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Pope synagogue visit splits Italy Jews due to Pius
ROME (Reuters) - Deep splits appeared in Italy's Jewish community just two days before Pope Benedict makes his first visit to Rome's synagogue, with at least one senior rabbi and one Holocaust survivor announcing a boycott.
The row revolves around the pontiff's decision last month to raise nearer to sainthood wartime Pope Pius XII, who many Jews say did not do enough to help Jews facing persecution by Nazi Germany, a position the Vatican rejects.
Rabbi Giuseppe Laras, president of Italy's rabbinical assembly, announced he will not attend the visit on Sunday to protest at what he said were a series of moves by the Vatican seen as disrespectful to Jews.
"The pope knew perfectly well that several weeks later he would be visiting the synagogue and he knew how sensitive we are about the issue of Pius XII. Wouldn't it have been opportune to delay (the decision) by a few months?" Laras asked in the Milan newspaper Il Giornale.
Some Jews have accused Pius, who reigned from 1939 to 1958, of turning a blind eye to the Holocaust.
The Vatican maintains that Pius was not silent but worked behind the scenes because public intervention would have worsened the situation for both Jews and Catholics in a wartime Europe dominated by Hitler.
Laras, a former chief rabbi of Milan, said the Jewish community was still upset at the pope's decision to start the rehabilitation process last year of traditionalist Bishop Richard Williamson, who denied the extent of the Holocaust.
Jewish groups reacted angrily last month when Benedict approved a decree recognising Pius's "heroic virtues".
The two remaining steps to sainthood are beatification and canonisation, which could take many years. Jewish groups wanted the process frozen until more Vatican archives are opened to scholars.
Interviewed by German Jewish weekly Juedische Allgemeine, Laras, who favoured cancelling the papal synagogue visit, said ties between Catholic and Jews had "become increasingly weaker during this pontificate".
Benedict, a German, will be following in the footsteps of the late Pope John Paul, who made a historic visit to the Rome synagogue in 1986 and called Jews "our beloved elder brothers".
At least one Roman survivor of the Holocaust, Piero Terracina, has also said he will boycott the visit to protest against several of Benedict's decisions regarding Jews.
Riccardo Di Segni, the chief rabbi of Rome, who will greet the pope on Sunday, told Reuters in an interview that only God can judge whether Pius did enough to save Jews and whether he should have spoken out more forcefully against the Holocaust.
Di Segni and some other Jewish leaders said Christian-Jewish dialogue should go forward even though Benedict's decision on Pius had caused problems, particularly for Holocaust survivors.
"Obviously, those of us, myself included, who are Holocaust survivors, have views on the subject (of Pius) but that should not in any way detract from the continuing dialogue which is essential to both communities despite difficulties," Rabbi Arthur Schneier, who hosted the pope at New York's Park East synagogue last year, told Reuters.
Schneier will be present at the Rome synagogue on Sunday.
(editing by Paul Taylor)
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