March 3, 2015 / 4:08 PM / 2 years ago

Catholics and Jews pan film defending wartime Pope Pius XII

Pope Pius XII, the wartime pontiff, appears in an undated file photo from the archives of Vatican newspaper Osservatore Romano.Osservatore Romano

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - A new Italian film that attempts to defend wartime Pope Pius XII against accusations he turned a blind eye to the Holocaust has been panned by the Vatican as well as Catholic and Jewish media.

"Shades of Truth" is the account of a fictional present-day American journalist who starts off as a critic of Pius and changes his mind after research in Israel, Rome and elsewhere in Europe.

Some Jews have accused Pius, who headed the Roman Catholic Church from 1939 to 1958, of failing to use his position to bring attention to the extermination of Jews.

The Vatican says he worked actively behind the scenes to save thousands of Jews and did not speak out more forcefully for fear his words could have led to more deaths of both Jews and Christians at the hands of the Nazis.

After a screening on Monday near the Vatican, the film, which calls Pius "the most misunderstood person of the 20th century", was universally panned.

The Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano said the film, which its director Liana Marabini wants to show at the Cannes festival this year, was "naive", "lacking credibility" and a "frankly clumsy attempt" at defending the wartime pontiff.

The Italian Catholic magazine Famiglia Cristiana said the film would hurt Pius's already fragile reputation because it was overly apologetic and not sufficiently based on historical documents that defend him.

Pagine Ebraiche, the online paper of Rome's Jewish community, called it "a blundering soap opera of dubious quality, filled with stereotypes".

It also faulted the film for a scene in which the journalist dreams he sees Pius wearing a yellow Star of David on his white cassock, like the patch the Nazis forced Jews to wear.

The film stars American actor David Wall and includes appearances by Christopher Lambert and Giancarlo Giannini.

Last year, Pope Francis defended his predecessor in an interview with a Spanish newspaper, saying Pius "has to be seen in the context of that era". The Vatican's wartime archives would shed much light on what Pius did to help Italian Jews, he said.

Jewish groups have asked the Vatican to freeze the process that could lead to sainthood for Pius until all wartime archives are fully opened to historians, saying Catholic-Jewish relations could be harmed if the process moved ahead.

Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Tom Heneghan

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