Text size

Cabinet minister Isaac Herzog declared his opposition on Wednesday to the proposed beatification of Pope Pius XII - a highly unusual move in the often delicate relationship between the Israeli government and the Vatican.

Pius served as pope during World War II, and many Jews believe that he could have saved thousands of lives had he publicly condemned the Holocaust instead of keeping silent.

"The intent to turn Pius XII into a saint is unacceptable," said Herzog, who in addition to his main job as social affairs minister is also in charge of Diaspora affairs, the fight against anti-Semitism and ties with Christian communities.

"Throughout the period of the Holocaust, the Vatican knew very well what was happening in Europe," said Herzog in an exclusive interview with Haaretz. "Yet there is no evidence of any step being taken by the pope, as the stature of the Holy See should have mandated. The attempt to turn him into a saint is an exploitation of forgetfulness and lack of awareness. Instead of acting according to the biblical verse 'thou shalt not stand against the blood of thy neighbor,' the pope kept silent - and perhaps even worse."

Herzog was responding to reports that the Vatican plans to accelerate Pius' beautification process. Earlier this month, the current pope, Benedict XVI, said he hoped the process of declaring Pius "blessed" - the final stage before sainthood - would be successful.

Pius served as pope from 1939-58. His beatification process began in the 1960s, but has been repeatedly delayed by objections from Jewish groups. The Vatican claims that while Pius was afraid to speak out publicly, lest this lead to Nazi reprisals against Christians, he secretly saved thousands of Jews. However, it has consistently refused to open its archives for the years of Pius' papacy, making it impossible for scholars to verify this claim.