Pius XII row inflames Vatican

By Yaakov Katz, October 24, 2008

A contentious caption on a picture of Holocaust-era Pope Pius XII at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum has led to increased tensions between Israel and the Vatican, possibly scuttling a visit to the Holy Land by the current pontiff.

The Vatican urged Yad Vashem to carry out "a new, objective and in-depth review" of the caption, which says that Pope Pius did not protest the genocide of Jews and maintained a neutral position.

Israeli president Shimon Peres defended Israel's criticism of Pope Pius but said that the caption controversy should not prevent Pope Benedict XVI from visiting Israel.

Officials said that while no visit was scheduled, Israel hopes that Pope Benedict will continue the tradition of visiting Israel set by his predecessor Pope John Paul II.

Pope Benedict recently reiterated the Vatican claim that Pope Pius, who became pontiff in 1939 shortly before the Second World War erupted, quietly worked behind the scenes to save Jews.

"We have reason to believe that Pius didn't do enough to save Jewish life," Mr Peres said this week. "The Pope's visit to Israeli has nothing to do with anger or disputes."

But Vatican officials have indicated that the caption could prevent the pontiff visiting Israel. In an interview with an Italian news agency last week, Jesuit Father Peter Gumpel said that the caption was a "historical falsification" and that Pope Benedict could not travel to Israel until Yad Vashem removed it.

Several hours after Father Gumpel's interview, Vatican spokesman Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi repeated the Vatican's opposition to the caption but said that it would not serve as an obstacle to a papal visit.

Yad Vashem said that a papal visit to Israel was a political issue on which the photo caption had no bearing. "The study of the Holocaust in general, including the role of Pope Pius XII, is ongoing and dynamic," its statement read. "Pope Pius XII's activity during the Holocaust is an issue debated worldwide.

The presentation of the subject at Yad Vashem is based on the best research."


    Last updated: 5:49pm, October 23 2008