Pope’s synagogue visit divides Italian Jews


ROME (JTA) — The upcoming visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the main synagogue in Rome has exposed splits in the Italian Jewish community.

Rabbi Giuseppe Laras, the former chief rabbi of Milan and current head of the Italian Rabbinical Assembly, was quoted Thursday as saying he will boycott Sunday’s visit in part over the pope’s recent decision to move World War II-era Pope Pius XII closer to sainthood.

"In my opinion, the meeting will have little short-term positive impact on Jewish-Catholic dialogue," Laras said in an interview published in the online edition of Germany’s Jewish newspaper, Juedische Allgemeine Zeitung. "Only the Church will benefit from it, above all looking to its conservative elements."

Laras sharply criticized the pope’s move last month to recognize the "heroic virtues" of Pius and said the Vatican’s clarification after Jewish protests over the move had "not clarified anything." Because of this, he said, "I have decided not to attend the pope’s visit." 

Laras’ decision put him in opposition to Rome’s Chief Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni, who told reporters Wednesday that the papal visit would be a major step in an evolving relationship that was complex and also sometimes strained.

"This visit has a deep and profound significance, necessary in a time of world tension," he told la Repubblica. It would be a serious error, he said "to reduce it to speaking only about the things that divide us or about the beatification of Pius XII."

Di Segni said he planned to raise the issue of Pius, whom critics accuse of turning a blind eye to the suffering of Jewish persecution during the Holocaust, when he welcomed the pope on Sunday. He added that this also would demonstrate that "it is still possible to carry on a dialogue even when we have different convictions."

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