POPE BENEDICT XVI yesterday issued another vigorous defence of one of his predecessors, Pius XII, saying he hoped Pius would soon be beatified. The pope's remarks came during his homily at a commemorative Mass in the Basilica of St Peter's to mark the 50th anniversary of the death of Pius.
The pope was speaking just three days after the Chief Rabbi of Haifa, Shear-Yushev Cohen, addressed the Vatican's Synod of Bishops saying, in an obvious reference to Pius XII, that Jews cannot "forgive and forget" that during the second World War some major religious leaders did not speak out against the Holocaust.
Speaking to reporters after his address, Rabbi Cohen had said that Pius should not be seen as a "model" and that he should not be beatified. Rabbi Cohen is just the latest in a long line of Jewish commentators who have argued that Pius, who was pope from 1939 to 1958, failed to raise his voice against the horrors of the Nazi regime and did nothing to help save Jews from the Holocaust.
Vatican scholars, in contrast, have often argued that Pius did his best, not speaking out more directly against Hitler for fear of retaliation against the Jewish people.
In his homily yesterday, Pope Benedict acknowledged that Pius was a controversial figure saying that the "historical debate" on him had "not always been serene". However, not for the first time, Benedict defended Pius, arguing that his behind-the-scenes actions had saved the greatest possible number of Jews.
"He acted in a secret and silent way because, given the realities of that complex historical moment, he realised that it was only in this way that he could avoid the worst and save the greatest possible number of Jews."
After the war, Pope Benedict added, Pius had received numerous expression of gratitude from Jews, pointing out that at the time of his death, Israeli foreign minister Golda Meir had written: "When that terrifying martyrdom hit our people, during the 10 years of Nazi terror, the pope raised his voice on behalf of the victims."
Partly because of the tensions created in Catholic-Jewish relations by the awkward figure of Pius, his road along the path to sainthood has been very slow.
Yesterday, however, the pope appeared to sponsor that cause, saying "we are all praying" that his beatification "might proceed happily".