Thursday, October 09, 2008

Vatican Refusal to Open Pius XII Archives Continues to Harm Relations with Jews

On October 6th the first rabbi ever invited to speak at the Catholic Church's international Synod of Bishops told Reuters that if he had understood that this week the Vatican also planned to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Pope Pius XII's death, he would have considered not coming.

National Catholic Reporter columnist John Allen Jr. says that Israel's Chief Rabbi of Haifa, Shear-Yashuv Cohen, was taking direct aim at Pius XII when he supplemented his prepared text on the Jewish approach to scripture by saying: “We cannot forget the sad and painful fact of how many, including great religious leaders, didn’t raise a voice in the effort to save our brethren, but chose to keep silent and help secretly. We cannot forgive and forget, and we hope you understand our pain, our sorrow.”

Allen noted: "Cohen's remarks come at a delicate moment, as Benedict XVI weighs whether to move forward in declaring his controversial predecessor a saint. In May 2007, the Vatican’s Congregation for Saints voted to endorse Pius XII's 'heroic virtue,' the first formal step in the process, and a document confirming that verdict is now awaiting a papal signature. Only when that occurs can officials move forward with investigation of a miracle, which is required for beatification. Another miracle would be required for eventual canonization."

In a new posting, however, Allen reports that in a homily at St. Peter's Basilica, "Pope Benedict XVI today issued a ringing defense of his controversial predecessor, Pope Pius XII, the wartime pope whose alleged silence during the Holocaust has long been a sticking point in Jewish/Catholic relations."

The new posting lists various arguments that Benedict raised to defend the way his predecessor acted during World War II. Unfortunately, the Jews have heard all of these arguments before and do not find them convincing.

Allen reports that, anticipating Benedict's intent to move forward with the process to declare Pius XII a saint, "the Anti-Defamation League earlier this week used the occasion of the anniversary of Pius XII’s death to re-issue its call for the Vatican to completely open its World War II-era archives. Up to this point, the Vatican has only published selected materials from that period, citing the normal time lag in opening historical records and the difficulties of cataloguing delicate materials in multiple languages."

Allen quoted Abraham Foxman, the ADL's national director: “Until the Vatican's secret archives are declassified, Pius’ record vis-à-vis Jews will continue to be shrouded and a source of controversy and contention. We strongly urge the Vatican to make full and complete access to the archives of this period its highest priority and call on all interested parties to assist.”

As I have observed here before, opening the archives might not be enough to convince either side to buy the other's interpretation of Pius XII. But until the archives are made public in full, it is impossible to quiet Jewish fears that the Vatican has something to hide.

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