VATICAN CITY— The Vatican has condemned as "unjustified and inopportune" a claim by a church official that pressure from Jewish organizations is delaying the beatification of Pope Pius XII, the wartime pontiff who critics say didn't do enough to stop the Holocaust.
The Rev. Peter Gumpel, a German Jesuit who is spearheading Pius' cause, said at a conference in Rome that Pope Benedict XVI was "impressed" by warnings that relations with Jews would be ruined if he put the World War II pontiff on the road to sainthood.
Some historians and Jewish groups say Pius didn't do enough to prevent or limit the scope of the Holocaust —the murder of 6 million Jews by the Nazis and their collaborators. The Vatican insists Pius used quiet diplomacy to try to help Jews.
The ANSA news agency quoted Gumpel as saying that in recent meetings Jewish leaders had told Benedict that "relations between the Catholic church and Jews would be definitively and permanently compromised" by Pius' beatification.
The Vatican quickly issued a statement, saying that it is "exclusively" up to the pope to decide on a beatification, which is the last step before sainthood, and that Benedict "must be left completely free in his considerations and decisions."
"If the pope thinks that the study and the reflection on Pius XII's cause should still be prolonged, this position must be respected without interfering with unjustified and inopportune statements," the Vatican said.
A phone number for Gumpel rang busy Friday evening.
Jewish leaders also criticized the priest's comments, with Rome's Chief Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni denying that Jews were responsible for any delay.
Pius' beatification "is first of all an internal problem of the church," Di Segni told ANSA. "It is clearly a complex matter that divides the church itself."
Last year, Jewish leaders asked the pope to speed up the opening of the Vatican's secret archives on Pius' papacy to settle the issue of what he did or didn't do to save Jews.
According to participants in the October meeting, Benedict said he would give "serious consideration" to their request to freeze the sainthood process until the archives were opened.
The Vatican later rejected the request for quick access to the archive, saying it would take another six years for experts to catalog the 16 million documents on Pius' 1939-1958 papacy.