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Wartime pope TV film angers rabbi

'Glaring propaganda,' claims Rome Jewish chief

02 November, 14:17
Wartime pope TV film angers rabbi (ANSA) - Rome, November 2 - A TV film on controversial wartime pope Pius XII has been slammed by Rome's chief rabbi as one-sided and allegedly full of mistakes.

"It was a piece of glaring propaganda," said Riccardo Di Segni, criticising the two-parter that earned top ratings on Sunday and Monday as trying to "absolve" the pope who critics say did not speak out against the Holocaust.

The film, starring James Cromwell as an embattled pope trying to fend off Nazi pressure while doing what he could for Rome's population, including Jews, was defended by production chief Ettore Bernabei as providing a "balanced and nuanced" picture.

"The pope wanted to save Rome from the risk of outright war and he succeeded," said Bernabei, a devout Catholic and former head of state broadcaster RAI where the film went out.

Bernabei noted that "people from the Jewish world" had been given a preview of the film and "from what I've heard none of them was offended".

But Di Segni branded the film "one-way, full of mistakes and serious political missteps such as the failure to show the Fascists' responsibilities".

The editor of Vatican daily L'Osservatore Romano, Gian Maria Vian, said a final judgement on the pope would have to wait for "all the documents", a reference to the Vatican's secret archives for the wartime years which are being collated and will not be available to scholars until 2014-2015.

Pius XII has been a controversial figure for decades but the Vatican has been building a mountain of evidence that he worked silently to help Jews so as to avoid "even worse" consequences.

It says that several prominent Jewish figures and historians have praised Pius for helping Jews.

Critics say he failed to denounce the Shoah and did not speak out even when Jews were deported from Rome.

A caption under the pope's photograph at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem describes his action, or lack of it, as "ambiguous".

Despite the criticism Pope Benedict XVI in December recognised Pius's "heroic virtues" and proclaimed him "venerable" in the second of four stages on the path to sainthood.

photo: Di Segni meets Benedict on visit to Rome Synagogue in January

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