Panel calls on Vatican to release wartime documents

NEW YORK, May 11 (JTA) — A team of Jewish and Catholic scholars says it has made “substantial progress” in examining published Vatican documents relating to the Holocaust.

The team also renewed a call for the Vatican to open its unpublished wartime archives to outside researchers.

“We remain committed to full openness in the examination of the archival record,” the International Catholic-Jewish Historical Commission said in a statement issued after it held a four-day meeting this week in London.

The commission, which has met once before, includes three Jewish and three Catholic scholars and was jointly established last fall by the Vatican and the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations, known as IJCIC.

Its mandate was to review the 11 volumes of World War II archives published by the Vatican between 1965 and 1981 in order to clarify the role of the Roman Catholic Church — and of the wartime pope, Pius XII — during the Holocaust.

The commission was authorized to raise questions and issues not resolved by this published documentation and to request further clarification that could draw on unpublished material from secret Vatican archives.

Early in their work, all six scholars concluded that the full Vatican archives from the period should be opened. Jewish organizations have long pressed for this, against deep-seated Vatican reluctance.

A statement issued following a meeting of the joint commission in December called for “full access” to archival information.

“The commitment to opening the archives is an overriding objective,” IJCIC chairman Seymour Reich told JTA.

Reich said “ambiguities, questions and gaps” emerged in the initial review of all 11 published Vatican volumes.

He did not provide specific examples, but sources said it appears that some of the questions relate to the Vatican’s silence in the face of the Nazi persecution of priests and other Catholics as well as of Jews.

These issues will be addressed in a report to be presented at the group’s next meeting, slated to be held July in Baltimore.

“We have made substantial progress,” the commission said in the statement issued this week.

“Collaborating as Catholic and Jewish scholars on a difficult and controversial subject, we are confident that our work will contribute to a deeper understanding of this painful subject,” it said.

“We hope that our combined effort will take the discussion beyond the realm of heated polemic.”

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