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Israeli Holocaust memorial denies Vatican pressure in modifying Pius XII’s caption

Catholic World News - July 09, 2012

Following critical remarks by Chief Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni of Rome, Israel’s Holocaust memorial has defended its decision to moderate its tone in its description of Pope Pius XII.

Reports that Yad Vashem made the changes because of “pressure or agreement with the Vatican” are “totally unfounded” and “disinformation,” Yad Vashem said in a statement. Instead, the changes are a result of “reflection of research and the gathering of information in progress.”

The new text reads:

The Vatican, under Pius XI, Achille Ratti, and represented by the Secretary of State Eugenio Pacelli, signed a concordat with Nazi Germany in July 1933, in order to preserve the rights of the Catholic Church in Germany.

The reaction of Pius XII, Eugenio Pacelli, to the murder of the Jews during the Holocaust is a matter of controversy among scholars. From the onset of World War II, the Vatican maintained a policy of neutrality. The Pontiff abstained from signing the Allies' declaration of December 17, 1942 condemning the extermination of the Jews. Yet, in his Christmas radio address of December 24, 1942 he referred to “the hundreds of thousands of persons who, without any fault on their part, sometimes only because of their nationality or ethnic origin (stirpe), have been consigned to death or to a slow decline.” Jews were not explicitly mentioned. When Jews were deported from Rome to Auschwitz, the Pontiff did not publicly protest. The Holy See appealed separately to the rulers of Slovakia and Hungary on behalf of the Jews.

The Pope’s critics claim that his decision to abstain from condemning the murder of the Jews by Nazi Germany constitutes a moral failure: the lack of clear guidance left room for many to collaborate with Nazi Germany, reassured by the thought that this did not contradict the Church’s moral teachings. It also left the initiative to rescue Jews to individual clerics and laymen. His defenders maintain that this neutrality prevented harsher measures against the Vatican and the Church's institutions throughout Europe, thus enabling a considerable number of secret rescue activities to take place at different levels of the Church. Moreover, they point to cases in which the Pontiff offered encouragement to activities in which Jews were rescued. Until all relevant material is available to scholars, this topic will remain open to further inquiry.

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