- JERUSALEM - Hebrew University
Prof. Robert Wistrich said yesterday he is resigning from the Catholic-Jewish
commission appointed to study the role of the Vatican during the Holocaust.
- Wistrich, who made the announcement at a session of
the World Jewish Congress meeting in Jerusalem, said that as a result
of the failure of the commission, Catholic-Jewish relations are at their
lowest point since the formulation of Nostra Aetate, the 1965 Vatican
document that expresses the church's new outlook toward Jews and Judaism.
- He said his was a private decision, but a second Jewish
scholar, Bernard Suchecky of the Free University of Brussels, is also
- The two resignations make it unlikely the commission
will be able to continue. Wistrich said he feels this was his only option
in the face of continued Vatican refusal to open its archives to commission
- The commission was established in October 1999. Its three
Jewish members were appointed by the International Jewish Committee for
Interreligious Consultations. The third is Michael Marrus of University
of Toronto. The Catholic members, appointed by the Pontifical Commission
on Religious Relations with the Jews (PCRRJ), are Eva Fleischner, of Montclair
State University in New Jersey; Rev. Gerald Fogarty, of the University
of Virginia; and Rev. John Morley, of Seton Hall University in New Jersey.
- In July, the commission suspended its activities, following
the Vatican's failure to answer 47 preliminary questions put to it by
the entire commission and its refusal to give the scholars access to unpublished
material in its archives.
- In response to the questions, Rev. Peter Gumpel, whose
duties include gathering material for the beatification of Pope Pius XII
and who published his own selection of 12 volumes of Vatican papers relating
to the Holocaust, accused the Jewish scholars of initiating a "slanderous
campaign" against the church.
- Even more serious for Wistrich was the response of Cardinal
Walter Kasper, president of the PCRRJ, who said the Jewish members had
not read the published documents.
- The allegation was particularly galling, Wistrich said,
because he had spent many months reading and studying the 12 volumes, in
Italian, French, German, English, and Latin. He said Kasper never spoke
to him before making his allegation.
- He characterized Cardinal Edward Cassidy, the former
president of PCRRJ, as well-meaning, but said he should have been more
frank and not implied access would be given. He described Kasper as "heavy-handed,"
with no background in Jewish-Christian dialogue.
- Wistrich said he sent a long letter to Pope John Paul
II in April, noting the contradiction between earlier papal statements
and actions and the present atmosphere.
- The answer, conveyed by the "mutual friend"
who delivered the letter, was the pope is not going to get involved.
- "I believe that if we were dealing with a figure
like John Paul II in his heyday, we would perhaps never have come to this
point," Wistrich said.
- However, he said, the pope is one of the many figures
within the Church who favors the beatification of Pius XII. Wistrich said
he is neither a Pius XII backer, nor does he accept the apologetics of
- He is, however, grateful because his membership on the
commission had led him to read all the published material, which he described
as "a damning indictment of insensitivity and moral failure, of indifference
to the humiliations and suffering of the Jews under anti-Semitic laws and
of a refusal to even consider any rupture with Nazi Germany."
- He said the reasons given for this failure are inadequate
in relation to the enormity of what was happening in Europe.
- Wistrich also said in the way the Church presented material
about the rescue of Jews, it blurred the fact that in well over 90 percent
of the cases, the rescue work was on behalf of baptized Jews.
- "The attempt to present Pius XII as a kind of hero
of the resistance is a form of Catholic revisionism which I find has nothing
to do with historical truth, but more to do with the internal political
agenda of the Church," he said.
- In reaction to the announcement, Papal Nuncio Pietro
Sambi said to resign from a commission whose work has already been suspended
serves no useful purpose other than propaganda.