The Vatican stepped up its defense of Pope Pius XII on Tuesday, countering allegations the wartime pontiff was silent about the Holocaust by saying he saved Jews through his prudent diplomacy.
The Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano dedicated an entire page to praising Pius, including an impassioned tribute from the Holy See's secretary of state, Italian Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.
"It was precisely by means of a prudent approach that Pius XII protected Jews and refugees," Bertone wrote in an introduction to a book by a nun about the late pontiff.
Last month, Pope Benedict XVI made one of the strongest defenses yet of Pius, whose death 50 years ago is being marked at the Vatican. Benedict contended that Pius was "courageous" In sparing no effort to save Jews, and on Thursday will celebrate an anniversary Mass in St. Peter's Basilica for him.
Pius, as Italian prelate Eugenio Pacelli, had served as a Vatican diplomat in Germany and as the Vatican's secretary of state before becoming pope in 1939, a few months before World War II erupted in Europe.
The Vatican has started the process for Pius' beatification, the last formal step before possible sainthood. Jews and others have accused Pius of not speaking out forcefully enough against the Holocaust.
Bertone contended that research has shown that Pius "was neither silent nor anti-Semetic. He was prudent. If he had made a public intervention, he would have endangered the lives of thousands of Jews, who, upon his directive, were hidden, in 155 convents and monasteries in Rome alone."
"It is profoundly unjust to extend a veil of prejudice on the work of Pius XII during the war," Bertone said. The Jesuit priest leading Church efforts for Pius' beatification, Rev. Paolo Molinari, told Vatican Radio on Tuesday that "Pacelli made every possible effort to avert" the war. He cited Pius' efforts to try to dissuade Italy from joining the conflict.
Asked how the beatification process was going, Molinari cited Benedict's plans to lead the Mass as "highly significant."
Earlier this week, an Israeli rabbi who became the first Jew to address bishops' gatherings at the Vatican pointedly omitted Pius when he spoke of the change in Catholic-Jewish relations from a "long, hard and painful history."
Rabbi Shear-Yashuv Cohen called his appearance a signal of "hope and a message of love," noting efforts to improve relations that began under Pope John XXIII - Pius' immediate successor.
The rabbi said some religious leaders "did not raise a voice in the effort or save our brethren, but chose to keep silent and help secretly."