THE Vatican sought yesterday to quell its latest public dispute with Jewish groups, saying the Pope’s decision to move Pope Pius XII closer to sainthood isn’t an act of hostility against those who say he didn’t sufficiently denounce the Holocaust.
In what has now become a routine effort at fence-mending, the Vatican issued a statement saying the German-born Benedict feels great respect for and friendship toward Jews — a sentiment he hopes to reinforce during his first visit to Rome’s synagogue next month.
Benedict sparked renewed outrage among some Jewish groups on Saturday by signing a decree on Pius’ heroic virtues, paving the way for him to be beatified once a miracle attributed to his intercession is confirmed.
Some Jews and historians have argued Pius, Pope from 1939-1958, should have done more to prevent the deaths of 6 million Jews at the hands of the Nazis and their collaborators during World War II.
The Vatican insists that Pius used quiet diplomacy to try to save Jews and that speaking out more forcefully would have resulted in more deaths.
Jewish groups have denounced the decision, noting that they had previously asked Benedict to suspend his cause until the Vatican archives on Pius’ pontificate are opened to outside scholars. The Vatican has said those archives won’t be catalogued and ready until 2014 at the earliest.
In its statement yesterday, the Vatican confirmed that timeframe and said Benedict’s decision wasn’t intended to limit discussion on Pius’ decisions.
However, it repeated that, as far as it was concerned, Pius showed great “attention and preoccupation” over the fate of Jews, “which is widely established and recognised even by many Jews”.
It added that the decree on his “heroic virtues” wasn’t so much a historical assessment of his pontificate as a confirmation that he had led a deeply Christian life.
“It’s clear that the recent signature of the decree shouldn’t in any way be seen as a hostile act against the Jewish people and one hopes that it isn’t taken as an obstacle to the path of dialogue between Judaism and the Catholic Church,” the statement said.
Yet the decision was the latest in a series of perceived affronts that have roiled Catholic-Jewish relations in recent years.
It followed on the heels of Benedict’s rehabilitation of a Holocaust-denying bishop in January; what some say was a missed opportunity during his visit to Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in May and his 2007 decision to revive the Latin Mass, which includes a prayer for the conversion of Jews.
In each of those cases, the Vatican responded to the ensuing criticism by issuing clarifications, explanations or apologies — including a remarkable Papal admission that mistakes were made when Benedict lifted the excommunication of Bishop Richard Williamson, who had denied the full extent of the Holocaust.
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