ROME (CNA) — An expert on Pope Pius XII expressed support for an Israeli ambassador who faces controversy after publicly praising the World War II pontiff for helping save Jews during the Holocaust.
Israeli ambassador to the Vatican Mordechai Lewy said on June 27 that his positive comments about the late Pope were historically “premature,” after he was criticized by Jewish groups.
However, author William Doino commended the ambassador for “opening up healthy and productive discussion” and supports his stance in favor of Pope Pius XII, who is often accused of turning a blind eye to the Holocaust.
Ambassador Lewy sparked the debate at a ceremony honoring the Italian Pope on June 23, when he recalled how convents and monasteries opened their doors to save Jews after the Nazis persecuted Rome’s Ghetto in 1943.
“There is reason to believe that this happened under the supervision of the highest Vatican officials, who were informed about what was going on,” Lewy said during his address. “So it would be a mistake to say that the Catholic Church, the Vatican and the Pope himself opposed actions to save the Jews.”
“To the contrary, the opposite is true,” he said.
Days later, Jewish leaders claimed his remarks were historically inaccurate and insensitive to Holocaust survivors. Lewy explained that his comments “were embedded in a larger historical context” which is “still under the subject of ongoing and future research.”
Passing “my personal historical judgment on it,” he added, “was premature.”
While Lewy faces criticism over his remarks, he’s also gained support from those like Doino, an expert on the late Pope who contributed extensively to a biography called The Pius War: Responses to the Critics of Pius XII (Lexington Books).
“Having read his original statements, the responses to them, and his clarification, I believe it is all for the good, because it demonstrates how prominent officials in Israel are beginning to express greater openness toward Pius XII,” Doino told CNA on June 27.
Despite media reports claiming that Lewy has now backtracked on his original comments, Doino said, “the ambassador did not deny what he said may well be true.”
Rather, he only said it’s too early “to make definitive, all-encompasing statements.”
Doino also noted that research is showing how the popular cultural perception that Pius XII ignored the plight of the Jews during World War II is false.
“I believe there is an increasing amount of evidence, independent of the Vatican archives, and impossible to ignore by anyone interested in this subject — through firsthand testimonies, diaries and other primary documents — demonstrating that Pius XII did indeed ‘speak out’ in ways clearly understood by Catholic rescuers, and
that he did indeed help rescue persecuted Jews.”
Doino recalled how the Nazis were “furious” about Pius XII’s public addresses and conduct and denounced him as a “mouthpiece of the Jewish war criminals.”
He added that, early in his pontificate, Pius XII approved a plot to overthrow Hitler and was commended by many leaders of the anti-Nazi Resistance.
Doino said, “These are documented facts which cannot be erased and will remain part of the larger discussion, whatever else is said, and whatever more comes out of the Vatican archives.”