The dispute over Pope Pius XII’s public silence about the Holocaust (background here) widened over the weekend. At the same time, Pope Benedict came in for criticism for his own silence, this time about organised crime in the Naples area during a visit to nearby Pompei . A local newspaper had (wrongly) reported he would publicly condemn the Camorra, as the local mafia is known. His spokesman insisted the visit to a Marian shrine (the purpose of the trip) was purely spiritual.
The Pius dispute heated up when Rev. Peter Gumpel, the German Jesuit who is the postulator for the late pope’s cause for sainthood, told the Italian news agency ANSA on Saturday that Benedict was delaying the beatification of Pius because it would harm relations with Jews. He also said Benedict could not visit Israel until a caption under a photograph of Pius at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial was changed. The caption said Pius “abstained from signing the Allied declaration condemning the extermination of the Jews”. The Vatican denies that charge and says Pius did all he could to save Jews.
Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi denied the caption was holding up any papal visit to Israel. Without naming them, he also told both Gumpel and Pius’s critics to lay off Benedict. “In this situation, it is not opportune to exercise pressure on him from one side or the other,” he said.
The latest twist to this came on Monday when a photograph of Benedict emblazoned with a superimposed Nazi swastika appeared on an Israeli website run by self-proclaimed supporters of the governing Kadima party. It was later removed after a request from Kadima’s leader, Israel’s foreign minister and possibly soon its prime minister, Tzipi Livni. Before it was swapped for a picture of a smiling Benedict overlooking a crowd-filled St. Peter’s Square, a Kadima spokesman said: “Tzipi Livni strongly condemns this and we are working to remove this shameful picture.”
There is no link between the Pius story and Benedict’s non-condemnation of the Camorra, but several Italian papers like La Stampa, La Repubblica and Corriere della Sera played the issue prominently. This prompted Il Giornale‘s Vatican correspondent Andrea Tornielli, a prominent Pius defender, to complain the press was now talking about “the ‘silence’ of Papa Ratzinger.” “I think that Benedict should be free to make a Marian pilgrimage without being obliged to speak publicly about all the social scourges of the area that hosts him,” he wrote.