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Benedict: 'Horror' of Holocaust 'unprecedented'

On the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, Pope Benedict XVI on Wednesday denounced the "horror" of the Shoah and the "unprecedented cruelty of the extermination camps created by Nazi Germany."

The German-born pontiff, who has drawn criticism from Jewish leaders for moving wartime Pope Pius XII closer to sainthood, made his remarks at the conclusion of his weekly audience. The Vatican press office provides the translation:

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After a period of relative harmony during the pontificate of Pope John Paul II, Catholic-Jewish relations have been strained under Benedict.

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 his intercession is confirmed.

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In the view of some Jews and historians, Pius, who was pope from 1939-1958, was largely silent on the Holocaust and could have done more to prevent the deaths of 6 million Jews at the hands of the Nazis.

The Vatican says Pius used quiet diplomacy to try to save Jews and that speaking out more forcefully would have resulted in more deaths. It said last month the decree on his heroic virtues wasn't so much a historical assessment of his pontificate as a confirmation that he had led a deeply Christian life.

Jewish leaders had asked the pope to put the beatification on hold until archives on Pius' pontificate are opened to outside scholars. The Vatican has said those archives won't be catalogued and ready until 2014 at the earliest.

Benedict has also aroused Jewish concerns with his decision last year to lift the excommunication of a Holocaust-denying bishop as part of an effort to reconcile with the conservative Society of Saint Puis X, and his approval of a prayer for the conversion of the Jews in the Latin Mass on Good Friday.

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