations of Nazi treatment of the Jews only resulted in more of them being killed.  But it's nice to see a handful of moderns, safely removed from the terror of Hitler's SS, backseat drive him now.  Pius had a figurative gun to his head from 1939 to 1945 and I doubt any of us would have handled the situation as wisely as he did.
9 years ago
Here are some facts about PiusXII's lack of action on October 16.1943
Lets look at a specific instance when Pius XII did nothing to stop the death train with a thousand Roman Jews on their way to Auschwitz on Oct 16 1943. And he knew all about it.. Just weeks before in Sept,1943, king Victor Emmanual 'went over' to the Allies. Not the bravest thing but at least Victor took action as Kings/leaders are expected to do. . Thousands of soldiers and civilians were being killed south of Rome. Pius XII, bishop of Rome, His Holiness, would not walk a few blocks to the train station to try and stop the death train. No German officer would have stopped him without Berlin orders. Such a man is a saint? Imagine an unrestrained father who refused to go to a train station where his children were being shipped off to die! would be 'put=up' as a 'prudent saint'. I ask nothing that I would not do. Some say 'it would be imprudent and dangerous for Pius XII'. Thousands of US, Poles, Brits Aussy soldiers died on the slopes of Monte Cassino... dangerous as hell..
The same clerical culture that gave us the abuse cover-up is now wanting an un-believing world to acknowledge Pius XII a saint!
9 years ago
While I think many thinking Catholics (and other's) reject the '' Hitler's Pope'' slander, wonders about how a Roncolli or a Wojtyla would have acted as Pope in the same situation. 
I am no historian, but I do believe Pius will likely be judged as doing the best he could to help, relying upon his lifelong  talents as a quiet diplomat in the center of a world war. This is hardly a slander or an inditement.
We know how Roncolli or Wojtyla  acted during the war in other positions in the church. We saw their courage as Popes - hardly accepting safe courses.
Is it fair to Pius to compare ? I would say not- few men or women can live up to comparisons  with John XXIII and John Paul II. Heaven only knows how you or I would react in such a situation, and I pray we are never tested.
Nonetheless I must say its why I better understand the continued elevation towards the honors of the altar for the latter two Popes.
Jeff Bagnell
9 years ago
the facts tell a very different story.
As Rabbi Dalin notes, the only source for the Gleasons' relatively emotional condemnation of Pius (complete with exclamation marks), is Robert Katz's book, Black Sabbath in 1969.  He was the first one to argue without any contemporaneous evidence that Pius allegedly had foreknowledge of this deportation.  Katz's source was German diplomat Eitel Mollhausen, who passed information about the October 1943 deportation to German's ambassador to the Vatican, Ernst von Weizacker.  Mollhausen assumed that the German ambassaor would tip off the Vatican, but this has never been proved in any way. 
Weizsacker himself never claimed that he passed this info. on to anyone in the Vatican, let alone Pius himself.  Against this flimsy non-evidence, we have the testimony of Princess Aragona of Italy, who met with Pius the morning of October 16th to tell him what was happening.  She stated that he was "shocked and angry" and that he then took action.  He immediately protested to the German ambassador Weizsacker, demanding that the arrests stop.  
Adolf Eichmann himself stated during his trial that the Vatican vigorously protested the arrest of Jews, and the foremost authority on the October 1943 roundup, Italian Jew Michael Tagliacozzo, says that Pius was "the only one who intervened to impede the deporation of Jews on October 16, 1943, and he did very much to hide and save thousands of us." 
Now the notion that Pius should have walked down to the train station, when Hitler had put out an order to kidnap him if he left the Vatican, is new to me.  There is so much displaced anger here.  Pius was not responsible for the Nazi's atrocities, he had no army to fight the Germans, and yet he is somehow now deemed a superman who could have stopped at all with a personal appearance.  
Carolyn Disco
9 years ago
Thank you, Cathleen Kaveny, for the link to the Shoa Resource Center article that addresses in detail what is left out of the comments from supporters of Pius XII, and the responses of critics to what the supporters say. It also notes the contributions Pius did make. I find it balanced, making clear the difficult issues at hand on both sides.
''But compilations of Jewish post-war responses in Vatican documents have tended to ignore the crucial testimonies of Gerhardt Riegner and Rudolf Vrba. Riegner manned the office of the World Jewish Congress in Geneva throughout the war years and endeavoured to convey information about the Holocaust to the Allies.
He was more closely involved with the Vatican than the Jewish figures whom Pius XII's supporters tend to cite. Rudolf Vrba escaped from Auschwitz in April 1944 and, like Riegner, made desperate efforts to solicit help in the free world. He too had important contact with the Vatican.
