A panel set up by the Vatican to investigate the Church’s treatment of the Jews during the Second World War has appealed for access to the Holy See’s secret archives.
A mixed commission of Catholics and Jews last week presented an interim report demanding access to the archives and arguing that only unrestricted access would put an end to the debate over Pope Pius XII’s wartime actions.
In the document, the six-man Catholic-Jewish Historical Commission raised 47 questions after examining 11 volumes made available to scholars, and asked for more time before giving a verdict on Pius.
Commission members, who include three Catholics and three Jews, last week said they were hopeful they might be allowed to see extra material including secret documents circulated within the Vatican.
So far members have been given access only to an already published but daunting collection of documentation on the Vatican in the wartime years, compiled by the Jesuit supporter of Pius XII, Fr Pierre Blet. It is on the basis of a painstaking study of this collection that the commission has raised its queries.
One Jewish commission member said, ‘Our doubts have only increased since we began examining the volumes’.
The commission was branded ‘disloyal’ by Jesuit Fr peter Gumpel, postulator of Pius XII’s cause. Fr Gumpel was angered by the commission’s decision to go public with the preliminary report.
‘I find the conduct of the international historical Judeo-Catholic commission disloyal to the Holy See, academically unacceptable and incorrect’ Fr Gumpel told the Rome-based news agency, Zenit.
According to reports, one of the commission’s most important questions concerned its discovery that the Vatican approved anti-Semitic measures adopted by the French Vichy Government.
Told in August 1941 by Marshall Henri Phillipe Petain of the measures, Pius XII’s collaborators replied that the Vatican had no objections, provided that the measures were ‘administered with justice and charity’.
The commission is keen to acquire more documentation in order to answer the question of whether the Pope himself was aware of this opinion and to satisfy other questions.
It noted that there appeared to have been no Vatican reaction to Kristallnacht when the Nazis burnt synagogues and shop windows and murdered Jews in a 1938 reprisal in Germany.
Also it had found that in reply to pressure from Bishop Konrad von Preysing of Berlin that the Vatican do something to help the Jews, Pius had said that it was up to the local bishops to decide when to speak and when to remain silent, given the risk of reprisals.
The commission was appointed by the Vatican in March last year, following a row over the Vatican’s refusal to open its archives after the London conference on Nazi gold, and mounting claims that Pius XII had failed to do enough to oppose the Holocaust.
Amid the controversy and new allegations that Pius was not only anti-Semitic but pro Nazi, the wartime Pope’s controversial cause for beatification has reportedly been relegated to the sidelines.
The Catholic Herald of the same date (3rd November) maintains in its editorial that the ‘Catholic "Church"’ is the revealer of God on earth and of the salvation of God on earth and then makes the assertion that criticisms of Hitler’s Pope Pius XII come mainly from Jewish historians. They are then accused of writing in an historical vacuum.
The same editorial, while admitting that Sir Thomas More whom the pope has just made patron saint of politicians did, ‘many nasty things when in power’, justifies his elevation because he was faithful to death in his testimony of the unity of the true church, that is, the Pope’s church!