Vatican City Pope Benedict XVI moved two of his predecessors closer to possible sainthood Saturday, signing decrees on the virtues of the beloved Pope John Paul II and controversial Pope Pius XII, who has been criticized for not doing enough to stop the Holocaust.
The decrees mean that both men can be beatified once the Vatican certifies that a miracle attributed to their intercession has occurred. Beatification is the first major step before possible sainthood.
Some Jews and historians have argued Pius should have done more to prevent the deaths of 6 million Jews by the Nazis and their collaborators during World War II. As a result, the German-born Benedict’s surprise decision to recognize Pius’ “heroic virtues” sparked immediate outcry from Jewish groups.
The Anti-Defamation League and American Jewish Committee said the move was premature given the Vatican still hasn’t opened up to outside historians its secret archives from Pius’ 1939-1958 pontificate. The Vatican says the 16 million files won’t be ready until 2014 at the earliest.
“While it is obviously up to the Vatican to determine who its saints are, the church’s repeated insistence that it seeks mutually respectful ties with the Jewish community ought to mean taking our sensitivities into account on this most crucial historical era,” said David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee.