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Calling the decision by the Vatican ambassador to Israel to boycott the Holocaust memorial services at Yad Vashem "inappropriate and insulting," the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) today repeated its longstanding call for the Vatican to open its wartime archives so that the facts concerning the wartime actions of Pope Pius XII may finally be brought to light.
Archbishop Antonio Franco, the Vatican's ambassador to Israel, has made the unprecedented announcement that he will boycott the April 16 memorial events at Yad Vashem, Israel's national memorial to the Holocaust, in protest of a photo caption in an exhibit that seemingly charges Pope Pius XII with failing to save Jews during the Holocaust.
The bitter public dispute which ensued following Franco's statement last week threatened to upset the fragile relations between the Catholic Church and Israel, as the Vatican presses ahead with longstanding plans to make Pius a saint.
"I will attend any ceremony on the victims of World War II, but I do not feel at ease at Yad Vashem when the pope is presented in this way," Monsignor Antonio Franco said in a telephone interview with The Jerusalem Post. Therefore, if nothing was done to change the caption, he added, he would "not feel comfortable" coming to the ceremony.
Yad Vashem issued a statement which voiced its "shock and disappointment" that the Vatican's delegate to Israel has chosen not to respect the memory of the Holocaust by refusing to participate in the official ceremony in which the State of Israel and the Jewish people join in memory of the victims, saying that the move contradicts the pope's statement during his visit to Yad Vashem regarding the importance of remembering the Holocaust and its victims.
"While we understand Archbishop Franco's displeasure about the photo caption, his decision to boycott the entire Holocaust Memorial Day ceremonies is unnecessarily insulting and unbecoming," said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director and a Holocaust survivor. "The photo caption may be inappropriate and too judgmental, but it does not justify the Vatican's refusal to participate in Israel's national observation of Holocaust Memorial Day."
Mr. Foxman said the episode served as yet another reminder of the need for the Vatican to declassify all archival materials covering the period of the rise of the Third Reich in Germany and World War II, "so that legitimate independent scholars and historians can study and analyze them and help us to finally learn the facts concerning Pope Pius XIII and his actions vis- -vis Jews during the Holocaust.
"Without the public release and analysis of the Vatican's wartime archives, the questions about Pope Pius XII will remain unresolved," said Mr. Foxman. "These records have special significance for Holocaust survivors and their families. We strongly urge the Vatican to make public access to the archives their highest priority."
Etgar Lefkovits contributed to this report
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