Speaking at the Italian Parliament on World Holocaust Remembrance Day, he told President Napolitano and Italian deputies, including Silvio Berlusconi, the Prime Minister: “Whether at the lowest level of politics or the highest level of spirituality, silence never helps the victims.”
The remarks were seen as a direct reference to Pius XII. He added: “Silence always helps the aggressor.”
The Romanian-born writer, who was given a standing ovation, added: “We do not live in the past, the past lives in the present.” He said that some Italians had saved Jews during the war, but others had “not opened their houses”
The German-born Pope, 82, who as a teenager was forced to join the Hitler Youth, visited the Rome synagogue ten days ago in an attempt to mend fences over Pius XII and other issues causing Jewish-Catholic tensions. In his synagogue speech Pope Benedict did not refer directly to Pius XII, but maintained that Catholics and the Holy See had used “quiet diplomacy” to save lives. He also apologised for Christian responsibility for anti-Semitism.
However, he was told bluntly by Riccardo Pacifici, head of the Rome Jewish community, that “the silence of Pius XII still hurts because something should have been done”.
Mr Pacifici said that Pius XII had failed to send “a signal, a word of extreme comfort, of human solidarity, towards those brothers of ours transported to the ovens of Auschwitz”.