Pope Benedict praises Pius


ROME (JTA) — Pope Benedict XVI praised the controversial Nazi-era Pope Pius XII.

Benedict during a Mass Sunday at the San Lorenzo basilica here lauded Pius for aiding stricken Romans after a devastating Allied bombing raid during World War II. Thousands of local residents were killed and the basilica was severely damaged by the attack on July 19, 1943.

"The generous gesture on that occasion by my venerable predecessor, who immediately ran to help and comfort the stricken population in the smoldering rubble, cannot be erased from historical memories," the pope said.

This year marks 50 years since the death of Pius, who critics accuse of turning a blind eye to Jewish suffering during the Holocaust. Some Jewish organizations are among the critics. The Vatican says he worked behind the scenes to help Jews.

The Vatican has put Pius on track to beatification, the last step before canonization. Some Jewish groups have called for the opening of secret Vatican archives so Pius’ wartime role can be clarified before Benedict allows the sainthood process to move forward.

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