2016-06-30
In response to interest in Catholic-Jewish relations -- as exemplified by the popularity of David Kertzer's "The Popes Against the Jews" and James Carroll's "Constantine's Sword," as well as a new Vatican document about the Jewish wait for the messiah -- Beliefnet recently launched a new dialogue between Catholic and Jewish scholars, leaders, and clergy called "The Vatican and the Jews: Understanding the Past, Looking Toward the Future." The dialogue is in the form of an email exchange. Beliefnet will periodically post contributions from the participants.

The dialogue began with the following question about recent news from the Vatican:

The Vatican has just announced that it will give historians access to its archives from 1922 to 1938 , which cover the church's relationship with Germany during this time. What light do you think these archives will shed on the church's role during World War II? What are scholars and clergy hoping to learn from these documents? Does this signify a stronger effort on the part of the Vatican to improve Catholic-Jewish relations?

Albert Friedlander, dean of the Leo Baeck College, a school in England for the study of Judaism and the training of rabbis and teachers, responds:

Two points: Who will be given access? And will ALL documents from that period (1922 -1938) be available?

I think, and I assume the Vatican shares this thought, that one must find scholars who do not have a particular point to prove, but want to start with texts and then relate them to the actions of the pope(s) during this critical period.

Whatever the texts say, they will give some insights into the mind and the actions of Pope Pius XII. Only 2 years after his ordination in 1901 he was already part of the Vatican bureaucracy. Monsignore Pietro Gaspari was his mentor who, by 1917 as cardinal, was responsible for the Codex Juris Canonici of 1917. And the Pacelli family was very much part of the Vatican. I believe that Pius XII, more than the popes who preceded and who followed him, followed the guidelines of Vatican thinking. Alongside the texts in the Archives, one can look through the period between 1880 and 1939 (which Richard Rubenstein has done) and see lines of anti-Judaism in L'Osservatore Romano and "Civilt Cattolica" where the battle against the Enlightenment, secularity, and against the Jews supported through those forces, is waged relentlessly.

If the scholars can find texts which show that, within the Vatican, there was also support for the Jews against unjustified attacks, it will strengthen those who feel that during and even after that period the Papacy must be given more credit than it now receives. If we see relentless attacks against the Jews, it also helps explain why Pius XII felt himself unable to fight against this -- at least the idea of Pacelli as a total, wicked antisemite can be challenged: he functioned as the voice of the Vatican and was tied to that role which at times makes him more a tragic figure than a black villain.

--Albert Friedlander

Gene Fisher, Director of Catholic-Jewish Relations for the Bishops' Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, responds:

"A Somewhat Mixed Bag"

All reputable scholars will have access to all documents. First everything from 1922-1939 (next year). Then everything related to Germany shortly thereafter. Then materials on prisoners of war. Then everything from the war years (in about 5 years, unless they can find and fund more archivists (who must be priests), in which case it will take less time. If anybody wants to raise some funds to speed up the process, I know who to send it to: Cardinal Jorge Mejia, who is in charge of the Vatican library. The more people he can get working on the documents the faster they will be bound and placed into the archive for scholars to peruse at their leisure.

The Vatican and Pius do, I would argue, look pretty good relative to the governments of Europe & North America in the same period.

I think they will find a somewhat mixed bag. There will be very little racial anti-Semitism, since most of these folks were Italian and that is simply not an anti-Semitic culture. But Pius likely would have shared the general European Catholic clerical identification of secular Jews with the Enlightenment. In the pre-Vatican II era the church did not like the Enlightenment and there was nostalgia for the "good old days" of the papal states, including, for some, the Jewish ghettos. So they would distinguish between the good, pious Jews and the ominous, secular Jews. Hence, while Pius XI fought bitterly against the introduction of Mussolini's racial laws, with Pius XII, then Secretary of State leading the charge, when Hitler announced his idea of "concentrating" the Jews into the ghettos, they would have thought that that was not a bad idea, just a re-establishment of the old order before the loss of the papal states.

Nobody in the Vatican or the U.S. or British governments, I would argue, really got their heads around the scope of what was going on underneath Hitler's euphemisms until well after the end of the war. Not even the American Jewish community. There was not even a word for it then. "Genocide" is a post-war word. If one looks at the first indictments of the Nuremberg trials, one will not see an articulation of Hitler's murder of the Jews, just general crimes against humanity. From this perspective, i.e. a non-anachronistic one, the Vatican and Pius do, indeed, I would argue, look pretty good relative to the governments of Europe & North America in the same period. This does not mean perfect, just pretty good, relatively speaking to the other human insititutions of the same period.

--Gene Fisher

Fr. John Pawlikowski, Co-Director of the Catholic-Jewish Studies Program, Catholic Theological Union, responds:

I believe the opening of the Vatican archives on a gradual basis is a welcome step. While it would have been better to do it more comprehensively in the immediate future, as both the late Cardinals O'Connor and Bernardin had urged, this does have the possibility of reversing the negative trend on this question. There is also the reality that the Vatican Archives are seriously understaffed. The materials from the Pius XI era (which was also the era of Cardinal Pacelli as Secretary of State) will be important in determining how strong the issue of liberalism was for the church. The Catholic Church was still in the midst of a "hundred years war" against liberalism.

David Kertzer's new volume (which I recently reviewed in the National Catholic Reporter) argues that it was a central question in framing the Vatican's early response to Nazism. I have written along these same lines in an earlier piece in Catholic International. While I have serious criticisms of Kertzer's superficial treatment of Pius XII and of the Vatican document on the Shoah "We Remember," I believe there is validity to his thesis about liberalism as the genuine enemy in the eyes of the Vatican, more so than Bolshevism which has usually been presented as the central threat from the Vatican perspective. The initially promised materials on Pius XI should help to confirm and weaken the line of argument that both Kertzer and I have followed.

There is validity to [Kertzer's] thesis about liberalism as the genuine enemy in the eyes of the Vatican.

Let me say also that we should not place all our hopes in the opening of the Vatican archives. There may be far more relevant material in various national archives (e.g. the Argentine Republic or the old DDR) and in the personal archives of people who worked with Pius XII on a daily basis during the Nazi era.

One final note that may be of interest to some in this group. While in Geneva, David Rosen, Friedhelm Pieper and I represented the Int. Council of Christians & Jews in a discussion at the World Council of Churches with Dr. Alan Falconer who chairs Faith & Order and Hans Ucko who directs interreligious affairs. There is a proposal on the table for a multi-year F&O study on how the many documents issued by the churches over the plus three decades on C-J relations ought to impact Christian self-understanding.

This study would culminate in a week-long international conference on the question in the Fall of 2004. The study would be a collaborative effort of F&O (in which the Vatican has official membership) and ICCJ [International Council of Christians & Jews]. We agreed to pursue implementation of this proposal which could play an important role in integrating these documents into basic Christian consciousness. It is our understanding that such a study has the support of Dr. Konrad Raiser, WCC's Secretary General.

--John T. Pawlikowski


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