Pope Benedict XVI has had a rough year reconciling the Church’s wartime record with contemporary sensibilities. Efforts to follow traditional Catholic doctrine have run up against larger issues of modern remembrance and reconciliation. Too often the Vatican finds itself in the same equivocal position as Japan. Measured words of contrition become undone by startling deeds of insensitivity and cultural defensiveness.
On Saturday, December 19th, Benedict confirmed the “heroic virtues” of Pope Pius XII—along with those of John Paul II—opening the door to beatification once a miracle is attributed to each. A second miracle would be required for sainthood. Pius, who reigned from 1939 to 1958, is often accused of not having spoken out vocally enough against the Nazis or intervening to save Jews and others during World War II as well as condoning the use of Nazi-procured slave labor for the Church and assisting Nazis to escape to South America.
The Jewish community and others reacted with such outrage, that the Vatican issued a statement on December 23rd that "It is, then, clear that the recent signing of the decree is in no way to be read as a hostile act towards the Jewish people, and it is to be hoped that it will not be considered as an obstacle on the path of dialogue between Judaism and the Catholic Church.”
In other words, the statement acknowledges the consequences of enshrining a man whose decisions negatively affected millions, although not quite willing to forego the tradition. The Vatican is rightly worried of the reception when the Pope visits the Synagogue in Rome and the State of Israel in the coming months. The Church's efforts to strengthen understanding with the Jewish people have been clouded and it is being made to be accountable for its actions.
As he told Der Speigel "It is not about emotions but about historic evidence," he said. "If I find this evidence, I will correct myself. But that will take time."
Amidst this tremendous media storm stirred up by imprudent remarks of mine on Swedish television, I beg of you to accept, only as is properly respectful, my sincere regrets for having caused to yourself and to the Holy Father so much unnecessary distress and problems.
For me, all that matters is the Truth Incarnate, and the interests of His one true Church, through which alone we can save our souls and give eternal glory, in our little way, to Almighty God. So I have only one comment, from the prophet Jonas, I, 12;
"Take me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you; for I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you."
Please also accept, and convey to the Holy Father, my sincere personal thanks for the document signed last Wednesday and made public on Saturday. Most humbly I will offer a Mass for both of you.
Exasperated and pressured by Germany and international outcry, the Vatican firmly admonished the Bishop, stating that “in order to be admitted to the Episcopal functions of the Church, [he] must in an absolutely unequivocal and public way distance himself from his positions regarding the Shoah [Holocaust]."
The Pope essentially admitted to a rare misjudgment and set a strict standard for contrition. More important, he set an international standard for an apology from those who deny historical fact. He said it should be "unequivocal" and "public." These words are the very same written in 2007 by Congressman Mike Honda (D-CA) for his resolution (H. Res. 121) outlining an appropriate official Japanese apology to the Comfort Women.
There is a difference between unambiguous and unequivocal. There is not room for doubt in the latter. "Unequivocal" has become the universal value associated with apology. Unfortunately, both the Vatican and Mr. Honda still await their apologies.