Saturday, April 14, 2007

Israel 'Shocked' As Vatican Boycotts Holocaust Memorial Service

Taken from The Times, 12/04/2007
By Richard Owen

Israel expressed “shock” today at the Vatican’s decision to boycott a ceremony at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, this weekend because of an exhibit accusing Pius XII, the wartime pontiff, of turning a blind eye to the Nazi extermination of the Jews.

Monsignor Antonio Franco, the papal nuncio (ambassador) in Israel, said he would refuse to participate in the annual memorial service for the victims of the Holocaust at Yad Vashem as long as the museum continued to display a photograph of Pius XII with a caption saying he had “recognised” the Nazi regime and done nothing to condemn the Shoah, or Holocaust.

“I do not intend to go to Yad Vashem if things remain as they are,” Monsignor Franco said. The photograph and caption first appeared two years ago. He said Israel had rejected repeated Vatican requests for them to be removed.

Pius XII (reigned 1939-1958), who before being elected Pope was nuncio in Berlin and then Secretary of State (Vatican Prime Minister), has long been accused by Jewish groups of “German sympathies”. A biography by the Roman Catholic author John Cornwell described him as “Hitler’s Pope”.

The Vatican, which has begun proceedings to have Pius XII beatified - a step toward sainthood - insists that Pius XII helped thousands of Jews to escape during the Nazi occupation of Rome, and that if he had spoken out it would have made matters worse for Jews in Germany itself.

Iris Rosenberg, of the Yad Vashem museum, said this would mark the first time a foreign ambassador had bocotted the ceremony. “We are shocked and disappointed that the Vatican’s delegate to Israel has chosen not to respect the memory of the Holocaust and not to participate in the official ceremony in which the state of Israel and the Jewish people join in memory of the victims,” she said.

She said the museum “would continue to present the historical truth on Pius XII as it is known to scholars today.” Jewish historians complain that although the Vatican has opened up its archives on Pius XII’s record before he became Pope, papers relating to his pontificate remain inaccessible.

Monsignor Franco however said in a letter to Yad Vashem that he found the Pius XII caption offensive to Catholics. “I respect the memory of the martyrs of the Holocaust but also the memory of the Pope,” he said.

“The right of one does not infringe on the right of the other.” He said Pius XII had done “nothing to be ashamed of”.

Tzipi Livni, the Israeli Foreign Minister, said the Yad Vashem ceremony “honours the victims of the most traumatic event in the history of the Jewish people and one of the most traumatic in the history of humanity”. Whether envoys attended it was “a matter for their consciences”.

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