Smear Campaign Against Pius IX on Eve of Beatification

Author: ZENIT



Response of Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints


One hundred twenty-two years after his death, a press campaign has been unleashed against Giovanni Maria Mastai Ferretti (1792-1878), who took the name Pius IX when elected to the papacy, on the eve of his beatification, scheduled for September 3.

The criticisms began with the publication of John Cornwell’s book "Hitler’s Pope," in which the author accuses Pius IX, Pius XII, and John Paul II of being the most authoritarian Popes in history. Cornwell attacks Pius IX for proclaiming the dogmas of the Immaculate Conception and papal infallibility.

Accusations of Anti-Semitism

Early in May, the Italian press agency "Adista," published a dossier entitled, "The Legend of the Kidnapper Saint," which refers to old debates on the case of Edgardo Mortara, the 2-year old Jewish boy who ran the risk of dying for having been secretly baptized by an acquaintance. Thankfully, the child did not die, but a problem emerged for the Church as a result: what to do with a child who was baptized but whose parents refused to raise as Catholic? The Church decided to take a hand in Edgardo’s education against the parents’ wishes. The story of Edgardo Mortara, who in 1873 became a priest, has been sufficient reason for some to accuse Pius IX of anti-Semitism.

The debate on the Mortara case was also highlighted on June 22 by the "Washington Post," which condemned Pius IX’s work. These same accusations were addressed in Rome on June 27 by the Union of Italian Jewish Communities (UCEI) under the title "Pius IX, the Church, and the Jews: Between Religion and Politics at the Time of the Italian Resurgence." At the opening of this congress, UCEI president Amos Luzzatto said: "We do not want to go into the process of Pius IX’s beatification: this is the exclusive competence of the Church. But we make it clear that this decision will entail consequences in our relations with the Vatican."

The "We Are Church" movement, which advocates the ordination of women priests, the abolition of priestly celibacy, and the acceptance of divorce, has also criticized the forthcoming beatification of Pius IX. Moreover, 19 theologians, who in the past have challenged the Magisterium of the Church, have called on the Catholic Church not to beatify Pius IX.

Vatican Response

However, following a mandatory lengthy investigation, the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints, has no reservations on the goodness of Pius IX’s actions.

On February 7, the commemoration of the 122th anniversary of the Pontiff’s death, Archbishop Jose Saraiva Martins, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, stated: "As priest, bishop, and Pontiff, the servant of God, seemed to be, and really was, a ‘man of God’—a man of assiduous prayer who had no other desires than the glorification of God, the good of the Church, and the salvation of souls; he sought only to fulfill the will of God, no matter how great the sufferings he had to endure."

"Pope Pius IX’s sanctity is connected to the most known events of his pontificate," Archbishop Saraiva Martins said during the homily. He went on to explain that Pius IX will be beatified exclusively on the religious merits that characterized his "Petrine ministry." "Indeed, he was decisively concerned with the preparation and formation of the clergy, paid great attention to the religious life, founded Catholic Action, convoked Vatican Council I, and proclaimed the dogmas of the Immaculate Conception and papal infallibility."

As regards the accusations of anti-Semitism, in two interviews with the Italian newspapers "Corriere della Sera" and "Avvenire," Bishop Carlo Liberati of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints explained that Pius IX "was the promoter of the liberation of the Jews from the ghetto. On the night of April 17-18, 1948, he ordered that the doors of the ghetto be knocked down. He abrogated the undignified and humiliating tasks the Jews were forced to carry out. He declared that ‘they were not foreigners,’ and had their streets patrolled to protect them from a popular uprising that broke out against the ghetto’s emancipation."

In the Edgardo Mortara case, Bishop Liberati stressed that "what no one ever wants to recall is that, once he was an adolescent, Edgardo Mortara was given the freedom to return to his home. He remained with his parents for one month, but then decided to stay in Rome and become a priest. Once he was a priest, he was reconciled with his parents. In fact, Edgardo Mortara was one of the first witnesses to declare himself in favor of Pius IX’s beatification, giving evidence in the canonical process."

Those who criticize Pius IX say he was authoritarian and opposed to progress. Bishop Liberati said that "Pius IX was not against progress; on the contrary, he showed openness and courage in governing the Pontifical States. For example, the construction of some important railroad lines in central Italy are owed to him."

As regards the question of the Popes’ loss of temporal power, Pius IX was not concerned about losing power, but by the fact that the Church would be at the mercy of the State. "He was opposed to the policy that it belong to Italy; Mexico and Portugal, for example, persecuted the Church and locked it in silence."

Some have also complained of a "discrepancy" in beatifying the "authoritarian" Pius IX alongside the "Good Pope," John XXIII. To dispel this criticism, Bishop Liberati simply pointed out the great devotion that the Pope of Vatican II had for his counterpart from Vatican I. In fact, his dream had been to be able to personally beatify Pius IX. ZE00072006

This article has been selected from the ZENIT Daily Dispatch
© Innovative Media, Inc.

ZENIT International News Agency
Via della Stazione di Ottavia, 95
00165 Rome, Italy

To subscribe
or email: with SUBSCRIBE in the "subject" field