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The Latest Skirmish in the Pius Wars…

For years now, the world has heard the oft-repeated claim that Pope Pius XII “turned a blind eye” to the Jewish Holocaust by not publicly denouncing the Nazi regime during World War II. The so-called “Pius Wars” are a perennial media magnet. Tensions mushroomed once again between defenders and detractors on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the pontiff’s death. Pope Benedict XVI took that opportunity during a commemoration Mass to offer some remarks in defense of his predecessor, explaining that Pius “often acted in a secret and silent way precisely because, given the real situations of that complex moment in history, he realized that only in this manner could the worst be avoided and greatest number of Jews be saved.” Benedict added that his predecessor had “spared no effort” to save Jews from Nazi and fascist extermination, that Pius had ordered churches and convents throughout Italy to hide Jews, and that his diplomats in Europe helped many Jews evade the death camps by issuing them false passports.

To most ears, these carefully chosen words would seem a reasoned and temperate defense and, given the momentous occasion on which the comments were made, appropriate and timely. But coupled with the admission that the Holy Father has not closed the book on Pius XII’s cause for canonization, some prominent Israeli Jewish leaders are livid, warning the Vatican that conferring recognition of sainthood on the “controversial wartime pope” would create an irreparable rift in Catholic-Jewish relations. That’s right: irreparable. Nothing less!

This past October the Vatican hosted a synod attended by over 200 Catholic bishops from around the world. The subject: sacred Scripture and how it relates to Catholics in the 21st century. The international media appeared little interested in turgid scriptural proceedings in high places. Rather, the big news of the Roman gathering was that, for the first time in history, a Jewish rabbi was invited to address a synod of bishops. The world broke out in warm fuzzies over the fact that Pope Benedict XVI could be so palpably open-minded in the arena of “inter-religious dialogue,” as it is often called. The Pope does deserve those kudos, but the attention paid to the presence of She’ar-Yashuv Cohen, the Chief Rabbi of Haifa, was overkill.

That emotional high quickly dissipated, however, when Rabbi Cohen used his bully pulpit to denounce — in an address to a gathering of international journalists — Benedict’s ongoing “campaign” to beatify Pius XII. Rabbi Cohen, evidently presuming to speak the mind of Jewish believers worldwide, said Pius XII’s “silence on the Holocaust” could not be “forgotten or forgiven.” That’s right: no forgiveness. Not a chance!

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