In a synagogue visit haunted by history, Pope Benedict XVI and Jewish leaders sparred over the record of the World War II-era Pope during the Holocaust and agreed on the need to strengthen Catholic-Jewish relations.
Both sides said the visit to the seat of the oldest Jewish community in the diaspora was an occasion to overcome what Benedict called “every misconception and prejudice”.
Signs of the Jewish community’s tragic history were abundant, as the German-born Benedict stopped at a plaque marking where Roman Jews were rounded up by the Nazis in 1943 and at another marking the slaying of a 2-year-old boy in an attack by Palestinian terrorists on the synagogue in 1982.
Benedict defended his predecessor Pius XII against critics, telling the audience that the Vatican had worked quietly to save Jews from the Nazis during World War II.
Many Jews object to Benedict moving Pius towards sainthood, contending that the wartime Pope didn’t do enough to protect Jews from the Holocaust.
My conclusion is that Pius refused to speak up publicly, as he didn’t want to risk the Nazis and Fascists moving against the Church. Now this doesn’t make him a bad person – it was arguably a reasonable decision for the Pope to make.
But in my lay opinion, it should disqualify him from sainthood. Sainthood should not be bestowed when there is significant doubt.
Of course decisions on Sainthood, are decisions for the Catholic Church alone. But if they proceed, they should not be surprised that many will think less of the Church for such a decision.