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Sainthood in Sight for Holocaust-Era Pope?

At a mass commemorating the 50th anniversary of the death of Pope Pius XII, Pope Benedict XVI defended his predecessor during the Nazi reign and alluded to possible sainthood for the controversial religious leader.

His Holiness Pope Pius XII, robed in white with a scarlet cloak, is shown in Vatican City on Feb. 5, 1946.

Pius XII, the wartime pope, is a controversial figure dogged by claims of Nazi collusion

During the mass in St Peter's Basilica, Pope Bendict XVI praised Pius for working "secretly and silently" during Hitler's reign to try and save as many Jews as possible from a horrible fate, reports Reuters.

Benedict concluded his homily by inviting believers to pray for the beatification of Pius. A declaration of attained blessedness, beatification is the third in the four steps towards earning Roman Catholic sainthood. The Pope however stopped short on elaborating on whether the Vatican has sainthood in store for Pius.

Holocaust heroics?

Pope Pius XII

Some Jews praise Pius, others condemn him

Bendict's commemoration of Pius has revived the long-standing debate surrounding the Italian-born pope's role in sheltering Jews from the horrors of the Holocaust. While some Jews maintain that Pius did not intervene enough, Pope Benedict stated that Pius made great efforts to help the Jews, albeit his actions were secretive in their nature so as to not provoke the Nazis and worsen the situation.

"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 the greatest number of Jews be saved," Benedict said.

To underline the efforts Pius made, in his homily Benedict quoted a tribute made when Pius died by then Israeli Foreign Minister Golda Meir saying: "When fearful martyrdom came to our people in the decade of Nazi terror, the voice of the pope was raised for the victims."

Rabbi denounces pope's efforts

Yellow stars like those that Jews were forced to wear by the Nazis are seen at an exhibit in the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem

Rabbi Cohen said Pius didn't do enough to save the Jews

But on Monday, Oct. 6, Rabbi Shear-Yushuv Cohen, who became the first Jew to address a synod of bishops at the Vatican, denounced Pius for not coming to the rescue of the Jews. "We remember those religious leaders who did not raise their voice to save our brethren. We cannot forgive and forget," Shear-Yashuv Cohen said in his address. He also separately told reporters that Pius "should not be seen as a model and he should not be beatified because he did not raise his voice against the Holocaust."

On Tuesday, a senior cardinal at the Vatican defended Pius' wartime record, reports AFP. In the Vatican newspaper, Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone wrote that if Pius XII "had intervened publicly, he would have endangered the lives of thousands of Jews who, at his request, were hidden in the 155 convents and monasteries in the city of Rome alone."

Pope needs a miracle

In his prayers, Benedict hoped the process leading to Pius' beatification "can proceed happily." In order to be canonized, convincing evidence that Pius XII performed a miracle must be provided.

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