Pope’s synagogue visit splits Italy’s Jews over stand on Pius XII
Deep splits have appeared in Italy’s Jewish community just before Pope Benedict makes his first visit to Rome’s synagogue, with at least one senior rabbi and one Holocaust survivor announcing a boycott. The row revolves around the pontiff’s decision last month to raise nearer to sainthood wartime Pope Pius XII, who many Jews say did not do enough to help Jews facing persecution by Nazi Germany, a position the Vatican rejects.
Rome’s Chief Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni has decided to go ahead with the visit and told Reuters he believed only God could judge Pius XII.
Rabbi Giuseppe Laras, president of Italy’s rabbinical assembly, announced he will not attend the visit on Sunday to protest at what he said were a series of Vatican moves seen as disrespectful to Jews, including the pope’s decision to start the rehabilitation process last year of traditionalist Bishop Richard Williamson, who denied the extent of the Holocaust.
“The pope knew perfectly well that several weeks later he would be visiting the synagogue and he knew how sensitive we are about the issue of Pius XII. Wouldn’t it have been opportune to delay (the decision) by a few months?” Laras asked in the Milan newspaper Il Giornale.
Laras, a former chief rabbi of Milan, said in another interview in the German Jewish weekly Jüdische Allgemeine that the visit should have been cancelled. He said ties between Catholic and Jews had “become increasingly weaker during this pontificate.”
The Jüdische Allgemeine interview (the headline at left reads: “I’m staying away from the pope’s visit”) is worth reading in full. Here is our translation from German:
Q. Rabbi, the pope will be the guest of Rome’s Jewish community on Sunday. What do you expect from the visit?
A. “Not much. In my opinion, the meeting will hardly have any immediate positive effects on Jewish-Catholic dialogue. Only the Church will have any advantages from it, especially in the eyes of its conservative wing. It will use the event to announce their ‘cordial friendship’ with us.”
Q. Why didn’t the community call off the meeting after Benedict XVI, just before Christmas, recognised the “heroic virtues” of his controversial predecessor Pius XII?
A.“You have to put that question to the Roman Jewish community and its chief rabbi. The idea of calling it off was welcomed by many (Jews) in Italy, especially in families of Holocaust survivors and some rabbis. But it didn’t come about because it was felt that would be impolite. After all, the pope was invited to come.”
Q. Do you see it that way?
A. “At first, I was also against calling it off, but I urged the Vatican to explain what was supposed to be heroic about Pius XII. After the Jewish community asked, there was an explanation, but it didn’t clarify anything. So I decided to stay away from the papal visit.”
Q. Why didn’t the Italian Rabbinical Assembly link the meeting with a condition that the Vatican archives on Pius XII must be opened?
A. “The Rabbinical Assembly was confronted with a fait accompli. The opening of the archives could surely bring some clarity about the controversial personality of Pius XII.”
Q. The pope often calls Jews “elder brothers.” How is this brotherliness looking these days?
A. “To my great regret, I must say that this ‘brotherly relationship’ has become increasingly weaker during this current pontificate. There have been several ‘slip-ups’ along the way, such as the issue of the Good Friday prayer, the lifting of the excommunication of the Holocaust denier Bishop Williamson and the hymns of praise for Pius XII.”
Q. Will they talk with Benedict about the Society of Saint Pius X?
A. “You have to ask the Roman Jewish community that question. The visit was their initiative. I’d just like to say that the pope, although too late, did call on Holocaust deniers among the Lefebvrist bishops to renounce (those views).”
Q. In the current situation, how do you evaluate the relationship to the Catholic Church?
A. “In Italy, Christian-Jewish dialogue has practically come to a halt. The dialogue suffers from the fact that it only takes place at the top level. Dialogue needs a broad basis. That means that more people have to be able to take part in it.”