Jews oppose sainthood for ‘Hitler’s pope’

From British daily The Guardian:

Jewish anger as Pope Benedict moves Pius XII closer to sainthood

• Catholic leader signs decree extolling virtues of predecessor
• Wartime pontiff accused of inaction during Holocaust

* Riazat Butt, Religious affairs correspondent

* Monday 21 December 2009 15.44 GMT

Jewish leaders from around the world expressed their outrage today after the Pope opened the way for his controversial wartime predecessor to be made a saint, with some calling the possible beatification of Pius XII as “inopportune and premature”.

Benedict signed a decree last Saturday on the virtues of Pius, who has been criticised for not doing enough to stop the Holocaust. The decree means he can be beatified once a miracle attributed to him has been recognised.

Beatification is the first major step towards sainthood. But Benedict, who has long admired Pius, continues to draw fire for ignoring concerns over the controversial pontiff.

Among those to criticise him was the World Jewish Congress, whose president, Ronald Lauder, said: “As long as the archives about the crucial period 1939 to 1945 remain closed, and until a consensus on his actions ‑ or inaction ‑ concerning the persecution of millions of Jews in the Holocaust is established, a beatification is inopportune and premature.

“While it is entirely a matter for the Catholic church to decide on whom religious honours are bestowed, there are strong concerns about Pius XII‘s political role during world war two which should not be ignored.”

He called on the Vatican to immediately open the files on the controversial figure. “Given the importance of good relations between Catholics and the Jews, and following the difficult events of the past year, it would be appreciated if the Vatican showed more sensitivity on this matter,” he added, referring to Benedict’s rehabilitation of a Holocaust-denying cleric, Richard Williamson.

The incident sparked worldwide condemnation from prominent Jewish groups and individuals and placed an additional strain on interfaith relations, which were already under pressure after the pope issued an edict permitting a prayer that called for the conversion of Jews.

In France, the country’s chief rabbi urged the Vatican to abandon its mission to beatify Pius. Gilles Bernheim said: “Given Pius XII’s silence during and after the Shoah [Holocaust], I don’t want to believe that Catholics see in Pius XII an example of morality for humankind. I hope that the church will renounce this beatification plan and will thus honour its message and its values.”

The renewed source of tension could cast a cloud over Benedict’s inaugural visit to Rome’s synagogue next month.

Giuseppe Laras, president of the Assembly of Italian Rabbis, told the Italian daily newspaper La Repubblica: “I hope it goes ahead but after this latest move I wouldn’t be surprised if it is cancelled. While I respect the autonomy of the church in matters of sainthood, I don’t see how the pope could have taken such an untimely decision. Anything can happen now.”

See also here.

Catholic scholars ask Pope Benedict XVI to slow Pius XII’s path to sainthood: here.

9 thoughts on “Jews oppose sainthood for ‘Hitler’s pope’

  1. Rabbis split on pope visit

    Pius step towards sainthood still chafes

    14 January, 18:13

    ANSA) – Rome, January 14 – Italian rabbis are split on Pope Benedict XVI’s upcoming visit to the Rome Synagogue with some boycotting the event in protest at the recent move towards beatification of his controversial WWII predecessor Pius XII.

    On Thursday the head of the Italian Rabbinical Assembly, Giuseppe Laras, became the latest to say he would not attend Sunday’s visit, the second by a pope since John Paul became the first pope to enter a Jewish Temple in 1986.

    In an interview with the German weekly Jeudische Allgemein, Laras accused Benedict of weakening dialogue with Jews.

    “During the current pontificate the fraternal relationship (between Jews and Catholics) has become ever weaker,” Laras said.

    Laras cited several ”mishaps” such as Benedict’s lifting of the excommunication of Holocaust-denying bishop Richard Williamson, as well as the move towards sainthood of the pope accused by many of not speaking out on the Holocaust.

    He said he would not attend the pope’s visit because only the Catholic Church would benefit from the occasion, especially “its most retrograde elements”. In Laras’s view, the visit “will not have a positive effect on Jewish-Catholic dialogue”. Rome’s Chief Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni confirmed he and other Jewish officials would be there to welcome the pope on Sunday.

    He said Laras and the others had “different views”.

    “Only time will tell who made the right choice,” he said.

    As well as Di Segni, he pope will be greeted by the heads of the Rome Jewish Community and the Italian Jewish Community, Riccardo Pacifici and Renzo Gattegna.

    Di Segni said they were “still assessing if and how to tackle the issues raised by the beatification affair”.

    Benedict proclaimed Pius ‘venerable’ last month, the step that precedes beatification. The final step is canonisation, the proclamation of sainthood.

    A verified miracle is required for the second and third steps.

    The step towards sainthood cast a pall over the planned visit and the Vatican was forced to explain that making Pius venerable and recognising his “heroic virtues” was not the same as an assessment of his “operational choices”. If the matter comes up during the pope’s visit, Di Segni said “I frankly don’t know what the pope will do. I can’t interpret the pope’s actions and I don’t deal in prophecies”.

