Image: Pope Pius XII
AP file
Pope Pius XII, wearing the ring of St. Peter, raises his right hand in a papal blessing at the Vatican in this file photo dated Sept. 1945.
updated 12/23/2009 6:33:50 AM ET 2009-12-23T11:33:50

The Vatican said Tuesday that moving Pope Pius XII closer to sainthood is not a hostile act against Jews, even though the wartime pontiff has been criticized for not speaking out enough against the Holocaust.

A Vatican statement said Tuesday that the move should not be an obstacle to dialogue between Jews and the Catholic Church, and insisted Pope Benedict XVI has sentiments of "great friendship and respect" for the Jews.

The statement sought to quell the outrage sparked among many Jewish groups after Benedict signed a decree on Pius's virtues. The decree means that Pius can be beatified — the first major step toward sainthood — once a miracle attributed to his intercession has been recognized.

The Vatican reaffirmed what it said was Pius' "attention and preoccupation" with the fate of Jews, saying that this is well established and recognized even by many Jews. But it said the process toward beatification was not intended to limit historical discussion on the pontiff, as the decree concerns Pius' faith and Christian virtues.

The pope signed the decree Saturday along with a similar decree recognizing the virtues of his immediate predecessor, John Paul II. This led many to believe the two causes would proceed together — and caused further outcry since John Paul was admired by many Jews.

The statement said there was no reason to believe that any possible beatification would take place at the same time.

Some Jews and historians have argued Pius should have done more to prevent the deaths of 6 million Jews at the hands of the Nazis and their collaborators during World War II.

The Vatican insists Pius used quiet diplomacy to try to save Jews and that speaking out more forcefully would have resulted in more deaths.

Pius, a Vatican diplomat in Germany and the Vatican's secretary of state before being elected pope, did denounce in general terms the extermination of people based on race and opened Vatican City to refugees, including Jews, after Hitler occupied Rome in 1943.

But he didn't issue public indictments of Jewish deportations, and some historians say he cared more about bilateral relations with Nazi Germany, and the rights of the Catholic church there, than saving Jewish lives.

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