FaithWorld

Criticised Israeli ambassador backtracks on rare praise of Pope Pius XII

(Photo exhibit critical of Pius XII at at Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, 15 April 2007/Yonathan Weitzman)

The comments made last Thursday by Mordechay Lewy, the Israeli ambassador to the Vatican, were some of the warmest ever made by a Jewish official about Pius. Most have been very critical of his record.

In an indication of how sensitive the subject of Pius is among Jews, Lewy was quickly assailed by some Jewish groups, including Holocaust survivors. In a statement issued in what appeared to be an attempt to calm the dispute within the world Jewish community, Lewy said his comments were “embedded in a larger historical context”.

“Given the fact that this context is still under the subject of ongoing and future research, passing my personal historical judgment on it was premature,” Lewy said.

The question of what Pius did or did not do to help Jews has tormented Catholic-Jewish relations for decades and it is very rare for a leading Jewish or Israeli official to praise Pius. Many Jews accuse Pius, who reigned from 1939 to 1958, of turning a blind eye to the Holocaust. The Vatican says he worked quietly behind the scenes because speaking out would have led to Nazi reprisals against Catholics and Jews in Europe.

Israeli envoy to Vatican voices rare praise of wartime Pope Pius XII

(Pope Pius XII in an undated file photo/Osservatore Romano)

A leading Israeli official has praised Pope Pius XII for saving Jews during the Nazi occupation of Rome, a surprise twist in a long-standing controversy over the pontiff’s wartime role. The comments by Mordechay Lewy, the Israeli ambassador to the Vatican, were some of the warmest ever made by a Jewish official about Pius. Most have been very critical of his record.

Lewy, speaking at a ceremony on Thursday night to honor an Italian priest who helped Jews, said that Catholic convents and monasteries had opened their doors to save Jews in the days following a Nazi sweep of Rome’s Ghetto on October 16, 1943.

“There is reason to believe that this happened under the supervision of the highest Vatican officials, who were informed about what was going on,” he said in a speech. “So it would be a mistake to say that the Catholic Church, the Vatican and the pope himself opposed actions to save the Jews. To the contrary, the opposite is true,” he said.

Britain removes Fadlallah eulogy from blog of its envoy to Lebanon

fadlallahBritain has removed a blog from the website of its ambassador to Beirut in which she praised Lebanon’s late Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah. In her blog, titled ‘The passing of decent men’, Frances Guy wrote that she was saddened by Fadlallah’s death and that the world “needs more men like him willing to reach out across faiths.”

Fadlallah was revered by many Shi’ite Muslims across the Middle East and Central Asia, and was known for his moderate social views and for trying to minimise Muslim sectarian differences.  But he was designated a terrorist by the United States and Israel because of his links to Hezbollah and his support for suicide attacks against the Jewish state. (Photo: Lebanese Shi’ite Muslim women supporters of Grand Ayatollah Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah wave to his coffin during his funeral in Beirut, July 6, 2010/ Sharif Karim)

A British Foreign Office spokesman said Guy’s blog had been removed “after mature consideration.” The criticism of her blog followed the firing of a senior CNN editor for Middle East news who published a Twitter message that said she respected Fadlallah.

U.S. envoy Diaz: A Cuban-born Midwestern theologian in Pope Benedict’s Court

diaz-and-pope-1A few days after he presented his credentials to Pope Benedict as new U.S. ambassador to the United States, Miguel Humberto Diaz, invited a few journalists to his residence on Rome’s Gianicolo Hill for a chat. It was his first meeting with the media in his new role and I was the only member of a major international news organisation to be invited to the first round.

Diaz, a very amiable man, is the first Hispanic and the first theologian to fill the post of U.S. ambassador. He took questions in English and Italian on a range of topics but most of the comments were centered on what he wanted to make out of the post. Here are some excerpts. The questions have been synthesized to reflect the conversation: (Photos: Ambassador Diaz and Pope Benedict, October 2, 2009. REUTERS/Osservatore Romano)

How did you get the news that President Obama had chosen you as new envoy and how did you feel?

U.S. ambassador Diaz: theologian envoy to theologian pope

diaz-1Miguel Humberto Diaz might sound like the name of an ambassador from Spain or any Latin American country, but in fact it belongs to the new American ambassador to the Vatican.

And if any further proof  were needed that things are changing in Obama’s America, consider this: The surnames of the previous ambassadors to the Vatican were: Wilson, Shakespeare, Melady, Glendon, Flynn, Boggs,  Nicholson, Rooney, and Glendon.

In my coverage of the Vatican, I knew most of them well, a few of them very well,  and at least three — Melady, Flynn and Nicholson (two Republicans and a Democrat) — became friends who still keep in touch. Their kindness then and now will always be appreciated.