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VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI marked the 50th anniversary of the death of Pope Pius XII on Thursday (Oct. 9), praying that the World War II-era pontiff would reach the next step on the road to sainthood, and defending him against charges that he did too little to save Jews during the Holocaust.
Pius “often acted in a secret and silent way just because…he sensed that only in this way could he avoid the worst, and save the greatest possible number of Jews,” Benedict said in his homily during a special memorial Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica.
Benedict’s words echoed those of Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican’s secretary of state and its No. 2 official, who wrote earlier this week in the official Vatican newspaper that Pius was “neither silent nor anti-Semitic: he was prudent.”
The timing of Benedict’s remarks, coming on the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur, struck some Jews as ironic, and others as perhaps mildly offensive, given the controversy surrounding Pius’ role during the Holocaust.
Pius’ critics say that he failed to do or say all he could to stop Nazi atrocities. His defenders counter that he heroically condemned anti-Semitism throughout Hitler’s reign, and both directly and indirectly saved thousands of Jewish lives.
The controversy has turned more intense lately, as the Catholic Church inches closer to making Pius a saint.
On Monday (Oct. 6), Israeli Rabbi Shear-Yashuv Cohen told reporters in Rome that Pius “should not be sanctified or looked up to because of his failure to save us, to raise his voice, even if he secretly tried to help.”
Cohen made the statement just after becoming the first non-Christian to address the Catholic Church’s World Synod of Bishops.
Before Pius can be canonized, he must first be beatified after he is credited with a miracle due to his intercession. A second miracle would then be needed in order for him to be named a saint.
“We pray that the cause of (his) beatification proceeds happily,” Benedict said Thursday.
The Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican’s top spokesman, later issued a statement specifying that although Benedict had “intended to manifest explicitly his spiritual union with a wish widespread among the people of God” for Pius’ beatification, he had expressed no views on the “next steps” in the evaluation process or “their timing.”
A Vatican panel voted unanimously last May to recognize Pius’ “heroic virtue,” a prerequisite for beatification, but instead of signing its decree, Benedict took the extraordinary step of appointing a special commission to reconsider Pius’ record, with particular attention to Jewish concerns.
Lombardi noted that Benedict has yet to sign the decree, “judging opportune a period of reflection.”
The coincidence of Pius’ anniversary with Yom Kippur is one to which the Vatican is evidently sensitive.
The lead article in Wednesday’s edition of L’Osservatore Romano, the official Vatican newspaper, was an essay on the meaning of the Jewish holiday written by the chief rabbi of Rome. Beside it appeared another article under the headline, “Respect and love for the Jewish people.”
By FRANCIS X. ROCCA
2008 Religion News Service
Copyright 2008 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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