Dialogika

Canonization of Pope Pius XII?

The International Catholic-Jewish Historical Commission

Edward Idris Cardinal Cassidy served as president of the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews from 1989-2001. In his book, Ecumenism and Interreligious Dialogue, Unitatis Redintegratio, Nostra Aetate (New York/Mahwah: Paulist Press, 2005), he discusses the work of the Commission, including the effort from 1999-2001 of a team of scholars, the International Catholic-Jewish Historical Commission, to study previously published Vatican archival material from the papacy of Pius XII. The relevant excerpts are found below.

Pages 208-210:

Although [the 16th meeting of the International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee (ILC) in March 1998] did good work and was held in an atmosphere of goodwill on both sides, not all was well within the dialogue.

For one thing, the question of Pope Pius XII's wartime attitudes to the Nazi regime and to the Holocaust had been for some time impeding better Catholic-Jewish relations. But in 1998 tension in this regard began to manifest itself more openly. The World Jewish Congress, the most powerful member of IJCIC [International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations], was particularly involved in a bitter campaign of serious accusations against Pius XII.

In the years immediately following the end of the Second World War, a number of Jewish communities and Jewish leaders had expressed their gratitude for what Catholics had done for them during that terrible conflict, expressing gratitude at times to Pope Pius XII himself for his personal interventions in favor of the Jewish people and for those of his representatives who saved hundreds of thousands of Jewish lives.106 This attitude changed radically with the stage presentation of Rolf Hockhuth's play The Deputy in 1961. Hockhuth accused the wartime pope of silence before clear evidence of Nazi atrocities against the Jewish community. He represented Pius XII as leaning favorably toward Hitler and his regime as a consequence of the years he had spent in Germany before becoming Vatican secretary of state and then pope, or at least as acting out of fear of possible Soviet domination of Europe in the event of a German defeat. In more recent years, a number of publications on Pope Pius XII and the Holocaust have appeared, especially in the United States, some attacking the pope's record, others defending it.

During the sixteenth meeting of the ILC in Rome, this problem was the subject of heated discussion, during which a strong demand was made by some Jewish participants for the Vatican Archives on the period of Pope Pius XII to be opened to accredited Jewish scholars. The CRRJ [Committee for Religious Relations with the Jews] pointed out that the Holy See had already made available to the public some eleven volumes of documents from the archives and suggested that, as a first step, Jewish and Catholic scholars should together examine this vast source of information about the activities of the Holy See during the Second World War.

During the months following the Rome meeting no response was forthcoming to this offer. Attacks on the Vatican in the official publications of the World Jewish Congress continued to disturb the CRRJ, and there seemed to be serious internal divisions within IJCIC threatening its continuing existence. In a comment that I made on February 18, 1999, in Baltimore, I felt constrained to "sound a signal of alarm," explaining that "the reaction within the Catholic community to recent, aggressive attitudes manifested in our regard by certain Jewish agencies is the cause for concern. Catholics who for many years have been engaged in promoting Jewish-Christian relations have come to me to express their dismay at what is happening and their loss of interest in continuing along this chosen and, I believe, blessed path." I went on to point out that "our partner in dialogue for so many years, IJCIC, is no longer in existence," and regretted that the offer I had made at the Rome ILC meeting for Jewish and Catholic scholars to study together the already published material from the Vatican Archives had been completely ignored.107

The address received wide publicity, especially in the American press, and produced good results. IJCIC soon got its house in order again and that same month, under the auspices of the CRRJ and IJCIC, a group of experts, consisting of three Jewish scholars and the same number of Catholics, was appointed with the mandate to study the eleven volumes of the collection Acts et Documents du Saint-Siege r&tifs a la Seconde Guerre Mondiale. They were asked to report on their work and were given the assurance that, if at the end of their study there would be some questions that might need further elucidation from the archives, attempts would be made to have this done. The experts were never, at any time, led to expect that this meant they would have personal access to documents dated after 1922 in the Vatican Archives.108 The experts began to meet regularly and the early signs promised that their study would prove of special value.

Pages 218-219:

The joint historical study of the eleven volumes of documents from the wartime Vatican Archives that had followed the [16th] ILC meeting was also discussed by this [17th] meeting [in May 2001]. Prof Dr. Michael R. Marrus of the University of Toronto and Rev. Gerard P. Fogarty of the University of Virginia, two members of the panel of scholars, were present.

After several promising meetings, the panel of scholars had requested a meeting in Rome with the CRRJ. This had taken place in October 2000 during which the scholars presented a preliminary report, accompanied by a list of forty-seven questions. This was certainly not in strict accord with their mandate, which had not foreseen a preliminary report, but rather only a final report at the end of their study. The CRRJ had agreed to present at the time of the final report any of their remaining questions to the secretariat of state to see if further clarification might be possible. The situation became more difficult and complicated when the preliminary report itself was leaked to the press by one of the members and thus became the subject of controversial discussions and public rejection by other scholars.

At the New York meeting of the ILC, the two scholars expressed their conviction that the preliminary report made a valuable contribution to the historical record. The scholars reported that, while differing among themselves, as scholars regularly do, the members of the group were in agreement on the fact that the role of the papacy during the war remains unresolved. Opening the archives, in their opinion, will not definitely put this matter to rest, but it would help to remove the aura of suspicion and contribute to a more mature level of understanding. The ILC took note of the importance of this issue to both communities and encouraged a discourse on the subject that is characterized by mutual respect and appreciation for legitimately held points of view.

Unfortunately, in view of the different interpretations of the group's tasks and aim, coupled with a sentiment of distrust that had been engendered by indiscretions and polemical writings, continued joint study on the question was rendered practically impossible and in July 2001 the scholars suspended their work. In a special statement on the suspension, Cardinal Kasper [who succeeded Cardinal Cassidy as president of the CRRJ in May 2001] admitted that the continuation of the study in the circumstances was no longer possible, but made an important statement for the future:

Of course, understanding between Jews and Christians also requires an investigation of history. Access to all the relevant historical sources is therefore a natural prerequisite for this research. The desire of historians to have full access to all the archives concerning the Pontificates of Pius XI (1922-39) and of Pius XII (1939-58) is understandable and legitimate. Out of respect for the truth, the Holy See is prepared to allow access to the Vatican Archives as soon as the work of reorganizing and cataloguing them has been completed.128

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Notes

  1. We Remember, IV.
  2. Idris Edward Cassidy, "Catholic-Jewish Relations—The Unfinished Agenda," a paper presented during an evening on Catholic-Jewish Relations organized by the archdiocese of Baltimore on 18 February 1999 (private papers of Cardinal Cassidy).
  3. IS, No. 108 (2001/IV), 178.
  1. IS, No. 108, 178.