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PARIS – France’s main Jewish organization warned on Friday that Church efforts to make wartime Pope Pius XII a saint would deal “a severe blow” to relations between Catholics and Jews.
The warning from the umbrella organization of French Jewish groups, or CRIF, comes as the Vatican is mounting an aggressive campaign to refute decades-old accusations that Pius did not do enough to try to stop the extermination of 6 million Jews during World War II.
“Pope Pius XII, worried about burning his bridges with Germany, never made a clear statement denouncing the singular monstrosity of the extermination of millions of Jews. Moreover, he did not do so after the war either, which is profoundly shocking,” CRIF said in a statement.
“If carried out, the plan to beatify Pius XII, who was pope between 1939 and 1958, would deal a severe blow to relations between the Catholic Church and the Jewish world,” the statement said.
The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, had no immediate comment. But he referred to recent statements on Pius by Pope Benedict XVI and other top church officials.
Last week, Benedict celebrated a solemn Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica to mark the anniversary of Pius’ death in 1958 and lauded what he called “secret” efforts by the pontiff to spare Jews from the Holocaust.
In its statement, CRIF said this version of the facts was disputed by the majority of independent historians, although it was true that Pius hid several Jews in Rome during the war.
“Unless new, previously unavailable, documents indisputably change the historical view of this era, Jewish survivors of the Holocaust would feel profound hurt if the silence of the magisterium concerning the genocide of the Jews is presented as model behavior,” it said.
Earlier this month,Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano dedicated an entire page to praising Pius, including an impassioned tribute from the Holy See’s secretary of state, Italian Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.
“It was precisely by means of a prudent approach that Pius XII protected Jews and refugees,” Bertone wrote. “If he had made a public intervention, he would have endangered the lives of thousands of Jews who, upon his directive, were hidden, in 155 convents and monasteries in Rome alone.”
Though Catholic-Jewish relations have improved vastly in recent decades, an Israeli rabbi last week pointedly omitted Pius when he addressed a gathering of bishops at the Vatican.
Associated Press – October 17, 2008
AP Writer Ariel David contributed to this report
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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