Chief Rabbi of Rome defends Pope's visit to synagogue

011510 RabbiSegni Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni

Pope Benedict's decision to advance the beatification of Pope Pius XII has caused one prominent Italian rabbi to withdraw from Benedict's first visit to Rome's synagogue. However, the Chief Rabbi of Rome plans to go ahead with the event, saying, "We still have to get together, even if we have different opinions."

Chief Rabbi of Rome, Riccardo Di Segni, remains steadfast in his will to bring the event to fruition, despite members of the Jewish community in Rome branding it a "unilateral" decision.

At the root of the debate is Pope Benedict XVI's Dec. 19 approval of measure that put Pope Pius XII a step closer to sainthood.  The pope's signature authenticating the 20th century Pontiff's saintly life was met by immediate outcry from members of the worldwide Jewish community. 

Fr. Federico Lombardi, spokesman for the Holy See's press office released a statement in the days that followed, clarifying that the Pope's decision was a judgment of the man's faith and not based on the character of his actions during World War II in defense of Jews.

In an interview published in La Stampa newspaper on Thursday, the Chief Rabbi of Rome defended his decision to continue with plans for the visit, saying that for him the clarification released by the Vatican on Pius XII's "heroic virtue," served as a "signal that the 'all clear' of Benedict XVI for beatification was not a challenge."

However, the president of the Assembly of Italian Rabbis, Rabbi Giuseppe Laras, made known that for him this statement "clarifies nothing."  In an interview published in Friday's edition of "Juedische Allgemeine Zeitung," and translated in La Stampa, Rabbi Laras said it was "exactly for this reason that (he) won't take part" in the Jan. 17 visit. 

He did say that, in Chief Rabbi Di Segni's shoes, he would not have canceled what he called the "unilaterally made initiative" either, rather he would have "demanded of the Catholic Church a more significant clarification of the presumed 'heroisms' of Pius XII" including the release of documents from the Vatican archives regarding Pius XII's pontificate.

Rabbi Di Segni also acknowledged the quarrel, saying of the Vatican viewpoint, "On the pontificate of the Pius XII, we think of it in different ways, but it serves to get together even if we have different opinions."

"Just a few days from the visit let's take a closer look at what brings us together rather than that which pushes us apart," Rabbi Di Segni said.

Pope Benedict XVI will make his historic visit to the Synagogue of Rome on Sunday afternoon. 

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