Pope tries to make amends with Jews


ROME (JTA) – Despite renewed tensions over his decision to move a controversial wartime pope closer to sainthood, Pope Benedict XVI is still expected to make a historic visit to the main Rome synagogue.

"For now, the visit is still on," the spokesperson for Rome Chief Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni told JTA on Tuesday.

The visit is scheduled for Jan. 17, marked annually by the Italian Catholic Church as a day of dialogue with Judaism.

Benedict provoked outrage in the Jewish world and cast a cloud over the visit when he signed a decree on Saturday certifying Pope Pius XII’s religiously defined "heroic virtues," a move that paved the way for his beatification. Benedict signed the same decree for the late Pope John Paul II, who made fostering Jewish-Catholic relations a keystone of his policy.

Benedict appeared to try to make amends in a speech Monday when he condemned the Nazis in recalling his visit in May to Yad Vashem.

"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.

Critics have long accused Pius of having ignored Jewish suffering during the Shoah. The Vatican and other supporters of Pius say the wartime pope worked behind the scenes to save Jews.

In criticizing Benedict’s move, Jewish bodies renewed calls for the Vatican to open its secret World War II archives in order to clarify the issue.

"As long as the archives of Pope Pius about the crucial period 1939 to 1945 remain closed, and until a consensus on his action — or inaction — concerning the persecution of millions of Jews in the Holocaust is established, a beatification is inopportune and premature," World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder said in a statement.

Italian Jewish leaders, including De Segni, issued a similar critique but also paid tribute to Catholic "individuals and Church institutions" that worked to save Jews from persecution.

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