ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE (AP) — Pope Francis remained firm in his refusal to allow the beatification of Pope Pius XII, the World War II-era pope accused by some Jews of not speaking out enough against the Holocaust, because he doesn’t have enough miracles in his record.
As he flew from Ben-Gurion International Airport Monday night at the conclusion of two day visit to Israel, Francis spoke of his position on the matter and made it clear that, for the time being, the beatification won’t go ahead.
“There’s still no miracle,” he said. “If there are no miracles, it can’t go forward. It’s blocked there.”
One of the more poignant moments of Francis’ pilgrimage came earlier in the day when he visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem and kissed the hands of survivors in a show of humility and respect. Francis said his gesture came spontaneously.
“The gestures that are the most authentic you don’t think about ahead of time,” he said on Monday during a press conference during the papal flight back to Rome.
Given his respect for Holocaust survivors, Francis was asked what he intended to do about the pending beatification case. Jewish groups have asked that the case be shelved pending the opening of the archives of his pontificate, or at least until the generation of Holocaust survivors has passed.
Many people have criticized Pius for failing to publicly condemn the Nazis and to warn the Jews of the Rome ghetto before they were rounded up for deportation. However, his defenders contend that he refrained from directly confronting Hitler in order to preserve the church’s ability to save Jews, by encouraging religious orders to hide them.
Francis has bent the Vatican’s saint-making rules for a half-dozen people so far in his pontificate, waiving the usual second miracle requirement for example to canonize Pope John XXIII last month. Francis, however, offered no such wiggle room for Pius.
Francis also sought to lower expectations about his planned encounter in the Vatican next month with the Israeli and Palestinian presidents, which he announced during the trip. He stressed that they were coming to pray together, not enter into peace mediation.
“We are coming just to pray, then everyone goes home,” he said. “But I think prayer is important, praying together.”
He said he had originally hoped to arrange the encounter in Jerusalem itself, but that the idea was scrapped because of the enormous logistical problems that would have been involved. Preparations are already under way, he said, noting that a rabbi and Islamic cleric would join him in leading the prayers.
The pope also announced he would meet soon with a group of sex abuse victims at the Vatican and declared “zero tolerance” for any member of the clergy who would violate a child.
Francis also revealed that three bishops are currently under investigation by the Vatican for abuse-related reasons, though it wasn’t clear if they were accused of committing abuse itself or of having covered it up.
“There are no privileges,” he told reporters en route back to Rome from Jerusalem.
Francis spoke to reporters for nearly an hour after his grueling, three-day trip to Jordan, the West Bank and Israel, taking all 11 questions posed and responding with candor and occasional humor.
He said he would travel to Sri Lanka for two days and the Philippines in January 2015. And he suggested that he might follow in emeritus Pope Benedict XVI’s footsteps and retire if he no longer had the strength to do the job.
“We need to look at him as an institution: he opened a door, the door of emeritus popes,” Francis said. “Only God knows if there will be others, but the door is open.”
If and when the time comes, he said, “I will do what the Lord tells me to do, pray and try to find God’s will. But I think that Benedict XVI wasn’t a unique case.”
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.