France's main Jewish organization warned on Friday that a Vatican plan to put wartime Pope Pius XII on the road to sainthood would deal a severe blow to Catholic-Jewish relations if completed.
Holocaust survivors felt, "profound hurt" because Pius never openly denounced the Nazi slaughter of Jews and his failure to do so after the war was, "profoundly shocking," the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions (CRIF), said.
Its statement came a week after Pope Benedict defended the diplomatic approach Pius took as the best way to save the greatest number of Jews and said he hoped his beatification, the first step to sainthood, could proceed without a problem.
"The plan to beatify Pius XII, who was pope from 1939 to 1958, would deal a severe blow to relations between the Catholic Church and the Jewish world if it is carried out," said a CRIF representative.
"Concerned about burning his bridges with Germany, Pope Pius XII never delivered a clear speech denouncing the singular monstrosity of the extermination of millions of Jews," said the source.
"Furthermore, he did not do it after the war either, which is profoundly shocking."
The long-simmering dispute between Catholics and Jews, whose relations have otherwise improved greatly in recent decades, flared last week when an Israeli rabbi told bishops meeting in Rome that Jews could not forgive and forget Pius's silence.
Founded as an underground aid network for Jews during the German occupation, CRIF serves as a spokesman for the 600,000-strong French Jewish community, the largest in Europe.
Its statement was much stronger than a recent appeal by the United States-based Anti-Defamation League, whose National Director Abraham Foxman urged the Vatican to open its wartime archives fully before making any decision on Pius.
Not model behavior
A CRIF commentary stated that Pius did help to hide, "a certain number of Jews" in Rome during the German occupation and that, "the magnificent role played individually by some clergy, notably in France, to save Jews" should not be underestimated.
But it argued that Pius should have played the role of a prophet denouncing Nazi crimes rather than a prudent diplomat.
CRIF criticized the Vatican for not publishing all its Holocaust-era archives and said most independent historians did not agree with the official Catholic position that Pius worked ceaselessly to save Jews.
"As long as no new documents indisputably change the historical view of this era, and none have yet been provided, Jewish survivors of the Shoah (Holocaust) will suffer a profound hurt if the silence of the magisterium in the face of the genocide of the Jews is presented as model behavior," it said.
Pius's defenders, including some Jews, say the oppression of Jews would have been worse if he had openly condemned it. They cite the rise in deportations of Dutch Jews to death camps after Catholic bishops there denounced Nazi policy in 1942.
"He often acted in a secret and silent way precisely because, given the real situations of that complex moment in history, he realized that only in this manner could the worst be avoided and greatest number of Jews be saved," Benedict said at an October 9 Mass marking the 50th anniversary of Pius's death.
The Vatican also says it has published most of the significant documents about Pius and keeps some closed to researchers only for organizational reasons.