WASHINGTON — The founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center voiced dismay and disappointment Monday at weekend Vatican moves to raise controversial wartime pope Pius XII to sainthood.
The Vatican sparked anger in Jewish communities worldwide with moves to nudge Pius -- whose beatification process was launched in 1967 -- closer to sainthood, its ultimate honor.
The Catholic Church argues that Pius saved many Jews who were hidden away in religious institutions, and that his silence during the Holocaust -- when millions of Jews were exterminated by Germany's Nazi regime -- was born out of a wish to avoid aggravating their situation.
But others believe Pius's inaction when it mattered to the lives of so many was appallingly wrong.
"I'm sort of amazed," Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a prominent Jewish human rights group, told AFP.
"It has become our business, because in my opinion, there would be a great distortion of history" were Pius XII to be elevated to sainthood, he said.
"Pius XII sat in stony silence" as the most egregious crimes against Jews took place. In 1941, when massacres began, "you'd expect to see a thick file" of cases in which he sought to intervene.
"But you do not," Hier noted.
In addition, Pius's predecessor, Pius XI, wrote an encyclical about anti-Semitism. Yet instead of publishing it or drawing attention to it, Pius XII buried it, Hier noted.
"These were turbulent times. You had people who stood up to dictators.
"Pius (XII) did not," Hier stressed.