2016-06-30

Melloni did not identify the archive from which his document came, but Italian journalist Andrea Tornielli was able to track down the original Italian instructions [read English text] in the Centre National des Archives de l'Eglise de France.

The amazing thing is that the instructions are almost exactly the opposite of Melloni's account, which was so enthusiastically embraced by the papal critics. Nowhere do they suggest that Jewish children should be kept from their families-precisely the opposite! The instructions said that if institutions (not families) wanted to take those children who had been entrusted to the Church, each case had to be examined individually.
Some such institutions may have been trying to take the children to Palestine, to help populate the new Jewish homeland. Indeed, there was special concern about baptized children. In some cases, their parents had requested baptism, perhaps because they thought that would best protect the children. In those cases, the Church would breach its obligation to the parents if it turned the children over to the wrong organization. In other cases, when Catholic rescuers had baptized Jewish children without consent of the Jewish parents, the Church was still concerned about turning the children over to organizations that were not associated with the children's family. As for the rest of the children, the instructions provided: "also those children who were not baptized and who no longer have living relatives, having been entrusted to the Church, which has taken them under its care, as long as they are not able to decide for themselves, they cannot be abandoned by the Church or delivered to parties who have no right to them." There were very few facilities fit for children in Palestine or war-torn Europe.The document made clear that these instructions related solely to institutions, most likely Jewish humanitarian organizations wanting to relocate orphaned children to Jewish homes after the war: "Things would be different if the children were requested by their relatives." This qualification changes the entire meaning of the instructions; these instructions did not relate to children being sought by their parents or other relatives. This is completely different from what the initial news reports led people to believe. Archbishop Loris Capovilla, secretary to Nuncio Roncalli during and after the war, explained the need for close scrutiny of organizations: "It was then natural to screen the situations case by case, paying the highest attention to those who knocked on the door to reclaim the children: What should those [Catholic] families have done? Give the children raised together with their own to those who first presented themselves? The Church did nothing other than to counsel a rule of prudence, and to watch over the protection of the little ones." Archbishop Capovilla said that he was not aware of any case in which a Jewish child was impeded from re-entering his or her natural family.

These Vatican instructions regarding the return of Jewish children were prompted by a meeting between the Pope and Chief Rabbi Isaac Herzog of Palestine in March 1946. In a surviving letter sent at that time, the rabbi expressed his profound thanks for the "thousands of children who were hidden in Catholic institutions." Herzog noted that Pius XII "has worked to banish anti-Semitism in many countries" and concluded with an invocation: "God willing, may history remember that when everything was dark for our people, His Holiness lit a light of hope for them."

The Palestine Post (March 31, 1946) reported that Rabbi Herzog "told of his audience with the Pope, who had received him on a Sunday early in March. Their conversation...was mainly on the subject of the 8,000 Jewish children in Poland, France, Belgium and Holland who were [being] brought up in monasteries and by Christian families. He had the Vatican's promise of help to bring those children back into the Jewish fold." The Pope must have come through on that promise, because Rabbi Herzog continued to praise his conduct toward the Jewish community throughout the Pope's life. As Dr. Leon Kubowitzky, of the World Jewish Congress, said in 1964: "I can state now that I hardly know of a single case where Catholic institutions refused to return Jewish children." There are very few cases (seven, based on my latest information) where a petition from a Catholic parent who did not want to return Jewish children to their natural parents made its way to the Pope. Each time, Pius instructed that the children should be returned to their families. Consider the case of the Polish Catholic woman Leokadia Jaromirska, who was later honored as a Righteous Gentile. She sought the Pope's permission to keep the little girl whom she was raising as a Catholic even though the Jewish father had returned. In his book "Avenue of the Righteous" (1980), author Peter Hellman reports that Jaromirska "was instructed by the Pope to return the child to its father." The Pope explained that it "was her duty as a Catholic not only to give back the child, but do it with good will and in friendship." The European press has now fully exposed the falsehood of Melloni's account. In a front-page story entitled "The real document of Pius XII and the Jewish children," the Italian newspaper Il Giornale compared the text of the original document to Melloni's claims and vindicated Pope Pius XII. A different article in that same issue, entitled "The Hasty Scoop of Professor Melloni," chastised Melloni for publishing an incomplete document. The paper Il Foglio explained: "Now it is no longer a case of Pius XII. It is no longer a case of Roncalli. It is now a case of Melloni." Jewish historian Michael Tagliacozzo, a leading authority on (and survivor of) the 1943 Nazi roundup of Roman Jews, wrote in the Italian newspaper Avvenire: "Pius XII kidnapper of children? But let us be done with such foolishness!" Tagliacozzo confirmed that Jewish children were "returned to their parents as soon as possible."

Had the American critics actually investigated this story (or even if they had waited just a few weeks while others did), they would not have embarrassed themselves. The critics' rush to judgment probably got them headlines that are denied to true scholars. By drawing hasty conclusions, they have once again smeared a good man-Pope Pius XII-and the Catholic Church.