Richard Owen in The Times (September 19, 2008) reports that Pope Benedict XVI has defended the actions of predecessor Pius XII during World War II, saying the pontiff spared no effort to try to save Jews
Pope Benedict said that Pius had intervened directly and indirectly but often had to be "secret and silent" given the circumstances.
Pope Benedict said he wanted prejudice against Pius to be overcome.
Analysts say this was one of the strongest Vatican defences yet of Pius's role.
Pope Benedict was speaking at a meeting with the US-based interfaith group, the Pave the Way Foundation, at his summer residence in Castel Gandolfo.
He said Pius showed "courageous and paternal dedication" in trying to save Jews.
Pope Benedict said: "Wherever possible he spared no effort in intervening in their favour either directly or through instructions given to other individuals or to institutions of the Catholic Church.
Pope Benedict said the interventions were "made secretly and silently, precisely because, given the concrete situation of that difficult historical moment, only in this way was it possible to avoid the worst and save the greatest number of Jews".
He said that he hopes the 50th anniversary of the death of Pope Pius XII this year will offer an occasion to get to the historical truth about him, overcoming prejudices that hide the facts.
"So much has been written and said of [Pius XII] during these last five decades and not all of the genuine facets of his diverse pastoral activity have been examined in a just light," the Holy Father noted. "The aim of your symposium has been precisely to address some of these deficiencies, conducting a careful and documented examination of many of his interventions, especially those in favor of the Jews who in those years were being targeted all over Europe, in accordance with the criminal plan of those who wanted to eliminate them from the face of the earth.
"When one draws close to this noble Pope, free from ideological prejudices, in addition to being struck by his lofty spiritual and human character one is also captivated by the example of his life and the extraordinary richness of his teaching. One can also come to appreciate the human wisdom and pastoral intensity which guided him in his long years of ministry, especially in providing organized assistance to the Jewish people."
However in a dissenting note Civilta Cattolica, the Italian Jesuit journal — whose contents are vetted by the Vatican —- said that the position taken by the Holy See towards the race laws introduced by Benito Mussolini, the Fascist dictator, in 1938 had been so weak as to be "embarrassing".
Writing in the latest issue Father Giovanni Sale said that the Vatican, then under Pope Pius XI, with Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli — the future Pius XII — as his Secretary of State, had criticised the race laws in diplomatic notes to the Mussolini regime, but only on religious rather than "biological-racial" grounds.
He said that the Vatican had been more concerned to draw the Fascist government's attention to the need to save Jews who had converted to Catholicism from persecution than to "defend Jews as a whole". Father Sale said that there was historical evidence that Pius XI had wanted to take a stronger line than Cardinal Pacelli, who became Pope a year later.