    The Israeli ambassador to the Holy See, Mordechai Lewy. told ANSA that the Pius question “was controversial before they proclaimed his heroic virtues and will remain controversial for a long time to come, until they open the secret archives”.

    Earlier on Thursday a former Fascist black shirts chaplain told a Catholic news agency that Pius started a secret network to help Jews escape the Nazis.

    Jews have repeatedly stressed a satisfactory assessment of what Pius did or did not do will only be possible when the archives are opened.

    The Vatican says the archives are so vast it will not be possible to complete collating them until 2014 at the earliest.

    Lewy said the Vatican’s recent distinction between they way Pius lived his faith and his historic record had not helped matters.

    “It opened the door wider to polemics,” he said.

    There was still some anti-Jewish feeling in some Catholic circles, Lewy contended, but stressed Sunday’s visit would be “historic”.

    “Despite differences of opinion we can maintain honest and very friendly dialogue, even though we don’t agree on everything,” he said.

    Noting that last year the joint celebration of Catholic-Jewish Dialogue Day on January 17 collapsed because of protests against a reintroduction into a prayer of a call to convert Jews, later smoothed over, Lewy said: We have now got back onto the right track”.


  2. Jewish leaders confront Pope over Vatican’s Holocaust ‘silence’

    A Jewish leader told the Pope on Sunday that his controversial wartime predecessor, Pius XII, should have protested more forcefully against Jews being sent to the “ovens of Auschwitz”.

    By Nick Squires in Rome
    Published: 7:26PM GMT 17 Jan 2010

    Pope Benedict XVI and chief Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni: Jewish leaders confront Pope over Vatican’s Holocaust ‘silence’
    Pope Benedict XVI and chief Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni Photo: EPA

    Pius’s “silence” at a time when hundreds of thousands of Jews were being rounded up across Europe and despatched to death camps was still hurtful, Riccardo Pacifici, the president of Rome’s Jewish community, said as Pope Benedict XVI visited the city’s synagogue for the first time.

    The criticism was one of the bluntest comments made in public by a Jewish leader to a pope.

    “The silence of Pius XII before the Shoah (Holocaust) still hurts because something should have been done,” Mr Pacifici told the pontiff during an address to the synagogue, which lies in an area of central Rome still known as the Ghetto, where Jews were confined for centuries on the orders of the Vatican.

    “Maybe it would not have stopped the death trains, but it would have sent a signal, a word of extreme comfort, of human solidarity, towards those brothers of ours transported to the ovens of Auschwitz,” he said.

    The Vatican had hoped that the synagogue visit would rebuild bridges with the Jewish world, after the German-born Benedict dismayed Jews by rehabilitating a Holocaust-denying British renegade bishop a year ago, and by advancing Pius further along the path to sainthood by recognising his “heroic virtues” last month.

    The fact that Benedict is German and served during the war in the Hitler Youth – albeit against his will – makes Jewish sensitivities all the more acute.

    The Vatican claims that Pius, who was Pope from 1939 to 1958, worked behind the scenes to save Jews and allowed thousands of refugees to hide in church institutions.

    The Roman Catholic Church insists that he feared that criticising Hitler more strongly would have provoked even more severe persecution of the Jews.

    Benedict came to the defence of his predecessor during his visit to the synagogue – only the second time in history that a pontiff has visited the Jewish holy site, despite it lying just a mile across the River Tiber.

    The Italian media described the two-hour visit, which was boycotted by a senior rabbi and at least one Italian Holocaust survivor, as one of the most delicate of his pontificate so far.

    “The Holy See itself provided assistance, often in a hidden and discreet way,” said the Pope.

    Jewish leaders have said the only way to settle the issue is for the Vatican to open up its archives relating to Pius’s pontificate – a request that was reiterated to Benedict.

    “With utmost respect, we hope historians will have access to the Vatican archives concerning this period,” said Mr Pacifici, whose grandparents died at Auschwitz.

    Before entering the synagogue, the Pope paid homage to a plaque commemorating the deportation of Italian Jews by the Nazis in Oct 1943.

    The visit came 24 years after Pope John Paul II became the first pope in nearly 2,000 years to enter a synagogue, during a visit in which he called Jews “our beloved elder brothers”.


  3. Pope angers Holocaust survivors

    ITALY: A Holocaust survivors’ group has voiced dismay over Pope Benedict XVI’s assertion that wartime pontiff Pius XII, who is on the road to possible sainthood, was a “great righteous” man who saved more Jewish people than anyone else.

    Pope Benedict’s comments will be published in a new book released tomorrow.

    American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants vice-president Elan Steinberg said that the comments “fill us with pain and sadness and cast a menacing shadow on Vatican-Jewish relations. ”


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