British nun who saved Jews from Shoah on way to sainthood

A British nun who saved dozens of Jews in Rome during the Holocaust has been advanced on the road to sainthood.

Britain’s Catholic Herald newspaper said the file on Mother Riccarda Beauchamp Hamrough, who died in 1966, was sent recently to the Vatican for investigation by the Congregation for Saints’ Causes.

Mother Riccarda was the director of the Bridgettine Sisters order and spent most of her life as a nun in Rome at the order’s mother house. In 1943, after the Nazi occupation of Rome, she saved about 60 Roman Jews by hiding them in the convent.

The cause for her sainthood was opened in July 2010, along with that of another British Bridgettine nun. The Catholic Herald said that the rapid completion of the first stage in the investigation of their causes represented a “quick and early step forward in the long road to becoming saints.” According to the report, several Jews gave evidence on behalf of Mother Riccarda, saying that while hiding in the convent they had nicknamed her “mama.”

Leaders: Pope likely to postpone Pius sainthood

After a meeting with the pope, Jewish leaders said the beatification of Nazi-era Pope Pius XII likely would be postponed.

Pope Benedict’s move to make the controversial Pius XII a saint has outraged many Jews, who blame the late pope for staying silent in the face of Nazi atrocities and not doing more to help save Jews.

After their Oct. 30 meeting with the pontiff, Jewish officials said they were left with the impression that the beatification of Pius would be postponed until the Vatican opened up its World War II-era archives.

But the pope did not say as much explicitly.

Richard Prasquier, who heads the French Jewish umbrella group CRIF, said he left with that impression from sideline discussions with Benedict’s entourage on Thursday, plus private conversations with the pope.

“It wasn’t said in an absolutely clear way. It was an impression that we had,” Prasquier said. He said the pope is interested in maintaining a good relationship with world Jewry.

“The pope has no desire to be in a position of conflict,” Prasquier said. “I think that the pope realized the beautification process created a conflict with the Jewish community. So I have a hard time imagining he’d start it up again in 15 days.”

The leader of the Jewish delegation, Rabbi David Rosen, the director of the American Jewish Committee’s Department of Interreligious Affairs, was quoted in news reports as saying Benedict said in a conversation that he was “seriously considering” halting the sainthood process while Nazi-era archives on Pius remained closed.

Prasquier could not confirm that the Pope made such a statement.

Prasquier said most of the Vatican visit was devoted to explaining why technical difficulties stalled the opening of the 1939 to 1958 archives, which has been requested by Jewish officials.

“I told him I hoped the archives would help clarify things,” Prasquier said. “If the archives show exemplary things about his personality, then we’ll change our opinion,” Prasquier said of Pius.

Anti-Defamation League national director Abraham Foxman welcomed news that the Vatican’s World War II archive may be opened.

“This is an important step toward seeking the historical truth about the pontificate of Pope Pius XII and his activities regarding the Jews during World War II. We stand ready to assist in this important project for both of our faiths,” Foxman said in a statement.

To Be or Not to Be

Some Catholic and Jewish leaders are denouncing a campaign by Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center against elevating wartime Pope Pius XII to sainthood.

Describing Pius XII as “the pope of the Holocaust,” the center’s founder and dean charged last week that throughout World War II, the pontiff “sat on the throne of St. Peter in stony silence, without ever lifting a finger, as each day thousands of Jews were sent to the gas chambers with his full knowledge.”

While expressing his highest respect for the current pope, John Paul II, Hier said the Catholic Church’s anticipated move in proposing Pius XII as a candidate for sainthood would “demean the meaning of sainthood “and “desecrate the memory of the Holocaust.”

Hier made his remarks as part of a wide-ranging address on the “State of World Jewry,” delivered May 13 at the 92nd Street Y in New York.

He called on the Vatican to open its wartime archives, a move he said “would prove conclusively that Pius XII knew all about the ‘Final Solution.'”

Hier also asked “every person of conscience, Jew and non-Jew, to write to Pope John Paul II, asking him not to go forward with Pius’ nomination, because “such an act would rewrite history.”

Catholic leaders interviewed by the Los Angeles Times sharply criticized Hier’s remarks, warning that they could lead to a worsening of already strained relations between Catholics and Jews.

Church spokesmen were particularly outraged by Hier’s charges, first reported in 1983, that Pius, while serving as the papal nuncio in Munich, had given church money to Hitler to fight communism, and later, as pope, had prayed for Nazi Germany’s victory after its attack on the Soviet Union.

Eugene Fisher, director of the U.S. Bishops’ Secretariat on Catholic-Jewish Relations, denounced the charges as “a selective reading of history” and “patently absurd.”

“This is a matter for many, many Catholics of reverence and it deserves, therefore, not hurtful rhetoric, but an approach of objective scholarship,” Fisher said. “One has to de-escalate a lot of this language.”

Some Jewish leaders also criticized Hier’s remarks.

Rabbi Jack Bemporad of New Jersey, a leading figure in Catholic-Jewish dialogue, told the Los Angeles Times that the “Catholic Church is not going to change its attitude through these kinds of attacks.”

Rabbi Harold Schulweis of Los Angeles, a leading voice in the Conservative movement, warned of a “general breakdown in Jewish-Catholic relations on the highest level.” What is needed now is religious statesmanship on both sides, he added.

The controversy comes at a time when some Catholic leaders feel that the Jewish community has failed to acknowledge far-reaching changes in the church’s stance toward Jews.

In February, Cardinal Edward Cassidy, president of the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, noted that ties between the two faiths were threatened by a systematic campaign by one large group, reportedly the World Jewish Congress, “to denigrate the Catholic Church.”