Southern Religion

Israel reqests Vatican wartime archives on Pius XII be opened

Open the Vatican’s WWII archives so that questions about the WW II papacy of Pius XII can be answered and Catholic/Jewish tension reduced, was Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom’s request to Pope Benedict on Sunday.

This shortly after the pope’s visit to the main Jewish synagogue in Rome, Italy, where by way of welcome the president of Rome’s Jewish community, Riccardo Pacifici, told him “the silence of Pius XII before the Shoah [Holocaust], still hurts because something should have been done.

“Maybe it would not have stopped the death trains, but it would have sent a signal, a word of extreme comfort, of human solidarity, towards those brothers of ours transported to the ovens of Auschwitz,” Pacifici said.

The pope replied that the Vatican helped Jews and “provided assistance, often in a hidden and discreet way.” He also asked forgiveness for the church’s contribution to anti-Semitism and urged Jews and Christians “to come together to strengthen the bonds which unite us and to continue to travel together along the path of reconciliation and fraternity.”

Israel’s answer, then, is something like “Good. Prove it.” And a review of Reuter’s timeline of Vatican-Jewish relations shows how the rising Catholic/Jewish tension of the Joseph Ratzinger papacy led to Israel’s request and provoked some (notably Rabbi Giuseppe Laras, president of Italy’s rabbinical assembly) to boycott the pope’s visit to the Rome synagogue. They were aware that the pope had been unilaterally invited, but would not accept his “clarification” of the decision to recognize the “heroic virtues” of Pius XII.

Tension over the matter can also be seen in B’nai B’rith Europe’s online petition opposing beatification of Pius XII.

The issue also provoked a request in 2005 by Jewish leaders to open the Vatican’s WW II archives when Pope Benedict visited the Cologne synagogue.

Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi last month tried to excuse keeping the archives closed:

In this specific case it is comprehensible that there should be a request to have open access to all possibilities of research on the documents. Yet for the complete opening of the archives– as has been said on a number of occasions in the past– it is necessary to organize and catalog an enormous mass of documentation, something which still requires a number of years’ work.

Six and a half decades after the close of the period in question?

One need not be Jewish to wonder why the archives would not be opened now when it is clear that there is not only no resolution like well-verified truth, but also no likely resolution to this matter but a public review of those archival materials.


January 18, 2010 - Posted by | Catholic, History, Israel | , , ,


  1. No one should be really surprised at Pope Benedict’s actions. After all, he lifted the excommunication to a Holocaust-denying bishop, he spoke at Auschwitz but forgot to mention that the Holocaust was caused by pathological antisemitism, and of course neglected to mention where antisemitism might have come from. Also, he has been extolling Pope Pius XII’s “heroic virtues” and has been promoting his canonization. People should be even less surprised at any residual animosity toward the wartime pope, Pius XII. After all, that pope had the power, but not the will, to make a difference during the war yet he chose to remain silent. This was not “discreet” or “hidden”. That is simply disingenuous.

    It’s highly misleading to make so much hoopla about Pope Pius XII’s putative actions in defense of the Jews during the war: they were meager, largely ineffective, and many times they were made to create precisely the type of appearance of action we are seeing defended today. As Pius’ close aide, Msgr. Tardini, explained in an internal Vatican memo after a tepid admonition to the Slovakian President-priest Tiso, “This will make known to the world that the Holy See fulfills its duty of charity.” Or, when Jesuit Father Tacchi Venturi made a symbolic inquiry about the fate of the Jews of Rome, he then informed his superiors that “A step like this by the Holy See, even if it does not obtain the desired effect, will without doubt help increase the veneration and gratitude toward the August Person of the Holy Father.” In a similar case a Holy See official mentioned some potential actions the Holy See could take on behalf of the Jews, knowing that they would be totally ineffective and they would fail. He did this knowing that “if nothing else, it will always be possible to say that the Holy See has done everything possible to help these unhappy people.”

    The Church claims that propelling Pius XII into the sainthood is a reflection of his religious actions, and that may be so. However, Pius XII was not just a religious figure: he was the pope, the leader of an international organization responsible for the care of hundreds of millions of souls, and he was the leader of a state with a fully operational government with influence on a global scale. So his actions—or inactions—cannot be measured solely based on what his contributions to the advancement of faith was. Certainly not for someone who ruled over the Catholic Church at a time when almost half the German population and the vast majority of Austrian, French, Polish, Lithuanian, Ukrainian, Latvian, Hungarian and other populations that collaborated with the Germans in executing the “Final Solution of the Jewish Question” were Catholic.

    The Vatican Secret Archives for the WWII period need to be opened. This is ultimately also for the Church’s benefit, even if it does show, as I think it will, that the Church as such did very little to help the hounded Jews. After all, it was the Church itself that published eleven volumes of documents 40 years ago precisely to counter allegations that Pope Pius XII did do as much as he should have. It’s safe to assume the Church would have shown its best, most compelling documentation showing Pius helping Jews if it had it, and it would have been totally counterproductive to have left clear evidence of this help out of those eleven volumes. I think one can logically assume the documentation simply does not exist.

    Gabriel Wilensky

    Six Million Crucifixions:
    How Christian Teachings About Jews Paved the Road to the Holocaust
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    Comment by Gabriel Wilensky | January 18, 2010

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