Anger as Pius moves closer to sainthood

One month before his first synagogue visit, Pope Benedict advances the case of his 'silent' predecessor

A leading rabbi accused Pope Benedict XVI of "insensitivity" towards Jews yesterday after the head of the Catholic Church moved his controversial World War II-era predecessor Pope Pius XII a step closer to sainthood.

Pius XII, who served from 1939 to 1958, is regarded by conservative Catholics as one of the greatest of modern popes. But his papacy was also controversial because of his failure to make any protest as millions of Jews were taken to Nazi gas chambers. His supporters claim that silence was necessary for the protection of Catholics around Europe. But the Vatican has infuriated critics by failing to open secret archives relating to his papacy before moving him closer to canonisation.

"This papacy has excelled in diplomatic insensitivity," said Rabbi David Rosen, a member of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and president of the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations. "It has excelled at a lack of consultation and consideration for the ramifications of its actions."

On Saturday Benedict XVI officially declared Pius XII had displayed "heroic virtues" throughout his life and was thus a Christian worthy of imitation – the final hurdle before beatification, which immediately precedes canonisation.

Iris Rosenberg, a spokesman for the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, added her voice to the growing chorus of Jewish anger.

"Our understanding was that ... the Church was going to wait to take further steps until the relevant Vatican archives were opened, allowing scholars to clarify this controversial period in Church history and Pius's position during the Holocaust," she said. The head of archives, Bishop Sergio Pagano, told reporters last July that it was likely to take another five or six years before the materials could be made accessible to scholars.

"It is regrettable that the Vatican has chosen to act before all the relevant documents are available to researchers," Ms Rosenberg said.

Jewish leaders were also angered that the Vatican chose to announce the acceleration in the process to canonise Pius XII just a month before Benedict XVI is to make his first visit to Rome's major synagogue. So far, the announcement does not appear to have put the 17 January visit in jeopardy. But a source close to Rome's chief rabbi, Dr Riccardo Di Segni, said both the announcement and its timing had "hit a raw nerve".

Dr Di Segni declined to comment, saying that this was an "extremely delicate" issue for Jews in Rome and around the world.

Pius XII was one of 17 people whose canonisation processes moved forward on Saturday. Others included Benedict XVI's most recent predecessor, Pope John Paul II, whose canonisation cause he opened only weeks after his death in April 2005.

Benedict XVI bypassed the five-year waiting period to allow officials to begin the sainthood process for the long-serving Polish pontiff. Speculation among Vatican watchers was that John Paul II could be beatified on 16 October 2010, which would mark the 32nd anniversary of his election to the papacy in 1978.

Before that can happen, a Vatican commission has to verify that a miracle, several of which have been submitted for review, has occurred through the late Pope's intercession.

The issue of the decree recognising Pius XII's heroic virtues yesterday caught many people by surprise, given the sensitive debate surrounding his wartime activities. But Benedict XVI has on numerous occasions shown his desire to push his predecessor's cause forward despite the controversies. In October 2008 he provoked Jewish anger by holding a large public Mass on the 50th anniversary of Pius XII's death. The ceremony came during a Vatican Synod at which the Chief Rabbi of Haifa, She'ar Yashuv Cohen, was an invited guest. The rabbi said he might not have accepted the invitation to address the synod had he been informed that the gathering was to include such an honour for Pius XII.

But despite the strains, the two sides continue to maintain a dialogue, and the next meeting is scheduled to follow Pope Benedict's visit to Rome in January. Rabbi Rosen, who will be involved in that dialogue, said: "Obviously, as much as Pope Benedict is committed to Jewish-Catholic dialogue, we are not the number one priority on his agenda."

Saints in waiting The road to canonisation

Pope John Paul II (1920-2005), whose papacy lasted 27 years, was the first non-Italian pope in 450 years. The Polish pope has been on a fast track to possible canonisation since his funeral, when crowds demanded he be made a saint at once with chants of " Santo subito!" A month after his death, Pope Benedict XVI waived the normal five-year waiting period to kick-start the canonisation process. Since then, more than 250 reports of miracles have poured in, including the claim that he cured a French nun of Parkinson's disease. If the miracle is approved, John Paul II will be beatified – the last step before possible sainthood.

Mother Mary MacKillop (1842-1909), who is in line to become the first-ever Australian saint, devoted her life to educating the poor, setting up schools in the Australian Outback. She co-founded a religious order, the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart, in 1866. It quickly spread across Australia and New Zealand, and later to Peru and Brazil. She eventually led 750 nuns and 117 schools, as well as orphanages and refuges. She was beatified in 1995.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living