Riegner maintains that the Vatican was unhelpful until 1944, and Vrba, who had a meeting in that year with a papal diplomat, which lasted six hours, claims that none of his material was ever circulated or publicized.''
There's more...and until the Vatican releases all the archives to the public, much remains to be learned. Why the delay?
I've also heard that bishops may be sensitive on the point of episcopal silence about the Holocaust, and will not make the same mistake regarding abortion.
Yes, ideology drives much of the debate, affecting me as well. I knew an Auschwitz survivor who told me of no help from Catholic priests or nuns, in fact the opposite in her experience. Our conversations before she died, though short on painful detail, are indelibly marked in my memory.
It's been noteworthy to me that I've seen no bishops or priests attend the local interfaith annual Holocaust remembrance services in April. There was one brother once. I have not attended every year, and may have missed clergy in a corner somewhere when I did. But I found their absence disappointing.
I also imagine Jewish officials could find it prudent to speak reservedly about Catholic leaders in public.
Jeff Bagnell
9 years ago
It is only ideology that could assert that Pius was "lukewarm at best" toward the Holocaust.  I mean, what is that suggesting?  That he didn't care that the Jews were being murdered?  That is a staggering indictment without any evidence supporting it.  
The SRC document is relatively balanced, although it omits any of the voluminous testimony of specific Jews praising Pius.  Another good summary is Sister Marchione's, linked here at
Carolyn Disco
9 years ago
The whole sainthood parade of popes is very instructive as a sign of the times in the church. And the pairing of ''two-fers'' to make one or the other more acceptable is a bald political move that cheapens more than edifies. Rome expedites its own irrelevancy with each passing year. No Romero, martyred on the altar?
Monarchical complex or what? ''Pius did not invite discussion. He dealt with subordinates directly, without using a secretary, giving his orders over his gold-and-white telephone, and replacing the receiver as soon as he had finished what he wanted to say. Officials, when they heard his voice – “Qui parla Pacelli” (“Pacelli speaking”) — were trained to go down on their knees with the phone in their hands.
Pius insisted on retaining traditional monarchical protocol. All but the most senior, or privileged, officials, on the rare occasions when they came into his presence, addressed him on their knees and left the room walking backwards.
He reinstated the practice, which had been scornfully abandoned by Pius X, that the pope always took his meals alone; not even his favorite relatives were allowed to sit down at the table with him.
When he walked in the Vatican gardens, the workmen and gardeners were instructed to hide themselves behind trees so as not to break his solitude. The papal Cadillac, a present from Cardinal Spellman, Archbishop of New York, had solid gold door-handles and, in back, a single seat, where Pius sat alone, communing with himself.'' Paul Johnson, History of Christianity, as quoted by David Nickol at dotCommonweal
9 years ago
We are talking Sainthood. so what's with your statement?? 'That he didn't care that the Jews were being murdered? That is a staggering indictment without any evidence supporting it.'
Who cares that PiusXII 'cared'. Sainthood is about action not empathy.I'm sure all the religious sisters in Mother Teresa's original community that ministered to the wealthy 'cared about the poor'...Mother Teresa acted.. therefore saint.. Sainthood is action and you don't need a degree/licentiate/ordination to recognize it either.
In the early church the people the hoi paloi, declared saints not bureaucrats with a 'kissy' sgenda. Basta
Jeff Bagnell
9 years ago
All you have to read is "communing with himself' to know how comically biased a portrait that is.  Just short of Monte Python.  
Carolyn Disco
9 years ago
The question is not how comedic the portrait is (it is comedic), but how true it is.
Jeff Bagnell
9 years ago
Here is a quote from a 1958 issue of Time Magazine.  1958.  I guess Paul Johnson overlooked this.  
Among the crowds that watched the motor hearse go by, there was already talk that some day Pope Pius XII may be canonized a saint. Several instances have been reported of unusual healing at his touch or prayer. Weight will be added to the arguments for his canonization by his reported vision of Jesus Christ just before his serious illness four years ago and his reported visions of the sun revolving in the sky (as it did to announce the famed apparition of the Virgin to three shepherd children of Fatima, Portugal, in 1917). But whatever future learned tribunals may decide about his saintliness, millions who saw him or heard his words will require no visions, no miracles beyond the fact that Pius XII was able to make a tormented world feel ''the attraction of Christian goodness.''

