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Pope benedict speech ast auschwitz criticized { May 29 2006 }

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Auschwitz speech seen as moving but incomplete

By Tom Heneghan, Religion Editor
Monday, May 29, 2006; 12:36 PM

WARSAW (Reuters) - Pope Benedict's speech in Auschwitz was the most introspective and moving address of his papacy, but some who heard it still thought he did not go far enough.

Ending a four-day pilgrimage to Poland on Sunday, the 79-year-old Pontiff reflected on how hard it was for a German to visit the former Nazi death camp and how challenging the evil committed there was for anyone who believed in a loving God.

His bold decision to ask at the infamous death camp the question that made millions lose their faith after the Holocaust won headlines in many newspapers around Europe on Monday.

"God, why did you remain silent?" Rome's La Repubblica quoted him as asking in reference to the killing there of about 1.5 million people, mostly Jews. Germany's Berliner Zeitung chose another of his blunt questions: "Where was God?"

But just as many commentators focused on what he did not say, especially about Catholic anti-Semitism and the role the Vatican played while the Holocaust was raging.

Some faulted him for not clearly mentioning anti-Semitism, others for saying Germany was taken over by criminals in the 1930s, as if Adolf Hitler had not had any popular support.

John Wilkins, former editor of the British Catholic weekly The Tablet, gave Benedict high marks for the speech but said he felt sensitive issues such as the long history of Catholic anti-Semitism were left out.


"It was a wonderful speech, but I think some opportunities were missed," he told Reuters. "Something could have been said about how many Christians did not act very well back then."

"It's symbolically important that Pope Benedict went to Auschwitz, but I was expecting a different speech," Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League told La Stampa in Turin, noting that the Pope did not expressly condemn anti-Semitism.

Commentators also asked about the Vatican's role during the Holocaust, when Pope Pius XII did not speak out against Nazi oppression of the Jews.

One sore point is that the Vatican has not opened all its wartime files to historians, who want to know what Pius knew, when he knew it and what he discussed with his aides about it.

"While the Pope made clear in Auschwitz that he did not want to close the book on the past, the Vatican is not ready to open its archives from the war years," wrote the Rotterdam daily Algemeen Dagblad.


The Paris Catholic daily La Croix said dwelling on what was not in the speech "risks missing the great profundity of what he said" about God's absence or silence in the face of such evil.

"Loyal to his calling as a teacher, Benedict asked the question everyone -- believer or not -- asks."

In Poland, where the media mixed some criticism with mostly positive coverage of the visit, several commentators noted subtler tones than those highlighted abroad.

"The Pope's speech and visit were very Jewish to me," said Stanislaw Krajewski of the Polish Council of Christians and Jews. "The Pope quoted the psalms, which are also part of the Jewish tradition, and that creates a link.

"It was moving when he said clearly that the Nazis, by killing the Jewish nation, aimed to kill God," he said.

"Linking Christianity's roots with Judaism is a strong argument against anti-Semitism," said sociologist Jadwiga Staniszkis. "I think this speech should be read."

2006 Reuters

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