The Vatican's representative to the Holy Land on Monday played down the controversies that could mar a visit next week by Pope Benedict XVI: the conduct of a wartime predecessor, a Roman Catholic prayer for converting the Jews and the church's perceived lenience toward a Holocaust-denying bishop.
A papal visit to the Holy Land is not the time to "quarrel for this or that," said Monsignor Antonio Franco, the Apostolic Nuncio to Israel.
The pope is scheduled to visit Israel and the Palestinian territories May 11-15. It's only the second official papal visit to the Jewish state and comes nine years after a groundbreaking trip by Pope John Paul II, who moved many by praying at the Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray.
Rabbi David Rosen, one of Israel's leading voices in interfaith relations, portrayed Benedict as a good friend of the Jews and described differences with him as "an issue of style rather than an issue of substance."
Franco said a joint Jewish-Catholic commission is working hard to resolve the controversy over whether Pius XII, the pope who reigned during World War II, did enough to try to stop the Holocaust _ the issue that has emerged as perhaps the most difficult in relations between the two religions.
"We are widening the vision and the understanding of a very difficult period of history," Franco said at a news conference in Jerusalem. "For sure this will not be an issue of discussion on the visit of the Holy Father."
Rosen, who held a news conference right after Franco's, had a different take.
"I wouldn't be surprised if it were mentioned in passing" during Benedict's visit, he said.
At issue is a caption under a photo of Pius at Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust museum alleging that he did not protest as Nazis rounded up Jews in Europe and sent them to their deaths.
Benedict has referred to Pius as a "great" churchman and the Holy See insists he used quiet diplomacy to try to help Jews. In September, he praised what he called Pius' "courageous and paternal dedication" in trying to save Jews.
"Wherever possible, he spared no effort in intervening in their favor either directly or through instructions given to other individuals or to institutions of the Catholic Church," Benedict said. A movement inside the church has been seeking Pius' beatification for the past 25 years _ stirring great opposition among Jews.
"It's not the business of the Jewish people to tell the Catholic church who its saints are," said Rosen, who heads the American Jewish Committee's Department for Inter-religious Affairs.
However, he said making Pius a saint "would be seen as some sort of whitewashing of the period of the shoah," using the Hebrew word for the Holocaust.
Two other controversies have also caused tensions with Jews during Benedict's tenure. Earlier this year, the pope lifted the excommunication of a bishop who had denied the Holocaust. He later acknowledged mistakes by the Vatican in reaching out to the renegade.
Benedict's 2007 decision to relax restrictions on celebrating the old Latin Mass also caused consternation by restoring to prominence a prayer for the conversion of the Jews recited during Easter Week.
Franco said Monday both those issues have been resolved and that Catholics do not pray for the conversion of Jews.
"We leave to God the conversion," he said.