ROME (EJP)---Pope Benedict XVI is “seriously considering” freezing the beatification process of his Nazi-era predecessor Pius XII until historical archives can be opened.
The pontiff made this point during an audience on Thursday at the Vatican with a delegation of the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations (IJCIC).
Rabbi David Rosen, a leader of the Jewish delegation said the subject came up in conversations after formal speeches were delivered.
"One member of our delegation told the pope 'please do not move ahead with beatification of Pius XII before the Vatican archives can be made accessible for objective historical analysis' and the pope said 'I am looking into it, I am considering it seriously'," Rosen told a press conference after the audience.
Beatification is the last step before sainthood in the Roman Catholic Church.
Jewish groups and most historians accuse Pius, who has been called “Hitler’s pope” and was pontiff from 1939 to 1958, of remaining silent during the Holocaust and having been passive towards the persecution of Jews.
He was pontiff from 1938 to 1958.
A caption accompanying a photograph at Jerusalem's Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial says Pius XII did not act to save Jews from the Holocaust.
The Vatican’s position is that while Pius did not speak out against the Holocaust, he worked behind the scenes to help Jews because direct intervention would have worsened the situation.
Earlier on Thursday, a Vatican statement said another 6 or 7 years of preparatory work would be needed before the archives on Pius's period could be opened to scholars and the pope would have the final decision.
The statement came in response to the head of the Jewish delegation request for the Vatican archives to be open immediately for study.
Richard Prasquier, head of CRIF, the French Jewish community representative body, who was in the Jewish delegation that met with Pope Benedict XVI, told EJP that he was "satisfied" with the likely delay of six years before any beatification. "This is good so," he said. "I thanked the pontiff to have listened to the feelings of the Jewish community and to take them into account."
"I expressed the hope that the opening of the archives would give us a better image of what happened during the war. "The pope told me: hopefully yes."
We reiterate our respectful call for full and transparent access of scholars to all archival material from the period, so that assessments regarding actions and policies during this tragic period may have the credibility they deserve both within our respective communities and beyond," Rabbi Rosen told the pope.
Jewish groups and the Yad Vashem Memorial have repeatedly requested the immediate opening of the Vatican secret archives.
The director of the Vatican press office, Father Federico Lombardi, said the requests to see the wartime archives were "understandable," but added that cataloguing some 16 million documents is expected to take another six or seven years.
At issue is whether Benedict should let Pius proceed on the road to sainthood by signing a decree recognising his "heroic virtues". This would clear the way for beatification.
Benedict has so far not signed the decree -- approved last year by the Vatican's saint-making department, opting instead for what the Vatican has called a period of reflection and out of concern to maintain "good relations" with Jews.
"It is not the business of the Jewish people to tell the Church who its saints are. However, if the Church says, as it does, that it wishes to live in mutual respectful relations with the Jewish people, it is appropriate to expect that there will be consideration for our sensitivities," Rosen said.
Last week, the umbrella representative group of French Jewish organisations, warned that the Vatican’s plan to beatify Pius XII "would deal a severe blow to relations between the Catholic Church and the Jewish world."
Despite the controversy around Pius XII, Israel and the Vatican have appeared keen to avert open confrontation. Israel's President Shimon Peres recently renewed an invitation for the pontiff to visit the Holy Land.