Read more:,9171,863973-6,00.html#ixzz0aO30HRRG
Carolyn Disco
9 years ago
Weren't Henry and Claire Booth Luce the principals at Time then? That's eloquent idealizing and worshipful writing for sure, at the height of a triumphalist church.
I was a young adult then, and remember something different. But each is entitled to his own memories.
Talk of canonization at a pope's funeral is not unusual for his supporters. As long as each finds God's mercy and love in his own way, nothing else matters.
9 years ago
Beth, I would like to comment on your statement:  "I have a hard time believing that abortion is THE civil rights issue of today and should be the defining characteristic of whether or not someone is "worthy' to be either a saint or a commencement speaker."
First, I hope I didn't imply that I was making any judgments on anyone's sanctity.  That would certainly be presumptious.  Pope Benedict once said that there are as many ways to salvation as there are individuals, even those within the same faith.  But, I do feel I can make a judgment as to who can be a recepient of an honorary degree at a Catholic institution.  And I would grant that determination to anyone who has an opinion.    And we may differ!!
My statement that abortion is the civil rights issue of our day is not original with me.  About 30 yrs ago, Mary Meeham (a Catholic, feminist pro-life advocate) and Nat Hentoff ( a great civil libertarian) expressed these thoughts .  Mary Meeham , who I greatly admire, recently said:  "And, we understand that all other rights and liberties depend on the right to life.  When you take someone's life, you wipe out, in one fall sweep, all of their other rights."  
Another factor are the sheer numbers of innocent victims.  Some say 48 million -52 million babies have been aborted  since Roe v. Wade, with another million projected for each year to come.  When I was young, being liberal meant being the advocate of the most vulnerable in our society.  Who is more vulnerable than an unborn baby?  Our foremothers, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Alice Paul were all avidly pro-life/ anti-abortion.  And they were battling against great odds for women's rights which they believed included the right to life of the unborn. 
Another factor is that (according to Guttmacher) 37% of babies aborted in the U.S. are African-American.  Eugenics has been part of our history and is tied in with abortion.  The destruction of Down Syndrome unborn babies is an example of  eugenics by abortion.  Peter Singer of Princeton would be fine with parents killing their BORN disabled babies if that would be convenient.    Euthanasia is rearing its evil head.  Oregon and Washington have already legalized eithanasia .  It is all of a piece-abortion, eugenics, euthanasia.  The culture of death.
Those of us who are pro-life may have different ways of expressing our beliefs and putting them into action.  Personally, I support Feminists for Life, a non-sectarian, non-partison pro-life advocacy organization that targets  college women, lobbies in congress and has very practical ways of helping pregnant women.
Finally, I have to tell you how much I admire you for your work with prisoners.  As a long-retired social worker (Catholic Charities and Child Protective Services) my heart goes out to all those who are out there working with Christ's least brethren.  It can be sad and heart-breaking and rewarding all at the same time.  God bless you.
Beth Cioffoletti
9 years ago
Thank you for your explanation of wny abortion must be the civil rights issue of the day, Janice.  I do agree with you - that the sacredness of life must be at the very heart of our faith and our iives, and that we really are up against a culture of death.
My problem with isolating out abortion, is that abortion is just one manifestation of this culture of death, which includes eugenics, euthenasia, the death penalty and war.  It is all of one piece.  Yes, who is more vulnerable than the unborn baby, and if we can't protect them, who can we protect?  The lives of the babies are dependent upon the mothers who carry them.  Women who are safe and loved are much more likely to give birth than women who are overwhelmed. Who will protect the mothers?
In my mind, a culture of life, one in which every life is valued, is the way to approach the problem of abortion.  The problem of abortion is part of a much broader problem: the very idea that a human life is expendible.  In our culture it's ok to kill people - condemned prisoners, sick people when they become a burden, the "enemy" during wartime, even civilians during wartime if the cause is justified.  Look at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.   If it's ok to kill people, then abortion follows to be ok too.  After all, it's just a few cells.  This doesn't mean that I'm FOR abortion, or that it should be promoted in any way ... just that I think singling it out of the larger context will ultimately do nothing to heal the wounds that cause abortion in the first place.
Thank you again, for your very kind and thoughtful response.  It is a difficult moral problem, which I wrestle with personally. 
Carolyn Disco
9 years ago
Re: JSB's post at #20 that P12 objected strongly to the German ambassador about the deportations of Jews in Oct. 1943 once he learned what was happening -
Here is another take on the event per Crystal at dotCommonweal
“A still more notable breach in moral terms, however, is the fact that once the roundup took place–”under the very windows of the Pope” in the words of Ernst von Weizsacker, the German Ambassador to the Holy See-and with the trains waiting to deport more than a thousand Roman Jews (the “Pope’s Jews”) to Auschwitz, not a single public word of protest was uttered then or subsequently by the Pope himself.
Soon after the event, then, Weizsacker could, accurately and in good conscience, report back to Berlin that the Pope “has not allowed himself to be carried away making any demonstrative statements against deportation of the Jews… he has done all he could… not to prejudice relationships with the German government.”
Question, anyone: Is there any indication in Weizsacker’s papers that P12 contacted him and “immediately protested … demanding that the arrests stop,” per JSB’s post?
Crystal’s quote indicates W’s pleasure that P12 made no public protest, but what about a private objection? But, how would W speak of P12 not being carried away by it all, and taking care not to prejudice relationships with the Nazis, if P12 indeed had demanded arrests stop?
Just curious what records show...
Jeff Bagnell
9 years ago
I see my previous reply wasn't posted. Interesting.
Carolyn, I'm glad you're taking the word of a Nazi trying to curry favor with Berlin over that of a pope and a Catholic Italian Princess.  
Gabriel Marcella
9 years ago
Below is a commentary by John Breen in "Mirror of Justice," December 23, 2009 on the dotCommonweal piece by Cathy Kaveny. readers may acces Kaveny's response at:

