Vatican 'Clarifies' Cardinal's Claim Pope Won't Visit Israel

Pope Benedict XVI refuses to visit Israel until Yad Vashem removes a photo of Pope Pius XII with a caption about his silence during the Holocaust.

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Hana Levi Julian,

Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Israel News Photo: (file)

The Vatican hastened to "clarify" late Saturday night a statement made earlier in the day by Cardinal Peter Gumpel that Pope Benedict XVI would not visit Israel until a caption below a photo of Pope Pius XII, which hangs in Yad Vashem, was removed.


The caption, attached to a photo of the pope who reigned during the Holocaust era, states that Pius "abstained from signing the Allied declaration condemning the extermination of the Jews" and "maintained his neutral position throughout the war." 


The statement by the spokesman for the Vatican, made in reference to an invitation to visit extended by the State of Israel, was rejected by the Vatican on Saturday night.


According to the Church, Pius worked "secretly and silently" during World War Two to "avoid the worst and save the greatest number of Jews possible."


Foreign Ministry spokesman Yossi Levi said Saturday night, however, that as long as the Vatican refuses to allow historians into its archives, the "painful question" as to whether Pope Pius silently helped the Jews or not "will remain unanswered."


"The Pope is a welcome guest," said Levi. "We do not see Gumpel's statement as representative of the Holy See…[His] words found no audience with the Vatican, and the clarification issued by the Vatican has put this matter to rest as far as we are concerned."


Jews have opposed recent attempts by the Church to beatify Pius, transforming him into a saint. At a meeting of the Synod of Bishops at the Vatican earlier this month, Haifa Chief Rabbi Sha'ar-Yashuv Cohen said that Jews could not "agree that this leader of the Church in a time of crisis should be honored now…. It is not our decision. It pains us. We are sorry it is being done."


Pope Pius XII, who headed the Catholic Church from 1939 until 1958, has long been accused of not using his influential position on behalf of the Jews and other victims of the Nazis.


There have been numerous examples documented of his silence in the face of the torture and wholesale murder of Jews, as well as instances in which he responded to desperate pleas for help by advising the Jews to "bear adversity with serene patience" instead.