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Row over Nazi-era pope sainthood intensifies
VATICAN CITY |
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Making Nazi-era Pope Pius XII a saint could open a "wound difficult to heal" between Jews and Catholics, a top Italian Jewish leader said on Sunday.
Pius, who reigned from 1939 until his death in 1958, has been accused by some Jews of turning a blind eye to the Holocaust during World War II, a charge his supporters and the Vatican deny.
The Vatican has called on both Catholics and Jews to stop putting pressure on Pope Benedict over the issue.
Italian newspapers on Sunday ran front-page stories about what some called a new chill in relations between Israel and the Vatican over Pius, sparked by comments from a priest who is a key promoter of sainthood for Pius.
At issue is whether Benedict should let Pius proceed on the road to sainthood -- which Catholic supporters want -- by signing a decree recognising his "heroic virtues". This would clear the way for beatification, the last step before sainthood.
Benedict has so far not signed the decree -- approved last year by the Vatican's saint-making department, opting instead for what the Vatican has called a period of reflection.
Some Jews want the procedure frozen until more historical research can be done about the period, with many saying Pius should have spoken out more directly.
Amos Luzzatto, president emeritus of Italy's Jewish communities, told La Repubblica newspaper that Hungarian, Danish and Bulgarian leaders spoke out openly against the deportation of Jews during the war and Pius should have done the same.
"I ask myself why Pius didn't do the same thing to call European Catholics to action. These are questions that haunt us Jews," he said.
"So if they want to beatify (Pius) before clearing up all doubts about his silence there are free to do it. But the Vatican should know that for the Jewish world this would open up a wound that will be difficult to heal," he said.
The Vatican says while Pius did not speak out, he worked behind the scenes to help because direct intervention would have worsened the situation by prompting retaliations by Hitler.
Benedict has repeatedly defended Pius, saying he worked "secretly and silently" during World War Two to "avoid the worst and save the greatest number of Jews possible".
The Vatican says he saved several hundred thousand Jewish lives by ordering churches and convents throughout Italy to hide Jews and instructing Vatican diplomats in Europe to give many Jews false passports.
On Saturday chief Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi issued an unusual statement after an Italian news agency ran an interview with the Rev. Peter Gumpel, a Jesuit who is a major proponent of bestowing sainthood for Pius.
Gumpel said Benedict had put the sainthood process on hold because he feared repercussions on relations with Jews.
"In this situation, it is not opportune to exercise pressure on him (the pope) from one side or the other," Lombardi said in a statement that appeared to be at pains to distance the Vatican from Gumpel's remarks.
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