Vatican Still Refuses To
Open Holocaust Records
To Jewish Scholars
By Haim Shapiro
Jerusalem Post

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 resigning.
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 members.
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to answer 47 preliminary questions put to it by the entire commission and its refusal to give the scholars access to unpublished material in its archives.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 the Church.
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.


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