Pope Beatifies Pius IX Accused of Anti-Semitism

Sept 4 2000 NY Times
Filed at 7:53 a.m. ET

By Reuters

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope John Paul attempted to justify his beatification of a 19th century conservative pope accused of anti-Semitism Sunday, saying even saints had human limitations and were conditioned by history. 

The 80-year-old Pope put two of his predecessors and three other people who lived in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries on the road to Roman Catholic sainthood at a solemn ceremony before some 100,000 people in St Peter's Square. 

The five beatified -- the penultimate step before sainthood in the Catholic Church -- were Pope Pius IX (1792-1878), Pope John XXIII (1881-1963), Italian bishop Tommaso Reggio (1818-1901), French priest Guillaume-Joseph Chaminade (1761-1850) and Irish abbot Columba Marmion (1858-1923). 

While the overwhelming majority of people in the crowd were there to honor Pope John XXIII, the most controversial of the beatified five was the ultra-conservative Pius IX. 

His reign from 1846 to 1878 was the longest in Church history and coincided with the loss of the papacy's temporal power and vast land holdings when Italy was unified. 

Pius, who adamantly opposed religious tolerance and defined the doctrine of infallibility, once referred to Jews as ``dogs'' and approved the kidnapping of a Jewish boy, Edgardo Mortara. Jews had urged the Vatican not to beatify Pius because of the Mortara affair. Progressive Catholics opposed it because Pius centralized power, published the 1864 Syllabus of Errors to combat modernism and opposed the unification of Italy. 

In his homily, the Pope addressed the controversy over Pius IX, saying that holiness was not immune to historical influence. 

``Sanctity lives in history and every saint is not removed from the limitations and personal conditioning of our human nature,'' the Pope, who appeared tired, said. 

``By beatifying one of its sons, the Church does not celebrate particular historical choices he made but rather points him out for imitation and veneration for his virtues and praising the divine grace that shines in them,'' he said. 

While making no mention of the Mortara kidnapping, the Pope was repeating the Church's position that Pius was beatified also because he was credited with the miraculous cure of a crippled French nun who walked again after praying to Pius. 


On June 23, 1858, papal police in Bologna entered the home of the Mortaras, a Jewish family, snatched six-year-old Edgardo, and took him to a Rome school to be raised as a Catholic. Several years earlier, when Edgardo was ill and on the verge of death, an over-zealous Catholic servant in the home had secretly baptized him because she wanted ``to save his soul.'' 

Papal police intervened to enforce a civil law that Jewish children who had been baptized had to be raised as Christians. 

Ignoring international protests, Pius IX made Edgardo his personal ward and put him on the road to the priesthood. 

``It was atrocious. It left deep wounds in the Jewish community,'' Rome's chief Rabbi Elio Toaff said. 

``Kidnapping a child, bringing him to a convent, making him a priest, taking him away from his parents -- this is stuff right out of the penal code of law,'' he told la Repubblica newspaper. 

``Pius's beatification is quite simply a scandal,'' Enrico Modigliani, a member of the board of Rome's Jewish community and a former member of the Italian parliament, told Reuters. 

``In a year when the Church has made an effort to apologize for the treatment of the Jews, it is not right to beatify Pius IX, who was one of the worst anti-Semites,'' he added. 

There was only scattered applause when the Pope said Pius IX had been ``very loved, but also hated and slandered.'' 

By contrast, the crowd roared in approval when he spoke of Pope John XXIII, known as ``The Good Pope.'' 

John called the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), which thrust the Church into the modern world, ended the Latin mass and gave bishops more power. He was almost universally loved. 

Beatifying both Pius IX and John XXIII at the same ceremony was seen as a historical and theological juggling act attempting to satisfy both liberal and traditional Catholics.