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VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - One of the most influential groups of Holocaust survivors accused Nazi-era Pope Pius XII on Monday of keeping "silent in the face of absolute evil" and asked the Vatican to freeze his sainthood process.
The New York-based group, The American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants, announced a global campaign to lobby Vatican ambassadors so that Pope Benedict will put the sainthood process for his predecessor on hold.
"What we as survivors and their children seek to convey to our friends at the Vatican is our moral anguish and deep pain at this moment," Elan Steinberg, the group's vice president, said in a statement.
"There were many individuals and representatives of the Church whose shining heroism during the terrible years of the Holocaust should be recognized, but Pope Pius was not among them," said Steinberg, who is also director emeritus of the World Jewish Congress.
Some Jews have accused Pius, who reigned from 1939 to 1958, of turning a blind eye to the Holocaust. The Vatican says he worked silently behind the scenes and helped save many Jews.
The American Gathering, which has about 60,000 members, will seek meetings with the Vatican nuncio (ambassador) in Washington. Other survivor organizations will approach Vatican envoys in dozens of other countries.
Pius was guilty of "public silence in the face of absolute evil," Steinberg said.
"During World War II, despite pleas and reports from other Church leaders and the Allies, Pope Pius failed to even once publicly and explicitly denounce the Nazi crimes against the Jews," he said.
Differences over Pius's role haunted Catholic-Jewish relations. Some Catholics recently pushed for the Pope to speed up his sainthood process and some Jews want it put on hold until Vatican archives are opened in about seven years.
"Archives in the Vatican which have still not been made public may shed further light on the controversial record of the wartime pope. Jewish leaders around the world have therefore asked that at a minimum the Vatican "freeze" the beatification process until these documents can be examined," Steinberg said.
Benedict has yet to decide if Pius can proceed on the road to sainthood.
Steinberg said the Vatican should instead look to Pope John XXIII (1958-1963), who helped save Jews and who reported to the Vatican on Nazi plans to exterminate the Jews when he was a bishop and the Vatican's wartime representative in Turkey.
"To survivors, John was a saint," Steinberg said.
Editing by Tim Pearce