What Cathy Kaveny Doesn't Get

“I have to say, I really don’t get it.”

So begins a recent post by Cathy Kaveny over at dotCommonweal.

The purported source of her confusion is the Holy See's recent decision to declare Pius XII and John Paul II "venerable" and the negative reaction of many prelates and other Catholics to Notre Dame's decision to honor President Obama as the University's commencement speaker and award him an honorary degree.

Pius, she says, "was at best lukewarm in his opposition to Nazism and the original Holocaust" and John Paul was "apparent[ly] negligen[t] in failing to investigate the charges against Maciel and the Legionaries [of Christ]."

Yet, says Cathy, in canonizing Pius [n.b. an action that has yet to take place] "the Church really doesn’t mean to endorse his approach to Nazism. And in canonizing Pope John Paul II, the Church really doesn’t mean to endorse his handling of the Maciel case." This is because "their whole lives cannot be reduced to one position, one action, one set of judgments."

But this, says Cathy, "was essentially the argument made by Notre Dame about the commencement invitation" to the President. And this is the source of her bewilderment. After all, President Obama's position was only to "acquiesce in [the] legality of abortion, claiming that this is the best we can do realistically and pragmatically.” Thus, the reader is left to conclude that it was wrong to oppose Obama’s speaking at Notre Dame since doing so reduced his whole political agenda to a single issue.

