Pope speaks of Holocaust memorial

Denounces crimes, as critics fault his stand on Pius XII

Pope Benedict XVI (left), at a Vatican City Christmas ceremony yesterday, will still visit Rome’s main synagogue Jan. 17 as scheduled. Pope Benedict XVI (left), at a Vatican City Christmas ceremony yesterday, will still visit Rome’s main synagogue Jan. 17 as scheduled. (Eric Vandeville/Getty Images)
By Alessandra Rizzo
Associated Press / December 22, 2009

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VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI described yesterday his visit to Israel’s Holocaust memorial as a disturbing encounter with hatred, speaking days after his decision to move the controversial World War II-era pope closer to sainthood angered Jewish groups.

The German-born Benedict signed a decree Saturday on the virtues of Pope Pius XII, who has been criticized for not doing enough to stop the Holocaust. The decree means that Pius can be beatified, the first major step toward possible sainthood, once a miracle attributed to his intercession has been recognized.

The decision sparked further outrage among Jewish groups still incensed over his rehabilitation earlier this year of Bishop Richard Williamson, who has denied the Holocaust.

Nevertheless, a planned visit by Benedict to Rome’s main synagogue, scheduled for Jan. 17, is still on, said Ester Mieli, spokeswoman for Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni, the chief rabbi of Rome. She dismissed a report in a Rome newspaper that the visit was in doubt following the Pius decision.

Benedict, who was forced to join the Hitler Youth and who deserted from the German Army, has repeatedly spoken out against the horrors of Nazism and anti-Semitism, but his efforts to improve relations with Jews have not always been smooth.

Yesterday, he recounted his May trip to the Holy Land in a speech at the Vatican.

“The visit to the Yad Vashem has meant an upsetting encounter with the cruelty of human fault, with the hatred of a blind ideology that, with no justification, sent millions of people to their deaths,’’ he said.

Yad Vashem is “first of all a commemorative monument against hatred, a heartfelt call to purification, and forgiveness, to love,’’ he said.

Benedict’s speech during his Yad Vashem visit drew criticism in Israel, with some faulting the pope for failing to apologize for what they see as Catholic indifference during the Nazi genocide. Others noted that he failed to specifically mention the words murder or Nazis.

Some Jews and historians have said that Pius, who served as pontiff from 1939-1958, should have done more to prevent the killing of 6 million Jews by the Nazis and their collaborators.

The Vatican insists that Pius used quiet diplomacy to try to save Jews and did not lash out at the Nazis for fear that public denunciation would only result in more deaths.

Jewish groups have argued that Benedict should not have made any moves on Pius’ beatification process until the now-closed Vatican archives of his pontificate are opened to outside researchers.

A Yad Vashem spokeswoman, Iris Rosenberg, said it was regrettable that the Vatican had acted before documents are made available.

The World Jewish Congress called any beatification of Pius “inopportune and premature’’ until consensus on his legacy is established, the World Jewish Congress said in a statement.