Of Popes and Ayatollahs

December 24, 2009 at 11:02 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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Well, while we were burying Mom, the world went merrily on. In Iran, a very brave dissident, the Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, died, and crowds of Iranians turned out to mourn his passing despite the government’s having forbidden them to do so.  Originally a supporter of the Iranian Revolution and the designated successor of the current religious leader of Iran, the Ayatollah Khomeini, Ayatollah Montazeri saw the error of his ways and began what political scientist Nader Hasemi calls an “uncompromising criticism of the Islamic Republic.” His outspokenness resulted in the trashing of his home and office and eventually his being placed under house arrest for five years. Yet he continued to call for democracy in Iran, criticizing the recent fraudulent elections, and condemning the human rights abuses of the current regime. At a certain point, Ayatollah Montazeri even issued a fatwa on nuclear weapons, urging Muslims to “take the lead in banning legally and practically all such weapons for all countries.”*

At about the same time, the Vatican announced that it had deemed Pope Pius XII a candidate for beatification as soon as someone receives a miracle through his intercession. This announcement resulted in an outcry from the Jewish community, since Pius has been much criticized for not speaking out publicly against the Holocaust.

Now myself, I’ve always felt a little sorry for Pius XII. With his  extraordinarily hidden, diplomat’s personality, he was as unsuited to leadership during World War II as Franklin Roosevelt was suited to it by dint of his privileged optimistic view of the world.  

On the other hand, as I think I said a week or two ago, the Vatican under the current pope does seem to have serious public relations problems. According to the New York Times, the Vatican doesn’t want to upset the Jews by authorizing the beatification of a pope who failed to speak out against the exterminations of European Jewry while it was taking place.  It’s just that, as Vatican spokesman, Rev. Federico Lombardi, put it, the beatification process evaluates “the Christian life” of Pius, and not “the historical impact of all his operative decisions.” I trust you get the clear distinction being made here between Christian virtue and historical actions.

And then, alas, it is not possible for the Vatican to open its archives, the contents of which might clarify Pius XII’s  actions in relation to the Jews during World War II and especially the deportation of the Jewish community from Rome. The archives are apparently just too massive  to be put in order quickly. Though the Vatican itself revised its guidelines for the canonization process in 1983 to include (for the first time) the use of the historical critical method in the evaluation of candidates.

Too bad we can’t just beatify Ayatollah Montazeri. Blessed Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, patron of religious leaders who are confronted with the great crises of history, pray for us.

*Apologies to my readers. The op-ed piece by Nader Hashemi from which I draw the information in the first paragraph of this blog appeared in the New York Times on December 23, but for some reason I can’t access it. Perhaps you’ll have better luck. It’s called “A Dissident Ayatollah.”

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  1. […] sympathize with Gibson’s position, as I intimate in a previous blog recommending the beatification of the Grand Ayatollah instead of Pius XII. But I have to tell […]


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