Pope Benedict’s visit to Rome’s synagogue on Sunday stirred up the controversial issue of the Vatican’s reaction to the Holocaust. The trip saw Jews and Catholics coming together to pray for Haiti. However, the pope had to defend one of his predecessors after a Jewish community leader criticised Pope Pius XII, who lead the Vatican during the war.
Riccardo Pacifici, President of Rome’s Jewish community said: “The silence of Pius XII before the Holocaust still hurts because something should have been done.”
Pope Benedict defended Pius by saying he worked behind the scenes so that Jews and Catholics were not persecuted even more: “The Apostolic See provided assistance, often in a hidden and discreet way.”
Pacifici’s remarks were a blunt rebuke to the Pope, but some Jews at the service were more philosophical about the situation. One man said:
“Only Pius XII and God really know what happened and what he did. We cannot judge anybody. The most important thing is that there is peace in the world.”
The criticism was directly aimed at Pope Benedict, who last month decided to begin the process of advancing Pius XII to sainthood. Pius reigned from 1939 to 1958.