Doing her best to channel Jon Stewart, the difference says Cathy, with deliberate irony, is that "Obama was a commencement speaker –not a candidate for sainthood" and we have come to expect perfection in the former but not in the latter.

I appreciate the attempt at humor, but the analogy Cathy draws raises serious questions. Are the cases really that much alike?

Many people of good will - including many contemporaries of Pius and not a few professional historians - will take issue with Cathy's description of Pius’ response to the Holocaust as "lukewarm." Whether that characterization is historically accurate is certainly open to dispute, as is the wisdom of recognizing Pius as "venerable," given the sensitivity of Catholic-Jewish relations. This, however, is beside the point.

It can be conceded, at least for the sake of argument, that the prudential judgment that Pius exercised in responding to the Holocaust may well have been mistaken. The same could be said of John Paul's response to the allegations regarding Marciel. But this is where Cathy’s analogy breaks down. Whereas one may well question whether Pius should have been more outspoken in his opposition to the persecution of the Jews and other targeted groups, no one contends (or rather no reasonable person contends) that he favored such persecution, that he thought the Nazi laws that authorized such persecution were just, or that he approved of the atrocities carried out by the Third Reich.

In short, whatever Pius may have failed to say or do in response to the Holocaust, he never said that gassing Jews was a good thing, or something that should be permitted, or subsidized, or expanded. Likewise, even if John Paul was negligent in his oversight of the Legionaries and their leader, no one contends that the Pope approved of the abuse and deceit that was perpetrated by Marciel.

Neither Pius nor John Paul ever personally endorsed, let alone vowed to put the weight of their office behind an action that is gravely evil.

The President, by contrast, clearly favors abortion. He believes that laws creating a right to abortion are just and that the common good demands that the state pay for the procedure when women can’t afford it. He thinks that widely available legal abortion is a good thing - far preferable to the alternative - and he has invested political capital to see that the abortion regime is not only preserved but expanded, both in this country and abroad.

Moreover, President Obama not only believes that abortion should be recognized as a legal and constitutional right, but that the lethal exercise of that right may be a good thing in the individual case.

As then Senator Obama famously remarked on the campaign trail, if one of his daughters had an unintended pregnancy he wouldn't want her "punished with a baby" - a moment of unscripted candor that reflects his true beliefs about abortion. Notwithstanding Obama's furrowed brow and the earnestness with which he voiced misgivings about the procedure in more guarded moments, these comments together with his political actions reflect the President's belief that abortion isn't really such a bad thing. It reflects his view that abortion is a legitimate alternative, even perhaps the best way of solving a specific kind of “problem.”

So unlike Pius who is faulted for not having spoken out about the Shoah, Obama’s problem isn’t reticence. It’s that he has said the wrong things and believes the wrong things, and that he has worked to turn his thoughts and words into law.

Surely if Pius or John Paul had championed the free exercise of an act that the Church considers both deeply sinful and profoundly unjust neither would be considered “venerable” let alone a candidate for sainthood. Shouldn’t we withhold our honor from secular figures who do the same?
9 years ago
And here is the reply and the website, posted by Michael Perry.

[Here is Cathy's response:]

When the Catholic Church or one of its institutions confers an honor on them, how do we assess the appropriateness of this honor -by looking at the recipient's stance on one issue, or by looking at their entire life and context?


I am not trying to rerun the merits of the ND decision–I’m trying to focus on the standard of review. John, I’m afraid you’ve: 1) shifted attention to the merits; and) granted summary judgment to your own position, by reading the facts about Obama in the worst possible way and reading the facts about the Popes in the most favorable light. I’m not surprised when that happens with non-lawyers, but I did hope for more from a fellow law professor. But maybe I didn’t run my argument with enough rigor and detail. So let me try to state my case more fully.

