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Wartime Pope on path to sainthood

9 May 07 18:36 GMT
By Christian Fraser
BBC News, Rome

The Vatican has put Pope Pius XII, who led the Roman Catholic Church from 1939 to 1958, on the road to sainthood.

Pope Pius XII is a controversial figure who has long been accused by Jewish groups of turning a blind eye as many Jews were sent to concentration camps.

Fifteen cardinals and 15 bishops have voted he should now be considered for beatification. The final decision rests with Pope Benedict.

The Vatican opened a commission to consider his beatification in 1967.

Forty years on, they have finally ruled by majority vote that one of history's most controversial popes practiced the virtues of his faith in such an exemplary manner that he should be considered for sainthood.

Pope Benedict must sign the decree that has been passed and Pope Pius XII must still be credited with two miracles before he will become a saint, but this is a crucial step in that process.

War record

Pius XII, who was Pope during World War II, abstained from signing the Allied declaration condemning the extermination of the Jews and throughout the war maintained a neutral position.

But the Vatican has always contended that the wartime Pope led quiet diplomacy that saved the lives of thousands of Jews.

Nonetheless the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, which meets every week, has taken 40 years to get to this stage.

They have considered over 3,000 pages of evidence and still some cardinals and bishops are believed to have called for more time and a more favourable climate to reach a decision.

Pope Benedict is currently on his way to Brazil, where he will no doubt be asked for his thoughts.

And no doubt in considering the decree, he will be conscious that as a German and a former involuntary member of the Hitler Youth, his decision and his comments will be closely scrutinised.

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