As the Roman Catholic Church continued to battle a sexual abuse crisis, Pope Benedict XVI spent Friday evening watching a movie. And not just any movie: a biopic about wartime Pope Pius XII, one of the most contentious figures to haunt his five-year-old papacy.

Many Italian Jews say Pope Pius XII did not do enough to help stop the deportation of Jews during the Holocaust. The Pope has said that Pope Pius XII worked “secretly and silently” to help save Jews.

In an official statement released by the Vatican on Saturday, the Pope praised the movie, Under the Roman Sky, as “useful and stimulating.” He said it could help younger generations understand a chapter of history they had not witnessed, adding that Pope Pius XII “knew how to orient the church toward the horizon of the third millennium.”

The screening, at the Pope's summer residence, Castel Gandolfo, outside Rome, where the Pope has been resting since Easter, comes as the Vatican continues to respond to criticism that it did not act swiftly to remove priests who were paedophiles from its ranks. But the screening also comes amid a complex subplot in the sexual abuse crisis in which defenders of the Pope have sought to associate him with Pope Pius XII and have likened criticism of the Vatican's handling of the sexual abuse crisis to anti-Semitism.

On Good Friday, the preacher of the papal household, the Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa, delivered a sermon in St. Peter's Square, citing a letter that he said was from a Jewish friend who had compared what he called “the violent and concentric attacks against the church” to anti-Semitism, angering both victims and Jewish groups.

In an interview last week, the dean of the College of Cardinals, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, denounced what he called “unjust attacks” on the Pope and compared criticism of the church for its handling of sexual abuse to “the offensive against Pius XII for his actions during the last World War.” — New York Times News Service

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