Vatican City – A Jewish leader says Pope Benedict XVI is considering a request to freeze the sainthood process for wartime Pope Pius XII, who critics say did not speak out enough during World War II to save Jews amid Hitler’s extermination campaign.
Rabbi Ravid Rosen says the pope was asked to do so during a meeting Thursday with a Jewish group and the pontiff replied he would give “serious consideration” to the request to wait.
Rosen spoke after the Vatican rejected Jewish groups’ requests to immediately open its secret archives on Pius XII’s papacy during the Holocaust years.
Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi said the requests to see the wartime archives were “understandable,” but added Thursday that it would take another six or seven years to catalog those 16 million documents.
Currently, the archives can be consulted only up through the papacy of Pius XII’s predecessor, Pius XI, which ended in early 1939, a few months before World War II began in Europe.
Pius XII was Pius XI’s secretary of state, as Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli. Some scholars who have examined archive documents dealing with the future Pius XII’s diplomacy say Pacelli was an indecisive diplomat as Nazism and Fascism took hold in parts of Western Europe.
The Vatican says Benedict has been reflecting on documentation gathered by Church officials about Pius XII’s virtues as part of the process toward possible beatification, the last formal step before possible sainthood. Benedict, marking the 50th anniversary recently of Pius’ death, has described him as a great pope who spared no effort to try to save Jews.
Earlier this month, Israeli president Shimon Peres urged the Vatican not to let a contentious reference to Pius XII stop Benedict from visiting the Holy Land sometime. A caption accompanying a photograph at Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial alleges the wartime pope did not act to save Jews from the Nazi genocide.
Benedict met Thursday with Rosen and others from the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations. The pontiff called for “sincere dialogue” and called Church condemnation of all forms of anti-Semitism a “significant milestone.”
Neither Benedict nor Rosen in their speeches mentioned the sainthood controversy.
Rosen said Jews were “profoundly grateful for all that the Holy See has said and done in recent times” to combat anti-Semitism and he expressed thanks for Christians who “saved many Jews” during the Holocaust.
“We reiterate our respectful call for full and transparent access of scholars to all archival material from that period, so that assessments regarding actions and policies during this tragic period may have the credibility they deserve,” Rosen said.
The late Pope John Paul II made an official visit to Israel in 2000.
Frances D’Emilio reported from the Vatican and Marta Falconi from Rome for this story.
(This version CORRECTS reference to Pius XI, sted Pius X.)
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