Israel's Vatican envoy backs off WWII pope praise

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VATICAN CITY – Israel's ambassador to the Vatican on Sunday backed off his praise of Pope Pius XII, the World War II-era pope blamed by some Jews and historians for having failed to speak out enough against the Holocaust.

Ambassador Mordechai Lewy said in a statement that his personal judgment about the role of Pius, the Vatican and Catholic Church during the war had been "premature" since the issue is still being researched.

Lewy made headlines last week when he praised Pius and the Catholic Church in general for having given refuge to Roman Jews during the Nazi occupation of the Italian capital. The Vatican newspaper ran his speech on the front page, giving the brief but significant remarks high visibility.

But some Jewish groups balked, saying Lewy's comments were morally wrong, historically inaccurate and hurtful to Holocaust survivors.

Pope Benedict XVI is keen to see Pius beatified, the first step to sainthood, and a concerted campaign is under way among Pius' supporters to correct what they say has been an unfair and incorrect judgment passed on Pius....

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