Friday, November 26, 2010

Pope book reopens Jewish-Catholic rift

A newly released interview with Pope Benedict XVI revives a bitter Catholic-Jewish dispute over whether the Roman Catholic Church did enough to save Jews from Hitler.
Wartime Pope Pius XII was a "righteous" pope who "saved more Jews than anyone," Benedict told German journalist Peter Seewald in a book out today, Light of the World: The Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times.

But Jewish Holocaust experts sharply disagree.

"If the Catholic Church had any evidence, it would long ago have been taken out of the dustbins of the Vatican and shown to the world," said Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles. 

He noted that Pius XII saved Jews in Rome in 1944, "but where was he (from 1939 to 1943)? … He could have made a critical difference."
Theologian Victoria Barnett, director of church relations at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, says, "We don't know what (Pius XII) did, because the Vatican archives are not open. We know that only 1,100 of Rome's 10,000 Jews were deported; the rest hid, many of them in convents, churches or monasteries, but it's not clear what his role in those rescues was, because we don't have the evidence."

Barnett said Benedict brings up a larger question about all leaders in that era: "Not just what people did or did not do, but what was the expectation of moral leadership?"

Abraham Foxman, Anti-Defamation League director and a Holocaust survivor, called the pope's remarks "a great disservice to the families of Holocaust victims, qualified historians and Catholic-Jewish relations."

All three echoed scholars' decade-old call for access to the Vatican's wartime archives. The Vatican has said all the records of Pius XII's 1939-58 papacy must to be catalogued first.

Jewish frustration with the Vatican's support of Pius XII deepened last December when the church recognized Pius XII as a Servant of God for his "heroic virtues."

It's the first step toward possible beatification, when someone is proven to have persuaded God to work a miracle, and, ultimately, sainthood, which requires two proven miracles.