ROME — Pope Benedict XVI's planned visit to Rome's main synagogue on Sunday has sharply divided Italian Jews, with some angered by his moves to push World War II Pope Pius XII toward sainthood.
Some Jews and historians have accused Pius of not doing enough to stop the Holocaust.
A top rabbi and at least one other prominent community member have announced they will not attend the synagogue visit in protest. And the tension, which comes on the heels of other mishaps in Jewish-Catholic relations, has raised fears of demonstrations, although both sides insist they will not let the event be marred by controversy.
Jewish leaders from around the world have traveled to Rome for the German-born Benedict's third visit to a synagogue as pope after seeing ones in Cologne, Germany, and New York.
"It will be a meeting of peace, friendship and mutual respect," said Rome's chief rabbi, Riccardo Di Segni. "But above all it will be an example of how to coexist even if he have differences."
But Rabbi Giuseppe Laras, head of the Italian Rabbinic Assembly, told the Corriere della Sera daily on Thursday that he will not be at the synagogue because he felt that actions on Pius so close to the visit were a "less than friendly" gesture.
Cardinal Walter Kasper, the top Vatican official in charge of relations with Jews, said "problems and difficulties will be open until the last day of history," but "the visit will not speak about the problems, but about what we have in common."
Last month, Benedict sparked outrage among some Jewish groups by signing a decree on Pius' heroic virtues, paving the way for him to be beatified once a miracle attributed to Pius' intercession is confirmed.
Beatification is the last formal step before possible sainthood. The process has been going on for decades, and the Vatican says Pius' faith and virtues were greater than those normally expected from the faithful.
Some Jews and historians have argued that Pius, pope from 1939 to 1958, was largely silent on the Holocaust and should have done more to prevent the deaths of 6 million Jews at the hands of the Nazis and their collaborators. Among the victims were more than 1,000 Roman Jews who were deported in 1943 from the old Ghetto neighborhood by the synagogue, across the Tiber River from the Vatican.
The Vatican insists Pius used quiet diplomacy to try to save Jews and that speaking out more forcefully would have resulted in more deaths.