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Joint Catholic-Jewish Commission Will Examine Documents Relating To Church’s Role In World War II: Why Didn’t Pope Pius XII Speak Out?

Dec. 22, 1999 -- If Pope Pius XII had taken a strong, public stand during the Holocaust, could he have saved the lives of millions of Jews?

We can never know the answer. But a close examination of Vatican diplomacy during World War II could shed some light on the subject, and in particular, might suggest why the world’s most recognized religious figure chose not to use his pulpit in Rome to fight the great evil then spreading through Europe.

In 1962, Rolf Hochuch, a German playwright, wrote "The Deputy," a play claiming that Pius XII was anti-Semitic and therefore remained silent in the face of the extermination of millions of Jews. Responding to the widespread public criticism of the Church that ensued, Pope Paul VI authorized four Catholic scholars to prepare Vatican documents of the World War II period for publication. Eleven volumes of documents were published from 1965 to 1981.

But publication still has not put the controversy surrounding the Church’s role during the war to rest, said the Rev. Gerald P. Fogarty, S.J., the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Religious Studies and History at the University of Virginia and an expert on Vatican diplomacy.

There are two main reasons that the controversy continues, Fogarty believes. First, there were no Jewish scholars among the group of academics who originally edited the documents for publication. Second, while the documents have been available in research libraries around the world for nearly two decades, they have not been translated but are published only in their original languages, primarily English, French, German and Italian.

"I thought there should have been a Jewish scholar on the 1960s commission," Fogarty said. Instead, the team was made up of four Jesuits, an order known to be close to Pope Pius XII.

Some outside observers, therefore, have raised questions regarding the independence and credibility of the Jesuits’ scholarship on this sensitive topic.

While many motives have been suggested for the pope’s choice of editors, Fogarty believes Pope Paul VI ‘s motive was purely practical: As men of a religious order serving Rome, the Jesuits would not have to be paid.

This past October, in an effort to promote better relations with the world Jewish community, the Vatican and an international group of Jewish leaders appointed an International Catholic-Jewish Historical Commission -- made up of three Catholic and three Jewish scholars — to study the published documents and determine whether any major gaps in the historic record exist.

While the Jewish scholarly community -- among others -- is pressing for full access to Vatican archives, Fogarty believes that much published material, especially that contained in the 11 volumes, has not been fully exploited, particularly by Jewish scholars. The Vatican archives have been opened to researchers through 1921, which includes the papacy of Pope Benedict XV, but remain closed after 1922, with the exception of the 11 World War II volumes.

Conceived by Cardinal Edward I. Cassidy, president of the pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, the team of scholars was announced jointly in October by Cassidy and Seymour D. Reich, chairman of the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations. The commission met twice in December -- once in person, once by conference call -- and is expected to confer on a regular basis throughout the year. Commission members have divided the 11 volumes among them for study and likely will draft a report of their findings by the end of 2000, Fogarty said.

Fogarty, a scholar of Church history, is a specialist in Vatican-American diplomatic relations and has written numerous books, articles and academic papers on the subject. He is the author of "The Vatican and the American Hierarchy from 1870 to 1965." His forthcoming book, "Commonwealth Catholicism: A History of the Catholic Church in Virginia," is being published by the University of Notre Dame Press.

The other two Catholic scholars appointed by the Vatican are Eva Fleischner, Professor Emerita of Montclair State University in New Jersey; and Reverend Professor F. John Morley, a Holocaust scholar at Seton Hall University in New Jersey.

The three Jewish scholars appointed by the international Jewish commission are Michael R. Marrus, professor of history and dean of the School of Graduate Studies at the University of Toronto; Bernard Suchecky, research director at the Free University of Brussels, Belgium; and Robert S. Wistrich, professor of history and holder of the Neuenberger Chair in Jewish Studies at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

For more information, contact Gerald Fogarty at (804) 979-8592 or at

Contact: Charlotte Crystal, (804) 924-6858

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: please contact the Office of University Relations at (804) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (804) 924-7550.
SOURCE: U.Va. News Services


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