February 18, 2008 / 6:49 PM / 11 years ago

Vatican says Pius XII sainthood process not stalled

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - The Vatican’s top saint-maker said on Monday he was moving ahead with the cause of wartime Pope Pius XII, and defended him against accusations he was silent about the Holocaust.

Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins presides over a mass beatification ceremony for Spanish civil war victims at the Vatican October 28, 2007. REUTERS/Chris Helgren

Some critics accuse Pius, who reigned from 1939 to 1958, of being indifferent to the Holocaust and not speaking out against Hitler. His supporters consider him a holy man who worked behind the scenes to help Jews throughout Europe.

Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins denied that the sainthood process had been halted over the controversy, as a newspaper report last year suggested.

“It has not been staggered, much less stopped,” Martins, who heads the Vatican department that oversees the sainthood process, told reporters.

But he left the timing of any progress on the case unclear, and confirmed there would be renewed research into the late Pope on the 50th anniversary of his death.

Last May, the Vatican’s saint-making department voted in favor of a decree recognizing Pius’s “heroic virtues”, a major hurdle in a long process toward sainthood that began in 1967.

But Pope Benedict has so far not approved the decree, meaning that the process is effectively stalled and that Pius cannot move on to beatification, or the last step before sainthood.

Martins said people should not read too much into that.

“Some people talk about problems that in reality don’t exist, I believe. Many say: ‘It’s not going forward because he is famous for his silence in condemning Nazism, that he didn’t condemn Nazism,” he said.

“This is not historically accurate. Instead of silence, I would speak of ‘prudence’. There was not silence.”

The Vatican maintains Pius did not speak out more forcefully against the Holocaust because he was afraid of provoking Nazi reprisals and worsening the fate of Catholics and Jews.

Supporters say Pius ordered churches and convents in Rome to take in Jews after the Germans occupied the city in 1943.

Various Jewish groups, foremost among them the U.S.-based Anti-Defamation League, have often asked the Vatican to suspend the entire sainthood process until the Vatican declassifies all of its World War Two-era archives.

Writing by Phil Stewart, editing by Silvia Aloisi and Mary Gabriel

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