The Vatican said at the end of December, 2009, that moving Pope Pius XII closer to sainthood is not a hostile act against Jews, even though the wartime pontiff has been criticized for not speaking out enough against the Holocaust. According to the NYT, the Vatican “sought to quell the outrage sparked among many Jewish groups after Benedict signed a decree on Pius’s virtues.”
Had the Roman Catholic Church clergy in Europe known about the Nazi atrocities–not only against the Jews, but the 20 million Russian civilians killed in their villages–it is an interesting question whether “taking up your cross” would have meant risking death in preaching out against the murder. Being a silent “witness” of God’s presence would probably not cut it, under those circumstances. Would prayer be a viable alternative to action, were a priest aware that a girl was being raped down the street in an alley? I submit that it would not.
However interesting the religious-ethical question of the clergy’s responsibility is, I want to point to another ethical issue that is involved in the sainthood of so many clerics…by other clerics. There seems something odd, if not nepharious, about a church organization recognizing its own as saints. It can be likened to a sort of spiritual masterbation. At the very least, it evinces an institutional conflict of interest…a pope pushing the canonization of two popes from his century (at least one of whom he knew well). “Make me pope and I’ll make you a saint” may be a bit too much of a stretch, but it is possible that such a deal was struck. Joe Ratzinger was not, after all, an outsider to the hierarchy under John Paul II. Indeed, look at the names they pick for themselves. Joe Ratzinger decided that he would be called Blessed (Benedict). Pope Pius had decided that he would be called pious. Besides being hardly humble (Jesus didn’t tell people to call him Pious or Blessed), selecting one’s own name in such terms can be viewed as involving a personal conflict of interest.
Essentially, my argument here is that we do not recognize institutional or personal conflicts of interest (though we do have a nose for the latter when it involves money!), and that consequently we don’t go far enough in critiquing organizations and the people who run them. Instead, we get sidetracked into heated polemical debates, such as in whether the pope during WWII knew about the Nazi crimes and yet did nothing to stop them. We need to take a hint from stories like the Da Vinci Code…we are not going far enough as investigators; paradoxically, some of the answers are left undiscovered right under our noses.