Moreover, the German-born Joseph Ratzinger (today Benedict XVI) certainly knew Pius XII was a passionate Germanophile, surrounded by German aides during and after the war, fluent in the German language, and a great admirer of the German Catholic Church. Not only that, but Ratzinger probably knows Pius XII personally intervened after 1945 to commute the sentences of convicted German war criminals.

In this context it is profoundly unsettling to think Benedict XVI and his entourage can identify so completely with Pius XII as a man of “heroic virtue.” The present pope no doubt deplores anti-Semitism, though his statements on the subject have been noticeably less robust than those of his predecessor.

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At Yad Vashem last summer he expressed no personal regret as a German for the unspeakable horrors of the Shoah. And earlier this year he showed remarkably poor judgment in reinstating an unrepentant Holocaust-denying British bishop into the mainstream Catholic Church, an action he only retracted after worldwide Jewish and Catholic protests.

These mistakes appear to follow a pattern and may even indicate a regression from the real progress in Catholic-Jewish relations under Benedict’s predecessor. One can only hope they are not irreversible since the stakes are high and no sane person can be interested in undermining the bridges across the abyss that have been so painstakingly constructed.

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Robert S. Wistrich is Neuberger professor of European and Jewish history at Hebrew University in Jerusalem and director of the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism. This essay was adapted from his new book, “From Ambivalence to Betrayal: The Left, the Jews, and Israel” (University of Nebraska Press).
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