VATICAN CITY, DEC. 23, 2009 ( A Vatican spokesman today said that Pope Pius XII has been declared "venerable" because he is a model for Christian life, not because of the historical decisions he made.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican press office, offered a statement to Vatican Radio today in response to Benedict XVI's declaration Saturday recognizing the heroic virtue of Pius XII.

The decree brings the World War II Pontiff one step closer to canonization and gives him the title "venerable."

Father Lombardi acknowledged that the declaration "has elicited a certain number of reactions in the Jewish world" and offered a clarification of what the decree means.

Though many historians (including Jewish scholars) recognize Pius XII's endeavors that resulted in saving thousands of Jews from the Nazi death camps, there are still those who contend that he did too little.

Father Lombardi explained that the recognition of heroic virtue "takes account of the circumstances in which the person lived, and hence it is necessary to examine the question from a historical standpoint, but the evaluation essentially concerns the witness of Christian life that the person showed -- his intense relationship with God and continuous search for evangelical perfection [...] -- and not the historical impact of all his operative decisions."

Further historical study of Pius XII's defense of the Jews is therefore still open, the spokesman affirmed. And in this regard, he repeated that documents regarding the 1939-1958 pontificate will be made available to scholars once they've been organized and classified, a project that, because of the "enormous mass" of documentation, "still requires a number of years' work."

No twin canonizations

Father Lombardi also responded to certain rumors that the simultaneous declaration of both Pius XII and Pope John Paul II as venerable could mean that any future canonization of the two Pontiffs would also coincide.

The spokesman affirmed that the two causes have not been "paired."

"They are completely independent of one another and each will follow its own course," he said. "There is, then, no reason to imagine that any future beatification will take place simultaneously."

Friend of the Jews

Finally, Father Lombardi reiterated Benedict XVI's great respect for the Jewish people.

"It is, then, clear that the recent signing of the decree [regarding Pius XII] is in no way to be read as a hostile act toward the Jewish people, and it is to be hoped that it will not be considered as an obstacle on the path of dialogue between Judaism and the Catholic Church," he said. "Rather we trust that the Pope's forthcoming visit to the Synagogue of Rome will be an opportunity for the cordial reiteration and reinforcement of ties of friendship and respect."

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