Beliefnet

ROME, Oct. 25 (CNS)--After a yearlong study, a commission of three Catholic and three Jewish scholars said that published Vatican material on World War II leaves unanswered many important questions about Pope Pius XII and the Holocaust.

In a report made public Wednesday, the commission called on the Vatican to open its entire historical archives of the period.

The report posed 47 specific questions--many asking how Pope Pius and his advisers reacted to detailed reports of Jewish suffering--and said the answers can only come through further documentation.

Although full access to the archives would probably not lay to rest all the questions, it would be a ``very significant step forward in advancing knowledge of the period and enhancing relations between the Jewish and Catholic communities,'' the report said.

The commission was established in 1999 in response to an ongoing debate over the Vatican's wartime policy. Many Jewish organizations have criticized Pope Pius for failing to speak out more strongly against the Nazi effort to exterminate European Jews.

The commission studied the 11 volumes of Vatican archive material published by the Holy See between 1965 and 1981. Vatican historians repeatedly have said the volumes offer ample evidence that Pope Pius and his aides did much in secret to help the Jews and had good reason to fear that public condemnations would be counterproductive.

The Catholic-Jewish commission's report, while praising the objectivity of the editors who worked on the 11 volumes, said that ``important pieces of the historical puzzle are missing from that collection.''

``A scrutiny of these Vatican documents does not put to rest significant questions about the role of the Vatican during the Holocaust. No serious historian could accept that the published, edited volumes could put us at the end of the story,'' it said.

Missing in the volumes are the day-to-day records and internal communications--diaries, memoranda, briefing notes, appointment books and minutes of meetings--that would shed light on how Pope Pius and the Vatican arrived at their policy decisions, it said.

Since most if not all of the protagonists of the period are dead, the report said, restrictions on access to such material no longer seem to apply.

The commission emphasized that its mandate was not to ``sit in judgment'' of Pope Pius, but to review the published Vatican materials and raise issues that have not been satisfactorily resolved by the available documentation.

Many of the detailed questions presented in the report raise serious questions about what Pope Pius and his aides were doing with information received about Jewish suffering in Nazi concentration camps.

``There is evidence that the Holy See was well-informed by mid-1942 of the accelerating mass murder of Jews,'' the report said. But the report asked for additional material to help historians determine how this information was received at the Vatican and what attention was given to it.

For example, the commission found that in 1940, Swiss Bishop Mario Besson wrote the pope about concentration camps in France and asked for a public appeal by the pontiff. However, there was no documentation about the pope's response.

An eyewitness account of the atrocities and massacres committed against the Jews came from a Ukrainian bishop in 1942. The commission asked if there was additional evidence of follow-up at the Vatican.

In a third example, the commission noted that Bishop Konrad von Preysin of Berlin wrote several times to the pope, urging an appeal for the Jews. The pope responded that local bishops had the discretion to determine when to be silent and when to speak out in the face of the danger of reprisal. The commission asked for further evidence of any discussions that led to the pope's position.

The report said the published volumes include ``astonishingly detailed accounts of killings'' of Jews. For example, it said, in 1942 the Vatican received an account from an Italian chaplain reporting that 2 million Jews had already been exterminated. It asked if the pope ever referred to those accounts.

The report noted that Jewish requests for the Vatican's help were often couched in the language of gratitude for favors already received. But the published archives contain few concrete examples of such assistance, it said.

It also asked a series of questions regarding the Vatican's efforts, in several cases, to help converts from Judaism rather than Jews.

The report noted that church historians have argued that the Vatican's fear of communism prompted it to mute its criticism of Nazi atrocities. But it said, ``We are struck by the paucity of evidence to this effect,'' and asked for further documentation on the subject.

The commission said the limitations of the published material has given rise to speculation and sensationalism when it comes to the Vatican and the Holocaust. As an indication of how much more material the Vatican may hold, it noted that in Vol. 10 alone of the published volumes, editors refer to 700 documents that have not been published.

The commission said it hoped its work would eventually help establish a ``more secure documentary basis'' for analyzing what has become a highly controversial topic.

Catholic members of the commission included Jesuit Father Gerald Fogarty of the University of Virginia, Eva Fleischner of Montclair State University in New Jersey and Father John F. Morley of Seton Hall University in New Jersey.

The Jewish members were Bernard Suchecky of the Free University of Brussels, Robert S. Wistrich of Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Michael R. Marrus of the University of Toronto.

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