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Vatican officials are furious over Minister Isaac Herzog's statement in Thursday's Haaretz that the planned beatification of Pope Pius XII, who headed the Catholic Church during the Holocaust, is "unacceptable."

Cardinal Andrea Lanza di Montezemolo told the Italian paper Corriere della Serra yesterday that "Israel's interference in the matter of Pius XII must stop. We've had it with this interference. Outside opinions are liable to disrupt [the process], and they look like an attempt to force Pope Benedict XVI to make a decision. The decision to declare someone a saint is an internal decision of the church."

Father Paolo Molinari, a priest involved in the the beatification process, told the paper Il Messaggero that "Minister Herzog's statements constitute intervention in the process of declaring Pius XII 'blessed,' which is an internal affair of the Catholic Church." Beatification, or being declared blessed, is the final stage before achieving sainthood.

Moreover, Molinari claimed, "such statements contradict what others in the Jewish world have said, including [former Israeli prime ministers] Moshe Sharett and Golda Meir, who left no room for doubt about the positive part played by Pius XII during the Nazi era."

Another paper, Il Foglio, quoted anonymous Vatican sources as saying that the beatification process is well advanced, and a final decision might be made before the end of this year.

Ever since the Holocaust, a battle has raged over Pius XII's efforts, or lack thereof, to save Jews. Many historians, as well as Jewish organizations, argue that had Pius publicly condemned the Holocaust or publicly urged Catholics to shelter Jews, many thousands could have been saved. The Vatican, for its part, says that while Pius was afraid to speak out publicly, lest this lead to Nazi reprisals against Catholics, he secretly saved thousands of Jews. However, the Vatican has consistently refused to open its archives for the years of Pius' papacy (1939-58), making it impossible for scholars to verify this claim.