Vatican spokesman: Pope was 'never, never' in Hitler Youth

Rev. Federico Lombardi defends Benedict against Israeli criticism for Yad Vashem speech, saying "He can't mention everything every time he speaks."

pope for image slot 248 (photo credit: )
pope for image slot 248
(photo credit: )
Going against comments previously made by Pope Benedict XVI himself, a Vatican spokesman on Tuesday was quoted as saying that the pontiff was never a member of the Hitler Youth. A Reuters report quoted Rev. Federico Lombardi as saying that the German-born Benedict was actually involved in an anti-aircraft unit which was drafted between 1944 and 1945. "The pope was never in the Hitler Youth, never, never, never," he was quoted as saying. The German anti-aircraft units, according to Lombardi, "had absolutely nothing to do with the Hitler Youth and the Nazis and Nazi ideology." While he failed to address a 1996 book which first state that the pope was automatically enrolled in Hitler Youth, the spokesman stressed, "It is important to say what is true and not to say false things about a very sensitive thing like this." Lombardi also defended the pope against a growing chorus of Israeli critics who accused him of failing to express enough remorse for the Holocaust - a controversy that threatened to eclipse a papal pilgrimage aimed at building bridges between faiths. The pope delivered messages of peace while visiting the holiest Jewish and Muslim site in Jerusalem - the Temple Mount. But his speech on Monday at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial attracted the most attention in Israel, with Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin accusing Benedict of glossing over the Shoah and survivors lambasting him for failing to apologize for Catholic indifference during World War II. "The pope spoke like a historian, as somebody observing from the sidelines, about things that shouldn't happen. But what can you do? He was part of them," said Rivlin. "With all due respect to the Holy See, we cannot ignore the baggage he carries with him." The pope delivered an address at Yad Vashem Monday, saying the cry of those killed by the regime under which he grew up "still echoes in our hearts." But only moments after he spoke, Yad Vashem's top two officials criticized him for failing to use the words "Nazis" or "murder" in his speech. Lombardi said that the pope had mentioned his German roots previously, specifically when visiting a synagogue in Cologne, Germany, in 2005 and at the Auschwitz death camp the following year. "He can't mention everything every time he speaks," Lombardi told reporters in Jerusalem.