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.

Arts & Entertainment
Madonna in her music video for 'Like A Virgin'
music... and other misheard song lyrics
News
Waitrose will be bringing in more manned tills
newsOverheard in Waitrose: documenting the chatter in 'Britain's poshest supermarket'
News
The energy drink MosKa was banned for containing a heavy dose of the popular erectile dysfunction Levitra
news
News
Much of the colleges’ land is off-limits to locals in Cambridge, with tight security
educationAnd has the Cambridge I knew turned its back on me?
VIDEO
Sport
Australia's Dylan Tombides competes for the ball with Adal Matar of Kuwait during the AFC U-22 Championship Group C match in January
sportDylan Tombides was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2011
News
Ida Beate Loken has been living at the foot of a mountain since May
newsNorwegian gives up home comforts for a cave
Extras
indybest10 best gardening gloves
News
Russia's President Vladimir Putin gives his annual televised question-and-answer session
peopleBizarre TV claim
Arts & Entertainment
tvIt might all be getting a bit much, but this is still the some of the finest TV ever made, says Grace Dent
Arts & Entertainment
Comedian Lenny Henry is calling for more regulation to support ethnic actors on TV
tvActor and comedian leads campaign against 'lack of diversity' in British television
News
Posted at the end of March, this tweeted photo was a week off the end of their Broadway shows
people
News
peopleStar to remain in hospital for up to 27 days to get over allergic reaction
Arts & Entertainment
The Honesty Policy is a group of anonymous Muslims who believe that the community needs a space to express itself without shame or judgement
music
News
Who makes you happy?
happy listSend your nominations now for the Independent on Sunday Happy List
Life & Style
life
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit