Pope Pius XII sainthood lobbying assailed

The Vatican has asked those supporting and opposing the beatification of Pope Pius XII to stop pressuring Pope Benedict XVI on the issue.

The Vatican statement came after the latest public clash over whether Pope Pius did enough to help Jews during World War II.

Jesuit Father Peter Gumpel, one of the promoters of Pope Pius' sainthood cause, said in an interview Oct. 18 that Pope Benedict could not possibly travel to Israel until curators of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem removed a photo caption stating that Pope Pius did nothing to condemn the Nazis and their slaughter of the Jews.

Father Gumpel, speaking to the Italian news agency ANSA, said the caption was "an obvious historical falsification" and that as long as it remained, a papal visit to Israel "would be a scandal for Catholics."

A few hours after the interview appeared, the Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, reiterated the Vatican's objections to the Yad Vashem display, but said it was not a decisive obstacle to a papal trip.

Pope Benedict wants to travel to the Holy Land, but for now nothing has been planned, the spokesman said.

Father Lombardi emphasized that Pope Benedict has not signed the decree of heroic virtues of Pope Pius, the next step necessary for his sainthood cause to advance.

"That is the subject of study and reflection on (the pope's) part, and in this situation it is not appropriate to exercise pressure on him in one direction or the other," Father Lombardi said.

In recent months, many Catholic experts have expressed their strong hope that the sainthood cause for Pope Pius would be moved forward, after the Vatican Congregation for Saints' Causes completed its documentation work and unanimously recommended beatification.

At the same time, Jewish groups have reiterated their strong opposition to beatification of Pope Pius, saying it would set back Catholic-Jewish dialogue.

At the Yad Vashem memorial in Jerusalem, the controversy surfaced in 2007, when the Vatican's nuncio to Israel, Archbishop Antonio Franco, threatened to skip a ceremony there because of the offending photo caption.

In his latest statement, Father Lombardi noted the Vatican's previous objections.

"It is hoped, therefore, that this be the subject of a new, objective and thoughtful reflection by those responsible for the museum," Father Lombardi said.

The photo of Pope Pius and its accompanying caption were placed at Yad Vashem in 2005. The text states that Pope Pius shelved a letter against anti-Semitism, did nothing to protest mass murder of Jews, refused to sign a 1942 Allied condemnation of the massacre of the Jews, and failed to intervene when Jews were deported from Rome to the Auschwitz death camp.

"His silence and the absence of guidelines obliged churchmen throughout Europe to decide on their own how to react," the caption says.

Vatican and other church officials, supported by some Jewish experts, have made recent highly publicized efforts to defend Pope Pius and his wartime record, saying that his behind-the-scenes efforts saved thousands of Jewish lives.

They have said Pope Pius was ultimately responsible for establishing a clandestine network of safe houses for people escaping Nazi persecution, utilizing the church's religious orders, communities, convents and seminaries -- and even the pope's own summer residence outside Rome.

At a Mass Oct. 9 marking the 50th anniversary of the death of Pope Pius, Pope Benedict said the late pope had done all he could to help Jews, working quietly and in secret because he knew that was the only way "he could avoid the worst and save the greatest possible number of Jews."

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