VATICAN CITY, Aug. 24 (JTA) An umbrella Jewish group dealing with Jewish-Catholic relations has bluntly told the Vatican that Pius IX doesn’t deserve to be a saint.
Pius IX, a 19th-century pope who became infamous for ordering the 1858 kidnap of Edgardo Mortara, a Jewish boy who had been forcibly baptized as a baby, will be beatified by Pope John Paul II on Sept. 3 the last step before sainthood.
The protest came in a letter Wednesday from Seymour Reich, chairman of the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations to Archbishop Jose Saraiva Martins, chairman of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints.
“If saintliness is seen as the goodness, wisdom and courage to behave righteously and right wrongs regardless of when they occur, then Pius IX’s conduct falls far short of saintliness,” Reich wrote.
Acknowledging that “only the Church itself” had the right to determine who are its saints, Reich nonetheless wrote: “But when the issue of sainthood embodies matters of major Jewish concern, we believe the Jewish community has an obligation to voice its reaction.”
He called Pius IX “the pope who perpetuated centuries-old church contempt and hatred for Jews” and branded the kidnap of Mortara an “assault on Judaism and parenthood.”
The Reich letter was the latest in a series of protests from Jews in Italy, Israel and elsewhere over the beatification of Pius IX, who reigned from 1846 to 1878 and was the last pope to confine Jews to the ghetto.
There is virtually no chance that beatification plans will be shelved.
But Reich’s letter is notable in that IJCIC is the Vatican’s official Jewish partner in interreligious dialogue.
It groups the American Jewish Committee, the ADL, B’nai B’rith, the World Jewish Congress and the Israel Jewish Council on Interreligious Relations, as well as representatives of Orthodox, Reform and Conservative Jewry.
Pius IX will be beatified in a joint ceremony in which Pope John XXIII will also be set on the road to sainthood.
John XXIII, who died in 1963, was a genuinely beloved figure who modernized the Catholic church, helped save Jews during World War II and opened the way to Catholic-Jewish dialogue.
Catholics and non-Catholics alike are greeting his beatification with joy.