Pope Benedict XVI will not visit Israel’s Holocaust museum when he makes his first trip to the region as pope in May, though he will visit an adjacent memorial, his ambassador to Israel said Tuesday.
The museum includes controversial wording that reflects a long-running dispute over the role of Pope Pius XII during World War II. The pope will visit the memorial section of Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, but will not step inside the museum part, the envoy, papal nuncio Antonio Franco, said at a news conference in Jerusalem. Critics have accused Pope Pius of doing too little to prevent the mass murder of European Jews by the Nazis under Adolf Hitler. A caption in the museum says he maintained a neutral position during the years of mass extermination of Europe’s Jews. The Vatican defends him and is gradually opening its archives in an effort to show that he acted behind the scenes. The announcement that Benedict will visit only part of Yad Vashem also follows international outrage over his rehabilitation of a rebel bishop who denied the Nazis systematically murdered 6 million Jews in the Holocaust.
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The Vatican ordered the bishop, Richard Williamson, to recant, and said the pope was not aware of Williamson’s views on the Holocaust when he lifted the excommunication of the bishop. Benedict, who was born in Germany and forced to join the Hitler Youth as a teenager, has spoken out forcefully against the Holocaust on a number of occasions, including on a visit to the site of the Auschwitz concentration camp.