The Vatican has rebuffed as "unjustified and inopportune" comments by Pope Pius XII expert, Jesuit Fr Peter Gumpel, that pressure from Jewish organisations is delaying the beatification of the controversial wartime pope.
Fr Gumpel, who is spearheading Pius' cause, said at a conference in Rome that Pope Benedict XVI was "impressed" by warnings that relations with Jews would be ruined if he put the World War II pontiff on the road to sainthood, Associated Press reports.
The ANSA news agency quoted Gumpel as saying that in recent meetings Jewish leaders had told Benedict that "relations between the Catholic Church and Jews would be definitively and permanently compromised" by Pius' beatification.
The Vatican quickly issued a statement, saying that it is "exclusively" up to the pope to decide on a beatification, which is the last step before sainthood, and that Benedict "must be left completely free in his considerations and decisions."
"If the pope thinks the study and the reflection on Pius XII's cause should still be prolonged, this position must be respected without interfering with unjustified and inopportune statements," the Vatican said.
Jewish leaders also criticised the priest's comments, with Rome's Chief Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni denying that Jews were responsible for any delay.
Vatican slams priest's comments on wartime pope (Associated Press)