Israeli website brands Pope with Nazi swastika

JERUSALEM Mon Oct 20, 2008 10:09am BST

Pope Benedict XVI celebrates a Mass at the shrine city of Pompeii, south of Naples, October 19, 2008. REUTERS/Tony Gentile

Pope Benedict XVI celebrates a Mass at the shrine city of Pompeii, south of Naples, October 19, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Tony Gentile

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JERUSALEM (Reuters) - A photograph of Pope Benedict emblazoned with a superimposed Nazi swastika appeared on Monday on an Israeli website run by self-proclaimed supporters of the governing Kadima party.

It was later removed, and replaced with a picture of a smiling Benedict overlooking a crowd-filled St. Peter's Square in the Vatican, after what "the Yalla Kadima" site said was a request from Kadima's leader, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.

"Tzipi Livni strongly condemns this and we are working to remove this shameful picture. We strongly oppose this. It doesn't represent Kadima," spokeman Amir Goldstein said shortly before the photo was changed.

It was the latest twist in a controversy over whether the German-born Pope should promote the sainthood of his Nazi-era predecessor Pius XII.

Pius, who reigned from 1939 to 1958, has been accused by some Jews of turning a blind eye to the Holocaust during World War II, a charge his supporters and the Vatican deny.

"Yalla Kadima," which describes itself as a portal for "activists and supporters" of the Kadima party, had carried the swastika-emblazoned photo of Benedict alongside an article on the sainthood controversy.

On Saturday, the Vatican urged both Catholics and Jews to stop creating "pressure" over the issue of sainthood for Pius.

Last year, the Vatican's saint-making department voted in favour of a decree recognising Pius' "heroic virtues," a step in a long process towards possible sainthood that began in 1967.

Benedict has so far not approved the decree -- which is needed for beatification, the last step before sainthood -- opting for what the Vatican has called a period of reflection.

He has repeatedly defended Pius, saying he worked "secretly and silently" during World War Two to "avoid the worst and save the greatest number of Jews possible."

In remarks on Monday, Israeli President Shimon Peres said: "If the former Pope Pius helped the Jews, it can be proven, but if he didn't this should also be proven.

"I know the current Pope and I am convinced he will go into the subject in depth and that we can all live with the facts and whatever necessary conclusions are drawn," Peres told reporters.

(Writing by Jeffrey Heller, Editing by Sami Aboudi)

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