LOS ANGELES (Jan. 28)
The Vatican may have tacitly condoned the strengthening of the Nazi regime and failed to aid its Jewish victims, according to an unprecedented document released by Catholic and Jewish leaders in Southern California.
The document, the first of its kind to explore the Catholic Church’s role as an unwitting accomplice in Adolf Hitler’s consolidation of power, will be sent to the Vatican, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, and to 3,000 Catholic schools, seminaries and parishes across the United States.
“This is, in my opinion, unique and is pioneering and ground-breaking,” Rabbi A. James Rudin, national director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee, told the Los Angeles Times.
The five-page statement was drafted by the Catholic-Jewish Respect Life Committee, consisting of 23 Southern California religious leaders and educators. It was released Friday at a news conference in Anaheim, Calif.
Leading members of the committee are Rabbi Alfred Wolf and Monsignor Royale Vadakin, both veteran leaders in Catholic-Jewish relations here.
Relations between Jews and Catholics in Southern California have long been considered as a model for the rest of the country.
Vadakin said that while many Catholic-Jewish committees in the United States have discussed the Holocaust, the current statement is the first to be published and distributed to educators. Parishes across the country will next decide whether to incorporate the material into their school curricula.
Titled “The Holocaust: At the Edge of Comprehension,” the document is based on historical evidence, rather than church sources.
‘MANY CHRISTIANS CLOSED THEIR EARS’
A section on “Complicity and Righteous Action” suggests that the Vatican tacitly aided Hitler, immediately upon his assumption of power, by signing with him the 1933 Concordat. Ostensibly, the Concordat protected the church’s rights under the Nazi regime, with the presumption that the Vatican would not protest the growth of German nationalism under Hitler.
Hitler immediately ignored the Concordat’s protective clauses, paving his way to the assumption of total dictatorial power, says the statement.
“In light of this, we are now free to ask whether the compromises made by the Vatican with the Nazis did not, in the long run, do more harm than good,” the statement concludes.
“It would be misleading to suggest that the Roman Catholic Church did everything in its power to come to the aid of the Jews,” it says.
Another part of the statement points out that “in the face of the growing threats against the Jews, all too few Christian groups raised their voices to protest. Many Christians closed their cars to the Jews in their darkest hour.”
On the other hand, the document says “it would also be an inaccurate rendering of history to assert that every Roman Catholic stood by idly and watched as the demonic strategies of the Nazis claimed the lives of 6 million Jews.”
The statement on the Holocaust was accompanied by a second document on “Forgiveness/Reconciliation,” which probes how the Catholic and Jewish faiths address the theological questions of forgiveness and reconciliation.
This document was drafted by the Los Angeles Priest-Rabbi Committee, which has put forward statements on interreligious topics for nearly 20 years.
The Catholic-Jewish committees that prepared the two documents said that they had worked on the statements for two years.
They decided to concentrate on the Holocaust issue following the visit by Austrian President Kurt Waldheim to Pope John Paul II in 1987. The meeting was bitterly denounced by Jewish groups across the world, in light of the alleged actions by Waldheim as a German army officer during World War II.