Let me stipulate that the underlying moral issues are all serious. Abortion and the Holocaust are the intentional killing of the innocent–in body. Child sexual abuse involves seriously maiming the innocent in their psyches. Let me also stipulate that none of the three (Obama, Pius XII, or John Paul II) is directly involved in these practices, nor is in a position directly to stop them, but can make them more difficult, protest them, or support them. They can also make them less likely to occur. Obama supports a constitutional right to abortion in our pluralistic society (perhaps because he thinks it’s the best, prudentially, we can do), but he also supports reducing the number of abortions. He doesn’t think abortion is a good thing Pius couldn’t stop Nazi Germany by himself–but did he ever call, directly, for its overthrow? Did he ever call upon Catholics to rise up against it? Did he ever call upon Catholic soldiers to refuse to fight for Nazi Germany? Not to my knowledge. He balanced other values, prudently, in deciding upon the best course of action. He reduce the number of Holocaust victims without ever directly calling into question the legitimacy of the entire regime which made it legal. John Paul II was actually in a position to shut down Maciel–instead he repeatedly and firmly shut down the investigation of credible accusations of child abuse. This wasn’t an isolated incident. He saved and protected Cardinal Law, possibly even from US prosecution.

While there are doubtless differences in detail, the fact is that all three men arguably have a morally deficient stance toward grave moral and social evil which they are in some position to protest or prevent. (John you present Pius and JPII as merely making mistakes–I think it is likely they were culpably negligent–especially JPII on the sex abuse claims). That is the premise of my analogy–but not its point. Here is the point:

1. It is a fact that in the case of the Obama commencement speech, many of those who opposed it said that his stance on the abortion issue ALONE was disqualifying–No matter what else he did, or promised to do, his pro-choice stance alone made him inappropriate for a Catholic school to honor

2. In contrast those who support the invitation argued that a) The appropriateness of the honor needed to be assessed in the context of Obama’s whole life, not his stance on one issue narrowly construed; and b) that in issuing the invitation they did not endorse Obama’s stance on abortion.

3. Precisely the same controversy–with precisely the same structure in fact happening with respect to the canonization of JP II an Pius XII. How do I know that? I read the papers, watch the news and read John Allen–like everyone else.

4. According to John Allen (here) and others, says that in pushing forward the cases for sainthood: a) the appropriateness of the honor needs to be addressed in the context of their whole lives, not on the basis of one actions or set of actions; and b) in naming the Pope a saint, the Church doesn’t mean to endorse the treatment of the Holocaust or the sex abuse case.

5. According to those that are opposed to the case, the failure to act appropriately on ONE issue –child sex abuse or opposition to the Holocaust ought to be a bar to the conferring of the honor. What is striking to me is that the language used by this quite balanced summary of the issue is how the language use resonates with the language used by the prophetic pro-life movement. Compare the language of this summary of Pius XII’s opponents to the language of the Manhattan Declaration.

“Papal opponents focus on the particular evil that Nazism represented and maintain that in such circumstances religious leadership must be clear, forthright and outspoken. Nazi aggression and brutality should have been explicitly condemned; Roman Catholics might have been inspired to do more for Jews and other victims of persecution, who would at least have had the comfort of knowing that the world was not indifferent to their fate.” Jonathan Gorsky, ''Pius XII and the Holocaust,'' here. Gorsky is an orthodox Jew who works for the Council of Christians and Jews

“In as much as these truths are foundational to human dignity and the well-being of society, they are inviolable and non-negotiable. Because they are increasingly under assault from powerful forces in our culture, we are compelled today to speak out forcefully in their defense, and to commit ourselves to honoring them fully no matter what pressures are brought upon us and our institutions to abandon or compromise them.” The Manhattan Declaration, here.

6. In my view, the standard for naming someone a saint–a role model Catholics trust to intercede on their behalf in the heavens –ought to be higher than the standard than that for commencement speakers. And while I don’t agree with you and others who opposed the Obama commencement address and honorary degree, for the life of me I can’t see how the same people are so sanguine about making Pius XII and JP II saints–given the issues.

Finally, I have to say, John, I’m utterly flummoxed why you can’t see the analogy. But I’ve done my level best to lay it out for you fully.

And the question I have for you John, is why do you think a prophetic stance like the Manhattan Declaration is appropriate in the case of abortion–and not in the case of the actual Holocaust or child sexual abuse? The fact that you can't seem to see any problem with the canonization process (especially with the abolition of the Devil's Advocate position) is hard for me to understand.


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