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Pope's High Praise of Holocaust-Era Predecessor Sparks Jewish Ire

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Coverage of Pope Benedict XVI's new book-length interview has focused almost exclusively on his remarks about using condoms to prevents AIDS, but Jewish leaders are voicing objections to his unqualified praised for his war-time predecessor, Pius XII, whose record during the Holocaust is a perennial source of frictions between the Vatican and the Jewish community.

"For his part, [Pius XII] did all that he could to save people," Benedict tells German journalist Peter Seewald in the book, titled "Light of the World: The Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times," which is to be formally released at the Vatican on Tuesday. The pontiff, who was raised in Nazi Germany, adds that Pius "was one of the great righteous men and that he saved more Jews than anyone else."

Jewish leaders and some historians have long argued that Pius, a career church diplomat who became pope in 1939 and died in 1958, did not speak out as strongly as he could when he realized that Adolph Hitler was systematically exterminating Jews and that he did not do as much as he could to save Jews in Italy.

Pope Pius XII"Pope Benedict's comments fill us with pain and sadness and cast a menacing shadow on Vatican-Jewish relations," said Elan Steinberg, vice president of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants.

"The assertion that Pius saved more Jews than anyone else during the Holocaust is categorically contradicted by the known historical record," Steinberg said. "As survivors of the Holocaust we have a solemn obligation to the memory of those murdered to defend the truth of the tragedy till our last breath."

Rabbi David Rosen, international director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee, said that there "is certainly enough evidence to refute those who charge that Pius XII stood idly by while the lives of Jews and others were imperiled." But, he added, "not only did Pius XII never directly challenge the Nazi regime regarding the extermination of the Jews; perhaps even more dramatically, he never publicly expressed any condemnation, let alone express of regret, subsequent to World War II."

"How can one say that any persons did all they could have done in the face of such evil unless they laid down their life to oppose it?" Rosen said.

In France, the umbrella representative group of Jewish organizations, CRIF, said that Pope Benedict's opinion "wasn't shared by any serious historian," according to Agence France Presse.

Benedict, who was born Joseph Ratzinger in Bavaria and who as a teenager was conscripted against his will into the German Army by the Nazis, has had a troubled relationship with Jewish groups throughout his five-year papacy.

As Benedict notes in his interview with Seewald, he has always appreciated Judaism and its intrinsic role in the birth of Christianity -- our "fathers in the faith," as Benedict calls Jews. But his relations with the contemporary Jewish community, and the role of his church and his homeland in the Holocaust and in current relations with the State of Israel have been a source of constant friction.

In January 2009, for example, Benedict lifted the excommunication of four bishops -- one of them, Richard Williamson, is an outright Holocaust-denier -- from a right-wing splinter group that tends to be persistently critical of Jews. He also restored a version of the old Latin Rite mass that included prayers for the conversion of Jews that in the past sparked pogroms against European Jews. After protests, Benedict altered the offending passages. In "Light of the World,"

Regarding Williamson, Benedict says he regrets that the Vatican did not do due diligence to discover his views before lifting the excommunications, and says he would have dealt with Williamson separately from the other three if he had known what Williamson -- who is about to go on trial in Germany for denying the Holocaust -- believed.

Benedict also firmly believes that Pius XII has been unfairly treated by critics. As pope, he ordered archivists to scour the Vatican records from that era to ensure that they contained nothing to counter his view that Pius was a holy man who did the best he could under the circumstances and therefore should be made a saint. The Vatican says the "hundreds of thousands" of documents will be opened up to scholars when archival work is finished, probably within a few years.

In the meantime, however, Benedict has rendered his verdict on behalf of Pius XII.

"Of course one can still always ask, 'Why didn't he protest more clearly?' I believe it was because he saw what consequences would follow from an open protest," Benedict told Seewald in the interviews, which were conducted over the course of a week last July. "We know that personally he suffered greatly because of it. He knew he actually ought to speak out, and yet the situation made that impossible for him."

He also tweaks "new clever people" who say that while Pius did save many lives, he did not have a modern view of Jews and Judaism, and therefore should not be made a saint.

What Pius believed about Jews and Judaism "is not the question," the pope continues. "The decisive thing is what he did and what he tried to do, and on that score we really must acknowledge, I believe, that he was one of the great righteous men and that he saved more Jews than anyone else."

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Whether you consider Pius XII a righteous gentile who saved the maximum possible number of human beings threatened by the Nazi machine or as an ambitious Cardinal, who collaborated with Hitler by encouraging the Vatican to be the first nation on earth to recognize the questionable legitimacy of the Third Reich, the phrase: ""For his part, [Pius XII] did all that he could to save people..." is indefensible.

January 04 2011 at 8:01 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

The Vatican issued a half baked apology for past sins committed by church members not the Pope. The Pope is "the Chosen One" and can never be seen as a Nazi collaborator. I find it amazing that the church considers itself holy and it's Popes guided by the hand of God. If this is true why acknowledge and ask forgiveness for mistakes of the past? All this hoopla can never take away from the fact that the Church and it's Pope turned a blind eye to molesting countless innocent children

November 24 2010 at 4:29 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Besides the estimated million Italian civilians killed during WWII. Tens of thousands soldiers and civilians died in concentration camps,and the Pope had no power to stop it.

