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Can Pope Benedict soothe pain over Pius beatification?

    How far did he aid Jews? Pius XII
    How far did he aid Jews? Pius XII

    The proposed beatification of controversial wartime Pope Pius XII has shadowed Catholic-Jewish relations for more than 40 years.

    Critics of Pius, who died in 1958, accuse him of having failed to use his influence to speak out on behalf of Europe's Jews as the Nazis closed in.

    But his defenders instead contend that he was a deeply misunderstood figure who, in extreme times, did what he could quietly to aid the Jews.

    Moves to beatify Pius - the third of four steps in the canonisation process leading to sainthood - actually began back in 1967.

    Two years ago Pope Benedict declared support for beatification, saying Pius had spared no effort in "defence of the persecuted".

    As Jewish protests mounted, the issue became so heated that a Vatican official suggested that the Pope might not even visit Israel if a contentious reference to Pius in the Yad Hashem Holocaust Memorial were not changed.

    Last year, Benedict took a formal step to advance the beatification procedure which would accord Pius the title "Blessed".

    It came on top of a growing campaign to rehabilitate Pius's wartime reputation - although since historians are unlikely to see material in the Vatican archives for some years, sceptics may remain unimpressed.

    The Chief Rabbi of France, Gilles Bernheim, has said that Benedict's decision whether finally to beatify Pius or not would become symbolic of his pontificate as a whole.

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