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Vatican Likely to Issue Statement Accepting “guilt” for the Holocaust

A draft of a groundbreaking Vatican document that places unprecedented “co-responsibility’ and “guilt” for the Holocaust on the Roman Catholic Church is being hailed by Jewish interfaith experts as one of the most important Catholic statements since Vatican Council II.

The draft speaks of “shame and repentance” and calls on God for forgiveness for that responsibility.

“It can only be described as mind-boggling,” said Rabbi David Rosen, director of interfaith relations and Vatican liaison for the Anti-Defamation League in Jerusalem.

The draft statement is not the first in which the church has condemned anti-Semitism or accepted responsibility for anti-Semitism, he said.

“But the extent to which the church talks of the blame and guilt of the church in the tragedy (of) the Jews” and “in taking on the burden of the Holocaust, is absolutely unparalleled,” Rosen said.

The draft document on “Anti-Semitism, Shoah and Church,” was prepared at the request of the Vatican by a team of German Catholic theologians in collaboration with a French theologian, the Rev. Bernard Dupuy.

It has not yet been approved by the Holy See and may undergo some changes before it is accepted as an official church declaration.

But Rosen said the chances are “very good” that the document will be accepted by the Vatican “even if it is trimmed at the corners.”

Even “the fact they are sharing it openly is cause for optimism,” he said.

Cardinal Edward Cassidy, president of the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with Jews, told reporters: “We promised our Jewish friends we would try to produce a document from the Catholic side which would speak about the Shoah and condemn all forms of anti-Semitism.”

‘WE WERE ALL ASTOUNDED’

Cassidy was in Jerusalem for a conference here of the International Liaison Committee for Relations between Jews and the Vatican, where the report came to light.

While the authors asked that there be no discussion of the report after its presentation, it was clear the contents of the document stunned Jewish participants.

“We were all astounded,” said Rosen. “Not even the most optimistic expected it to be as brutally self-confrontational.”

In the United States, those involved in interfaith dialogue were equally impressed.

“This is not just one more nice statement being made by the Catholic church,” said Rabbi A. James Rudin, director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee. “It is an extraordinary statement with global meaning.”

Rudin said the draft statement is the culmination of 30 years of Catholic-Jewish dialogue, which has been carried out since vatican Council II in the 1960s.

Under the accords of Vatican II, Jews could no longer be referred to as “Christ-killers” and anti-Semitic references were removed from the Catholic liturgy.

The draft is a part of a path to normalization of relations, said Rudin, that was forged through Pope John Paul II’s warm attitude toward the Jews and the establishment of formal diplomatic relations between the Vatican and Israel in December of last year.

“Normalization,” he said, “means that you can face up to the difficult issue of the Vatican’s role in anti-Semitism and the Holocaust.”

TEACHINGS HELPED ENCOURAGE ANTI-SEMITISM

Rabbi Leon Klenicki, director of the ADL’s department of interfaith affairs, called the draft “a great step toward a recognition of Christian involvement with anti-Semitic tendencies in the West.”

The statement includes an admission by the church that some of its teachings have provided the context and rationalization for much of Europe’s history of anti-Semitism that culminated in the Holocaust.

“There is a fault there that the church has to recognize,” Klenicki said.

The draft, according to German professor of theology Hans Hermann Henrix, who issued the report, recapitulates the history of Christian anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism.

But it goes beyond the recognition that “the tradition of theological and church anti-Judaism was an important element on the way toward the Shoah,” which Henrix defined as the historical “co-responsibility” of the church.

The church, said Henrix, must also, for “reasons of moral theology,” accept “ethical responsibility” by confessing its “guilt” for the Shoah.

The German and Polish Bishops Conferences have prepared their own similar documents, said Henrix. And they are recommending the church adopt their “confession of guilt” by adopting the following text found in the current draft of the Vatican document.

“She (the Church) confesses that she bears co-responsibility for the Shoah and that she has burdened herself with guilt.

“A long-standing theology and preaching had soothed the conscience of (Christian) people and had weakened their ability to resist when in Europe and Germany, the National Socialist anti-Semitism came up with all its brutality and criminal energy.

“Many Christians together with their bishops were so prejudiced that they did not have the necessary clear-sightedness in order to recognize the evil of anti-Semitic persecution by National Socialism and consequently they did not react against it.

“Despite the exemplary behavior of some individuals and groups, we were nevertheless as a whole a church community who kept on living their life in turning their back too often on the fate of this persecuted Jewish people, who looked too fixedly at the threat to their own institutions and who remained silent about the crimes committed against the Jews and Judaism.

“This led to the manifold guilt of many Christians and in the church.”

The church “feels shame and repentance and recognizes the need for conversion.

“We invoke God to grant us forgiveness and we request the Jewish people to hear this word of conversion and will of renewal,” the draft statement read.

The interfaith gathering at which the paper was presented has been meeting since 1970 on issues of anti-Semitism, the state of Israel, education and human rights. Cardinals and bishops represent the church, while the Jewish community is represented by members of the International Jewish Committee for Inter-religious Consultation, or IJCIC.

At the last biennial meeting of the Liaison Committee, held in Baltimore in 1992, the Vatican and Jewish leaders issued a joint statement on anti-Semitism, calling it a sin against God and mankind.

That communique also pledged a statement by the Vatican on anti-Semitism and the Holocaust.

This year, the formal focus of the meeting was on ecology and the family. But the atmosphere clearly was charged by the recent establishment of formal relations between the state of Israel and the Vatican.

The Vatican’s failure to recognize Israel diplomatically had been a stumbling block to the work of the interfaith committee, conceded the participants.

The question of diplomatic relations “had been hanging unsolved and we were not the ones who (could or) had to solve it,” said Cardinal Cassidy.

This was the first time the group had ever met in Jerusalem.

“This meeting in Jerusalem marks a historic milestone in Catholic-Jewish relations because of its location and its determination to tackle the generations-old problem of anti-Semitism,” said Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress.

(Contributing to this report was JTA staff writer Pamela Druckerman in New York.)

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