November 24 2010 at 3:16 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

More of "Hitler's Pope" propaganda being re-tredded. As you may recall their was a very real Soviet era project to discredit the Pope because they saw him as one of their serious "problems" -- Additionally, you might recall some history, and that was that the Germans had the Vatican/Rome essentially surrounded. Not too smart to tell Hitler off when the Vatican, itself housed hundreds of Jews in secret, not to mention those throughout Italy, hidden on the Popes orders. And what do you think would happen to the thousands of Catholic Priests in the concentration camps and prisons? Oh yes, and to the chagrin of those who believe that Pius XII not doing enough for Jews -- WHY DID THE VERY CHIEF RABBI OF ROME LATER DECIDE TO CONVERT TO CATHOLICISM? Read: "Why I became a Catholic" by Eugenio Zolli Former CHIEF RABBI OF ROME isbn 0-912141-46-8----Personally, I am so tired of phoniness and the belly aching drama that some of these supposed anti-Pious XII leaders practice when spouting such nonsense over and over again.. As a Catholic I resent this and ask them to put a cork in it and shut up. I am tired of the lies. They need to get the facts straight instead of re-hash of anti-Catholic bigotry 101 -- all hot air and absolutely no substance...

November 24 2010 at 12:48 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to mhavison's comment

anti-Catholic bigotry 101 ?Ohhh when you people want to dare act like the victims.....your only victims of the ugly truth.

November 25 2010 at 9:30 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

There is a sufficient body of indisputable evidence to indite elements within the Roman Catholic Church for enthusiastic support of Hitler and the most evil elements of his Third Reich, for the petulant tone of your response to be acceptable.

The Third Reich perpetrated the crime of the 20th Century. Had the moral opposition of Roman Catholics been united, Hitler would never have come to power. Sadly, Hitler's pathology was acceptable to too many Catholics, until bombs started to fall on Germany.

PS. Do not take refuge in the heroism and human decency of righteous Catholics, which I respect and freely acknowledge. This is not an inditement of all Catholics; this is a statement of fact.

January 04 2011 at 8:27 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

If Pope Benedict will open the vatican's records to outside scrutiny, and let the world see what Pius did if anything to support his statements, I would put some confidence in his words. But I doubt he will allow anyone to see those records. There were those who put their lives on the line to help the Jews, and those are the heros. I don't see Pius as a hero. His concerns were for his own skin, and he never came foreward during or after WWII to say anything about those events. I think he bet on the wrong horse in winning that war.

November 23 2010 at 8:30 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Just like in Washington, it's time to clean house in the Vatican.

November 23 2010 at 6:33 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply

Whether or not the Pope saved more people than anyone else begs the question. No one is saying he didn't do ANYthing. Of course he did SOMEthing, and some people were saved. But, to quote the New Testament, "to those to whom more has been entrusted, more is required." The evaluation of history will center on what he could have done vs. what he did. Since no one has a time macine to go back and live through the era, there will be no firm consensus. While Benedict's promotion of Pius XII for canonization raises the issue and hackles at the same time, it might be better to focus on what we are all NOW living through, and what this Pope is doing for Jews, today. After twenty centuries of vilifying the Jewish people for deicide, it is no wonder that Christian Europe found it easy to harm them. Will the 21st Century be a departure from the past? Does this Pope have something good to say about Jews and Judaism? Or, is it "business as usual?" Will he find a way to support Israel and Palestinian Christians and Muslims at the same time? Will he find a way to read the founding documents of Christianity in a non-anti-Judaic/non-anti-Semitic way? Or, will he join his forebears in his office and continue to demonize this people?

November 23 2010 at 4:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The vatican has no credibility to pontificate due to the whole child moelstation problem. Oh and let's not forget how sweet they were during that inquisition thing.

November 23 2010 at 3:44 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to J.R.'s comment

I believe you should check your 'world' history: There were thousands more English catholics, tortured, slaughtered and burned at the stake by a ratio of ten to one than there were protestants slaughtered in Spain during the Inquisition.

November 23 2010 at 3:59 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply

monicadwatkins wrote: I believe you should check your 'world' history: There were thousands more English catholics, tortured, slaughtered and burned at the stake by a ratio of ten to one than there were protestants slaughtered in Spain during the Inquisition.

I believe you should check your world history. There were no "Protestant" victims of the Spanish Inquisition there were only "heretics;" Moranos & Reversos (Baptized Muslim and Jews who reverted to their own traditions) and later witches.

January 04 2011 at 9:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Pius did not save more Jews than John Paul did. I think this thing of being made a saint is for the birds. There are more people who do things for humanity than popes do. Just another Catholic thing.

November 23 2010 at 3:15 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply

I seldom read the comments, because they are mostly uninformed rantings of left or right, or thinly veiled commercials. I must say that I read, and was informed by most of the comments. As a Quaker turned Catholic, I think I better understand the issues facing both Pope Benedict and Pope Pius XII.

November 23 2010 at 3:11 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

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