Welfare and Social Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog met Saturday evening with senior leaders of the Catholic Church in Israel and asked that the beatification of Pius XII be delayed until his role during the Holocaust could be better scrutinized and clarified.
In a meeting with Elias Chacour, the Archbishop of Galilee of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church and Bishop Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo, titular bishop of Emmaus and Latin patriarchal vicar in Nazareth, Herzog expressed his concern regarding the beatification of Pius.
"The Jewish world has many questions about the role of Pius XII during the Holocaust and I have voiced this concern in the past," said Herzog.
"I call on the heads of the Vatican to delay the beatification process until Vatican archives with documents dating to Pius's stint as Pope during World War II are opened."
Herzog emphasized the State of Israel's obligation to ensure freedom of worship and blessed Israeli citizens celebrating Christmas. He also expressed his hope that interfaith dialogue would help advance the peace process.
Vatican Spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi, issued a statement before Christmas saying that that Pius XII will not be beatified along with John Paul II on October 16 - the anniversary of Karol Wojtyla's papal election in 1978, but also of the first Nazi deportations of Jews from the Roman ghetto in 1943.
Lombardi also distinguished religiously defined "heroic virtues" from papal actions in the context of history, stating that historic research regarding Pius XII's papacy will remain open and continue.
Rome's Chief Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni expressed his "appreciation for the swift and attentive" reply, defining it as "an opportune sign of defusion."
But the Jewish Community's Executive Council felt further distinctions were necessary. After a special meeting to which past presidents and Holocaust survivors were invited, a press release confirmed that "Benedict XVI's forthcoming visit to the Rome Synagogue is a fundamental step in the context of the importance of interreligious dialogue.
"However, this event, to which Jews look forward with great expectation," it continues, "must not be regarded as an approval of Pius XII's choice of silence in the historic controversy. We await for the truth to emerge through research and evaluations by historians regarding all the documents of the era."
The Simon Wiesenthal Center, meanwhile, voiced dismay at the Vatican move toward raising Pius XII to sainthood.
"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 added.