Jewish group in France opposes Pius XII sainthood

paris | France’s main Jewish organization warned last week that efforts to make Pope Pius XII a saint would deal “a severe blow” to relations between Catholics and Jews.

The warning from an umbrella organization of French Jewish groups comes as the Vatican mounts a campaign to rebut accusations Pius did not do enough to try to stop the extermination of 6 million Jews during World War II.

“Pope Pius XII, worried about burning his bridges with Germany, never made a clear statement denouncing the singular monstrosity of the extermination of millions of Jews. Moreover, he did not do so after the war either, which is profoundly shocking,” the organization, Conseil Representatif des Institutions juives de France, said in a statement.

The issue might stall a visit to Israel by the pope. Israel recently extended an official invitation, but a Catholic official was quoted Oct. 18 by the Italian media as saying Pope Benedict XVI would not come as long as a photo caption at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial alleging that Pius XII did not act to save Jews from the Nazis remains on display.

On Oct. 9, Benedict celebrated a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica to mark the anniversary of the pontiff’s death in 1958. He lauded what he called “secret” efforts by Pius to save Jews. CRIF said independent historians have disputed this claim, although Pius hid several Jews in Rome.

Pius, an Italian, had been serving as Vatican secretary of state when he was elected pontiff in 1939, a few months before war broke out in Europe.

Benedict drew upon previous Vatican contentions that the pontiff used behind-the-scenes diplomacy to try to help the Jews, citing in particular the radio message Pius delivered for Christmas 1942 as evidence of determination to denounce the mass killings across much of Europe.

“In a voice breaking with emotion, he deplored the situation of ‘hundreds of thousands of persons, who, for no fault of their own, sometimes only because of their nationality or race, have been consigned to death or a slow decline,’ a clear reference to the deportation and extermination of the Jews,” Benedict said, quoting from the 1942 radio address.

Pius “often acted in a secret and silent way because, in light of the concrete situations of that complex historical moment, he saw that only in this way he could avoid the worst, and save the largest possible number of Jews,” Benedict said.

Accusations that Pius did not do enough to save Jews, which have dogged his memory for decades, gained momentum after German playwright Rolf Hochhuth’s work “The Deputy,” first performed in Berlin in 1963, alleged that Pius failed to take action.

Scholars and Jewish leaders also have criticized Pius, and the allegations also have been explored in widely read books, including John Cornwall’s “Hitler’s Pope.”

Israeli Rabbi Shear-Yashuv Cohen, who last week became the first Jew to address a bishops’ gathering at the Vatican, pointedly omitted Pius when he spoke of the change in Catholic-Jewish relations from what was a “long, hard and painful history.”