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Research on Vatican’s wartime role hits dead end

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ROME, Nov. 4 (JTA) — The resignation of Jewish scholars from an interfaith commission set up to research the role of the Vatican during the Holocaust appears to end any hope that the commission’s already-suspended work can be completed.

It also led some observers to question the status of relations between the Vatican and the Jewish world.

Hebrew University professor Robert Wistrich told a session of the World Jewish Congress annual meeting in Jerusalem last week that he was formally quitting the six-member commission over the Vatican’s recent refusal to open its secret wartime archives.

Another Jewish member of the team, Belgian scholar Bernard Suchecky, also is stepping down.

The scholars were part of a team of three Catholic and three Jewish historians appointed in 1999 to review a dozen volumes of published Vatican documentation on the role of the Holy See and Pope Pius XII during World War II.

Pope John Paul II has long planned to beatify Pius XII — the last step before someone is made a saint. But some Jews accuse Pius of virtual complicity with the Nazi regime because of his public silence in the face of the Holocaust.

The team of scholars jointly submitted a preliminary report in October 2000, which included 47 questions they said could be answered only with a search of unpublished material.

But in July, it suspended its work because it had been denied the full access to the Holy See’s wartime archives needed to answer these queries.

Since then, relations between the Vatican and Jews have deteriorated sharply, with each side making acrimonious accusations against the other.

Indeed, Wistrich told the WJC that Catholic-Jewish relations were now at their lowest point since the 1965 publication of Nostra Aetate, the landmark Vatican document that officially opened the door to Catholic-Jewish dialogue.

This view was not shared by all observers, who say that the Vatican archives issue is only one part of a complex whole.

“At the same time, we have a whole new set of developments occurring,” Cardinal William Keeler, the American Bishops Conference’s moderator for Catholic-Jewish relations, told JTA in an interview before Wistrich’s announcement last week.

Keeler spoke to JTA in Rome, where a local church with which he is affiliated hosted a performance last month of an interfaith Holocaust Requiem that incorporated Jewish prayers and descriptions of the Nazi Ghetto at Terezin to commemorate victims of the Shoah.

Keeler in particular mentioned Dabru Emet, a Jewish theological statement on Christians and Christianity formulated by a group of Jewish scholars and published in September 2000.

“I think it represents a whole new phase in what the situation is,” he said.

Dabru Emet — which means “speak the truth” — called on Jews to relinquish their fear and mistrust of Christianity and “learn about the efforts of Christians to honor Judaism.”

It listed eight points on which Jews and Christians found common ground and could build further dialogue.

Dabru Emet was signed by scores of Jewish scholars and rabbis from all Jewish denominations.

Some prominent Jews refused to sign it, however, precisely because of its paragraph on the Holocaust.

Dabru Emet said, “Without the long history of Christian anti-Judaism and Christian violence against Jews, Nazi ideology cold not have taken hold nor could it have been carried out. Too many Christians participated in, or were sympathetic to, Nazi atrocities against Jews. Other Christians did not protest sufficiently against these atrocities.”

But, it said, “Nazism was not a Christian phenomenon,” and “Nazism itself was not an inevitable outcome of Christianity.”

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