Pope Benedict visited Rome’s main synagogue over the weekend. The visit comes as tensions are growing between the Vatican and Jewish leaders over the Pope’s decision to honor Pius XII by moving him closer to sainthood. Pius, Pope during World War II is frequently criticized for his lack of action and his silence in response to the Nazi’s “Final Solution” to the Jewish People.
The Pope’s visit was cordial though the host spoke directly to Benedict of the pain that his recent decision has caused.
Then Pacifici added some of the toughest words ever publicly delivered by a Jewish leader to a pope: “In Italy and other parts of Europe, many religious people risked their lives to save thousands of Jews from certain death, without asking anything in return. This is why the silence of Pius XII before the Shoah still hurts because something should have been done. Maybe it would not have stopped the death trains, but it would have sent a signal, a word of extreme comfort, of human solidarity towards those brothers of ours transported to the ovens of Auschwitz.”[…]The congregation broke into approving applause several times while Benedict addressed the meeting. They clapped loudly when he said that “many, including Italian Catholics sustained by their faith and Christian teaching, reaced with courage, often at the risk of their lives, opening their arms to assist the Jewish fugitives who were being hunted down, and earning perennial gratitude.”
But then Benedict added the argument that Pius loyalists cite in his defence: “The Apostolic See itself provided assistance, often in a hidden and discreet way.” Nobody raised a hand to applaud that line. After a split second, the pontiff continued reading his speech.
Silence that masks feverish working behind the scenes is something we’re hearing about today as church leaders around the world react to the proposed legislation in Uganda to jail most gay and lesbian people and execute some of them. Perhaps those making that argument might meditate on the words of Pacifici above.