Cardinal Parolin speaks at the conference in the Gregorian Cardinal Parolin speaks at the conference in the Gregorian 

Cardinal Parolin: New documents of Pope Pius XII speaking to ‘Jewish brothers'

Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin attends a conference at Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University on newly-declassified documents from the Vatican Archive, and says they reveal an image of Pope Pius XII “that is much different than what is generally known.”

By Alessandro Di Bussolo

The Pontifical Gregorian University held an international conference on Monday to shed new light on the historical-theological events related to Pope Pius XII and the Vatican during the Holocaust during World War II.

At the same time, the conference recalled the outbreak of war in the Middle East following Hamas’ attack on Israel with a minute of silence for the victims in Israel and Palestine.

The two-day conference was entitled “New documents from the Pontificate of Pope Pius XII and their Meaning for Jewish-Christian Relations: A Dialogue Between Historians and Theologians”.

As recalled by Bishop Étienne Vető, auxiliary bishop of Reims and former director of the Cardinal Bea Center for Judaic Studies at the Pontifical Gregorian University, the conference required two years of preparation.

Discovering historical truth

The first session was introduced by the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin. The Cardinal emphasized that, after Pope Francis' decision in March 2019 to make the documents of the Vatican Secret Archive regarding the pontificate of Pius XII accessible and the publication of several studies, "it has been of fundamental importance to establish historical truth" through historical-critical research.

Maintaining historical accuracy, according to Cardinal Parolin, means defending the truth over and above the parties involved.

Slideshow at the Gregorian conference
Slideshow at the Gregorian conference

Cases of scientific dishonesty

Cardinal Parolin noted that, unfortunately, "there are still cases of scientific dishonesty, which become historical manipulation, wherein documents are negligently or deliberately hidden."

He offered the example of the 1916 response from the then Secretary of State, Cardinal Gasparri, to the American Jewish Committee, and then in 1919 to the Ashkenazi Jews of Jerusalem.

He said these documents were only recently rediscovered, and state how Catholics should perceive Jews.

"Jews are our brothers," Cardinal Parolin quoted the documents as saying. "And the Jewish people should be considered brothers of any other people in the world."

Cardinal Gasparri inspired by Pius XII

The future Pope, then Monsignor Eugenio Pacelli, who at the time was Secretary of the Congregation for Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs, "had personally contributed to the drafting of these documents which show," explained Cardinal Parolin, "an image of Pacelli very different from the one generally known."

Jews, including a number of rabbis, believed that Pope Pius XII's attitude toward them was friendly, "and for this reason, they turned to him during the Second World War to seek help."

The Israeli President Isaac Herzog recalled this episode in a recent interview with L'Osservatore Romano, as he spoke “about the cordial relations with Pius XII and his associates during the Second World War."

Holy See’s solidarity with the Jewish people

The Cardinal Secretary of State explained that he wanted to remember these documents from 1916 and 1919 and Pope Pius XII’s friendship with Jewish people all over the world, "to emphasize that the Holy See had already taken a position in favor of the Jewish people at the time of the First World War. And during the Second World War, the Pope invited a considerable number of Catholics from religious institutes to defend Jews with all means, as well as participating in the resistance against fascism and Nazism."

Recent discoveries in the Vatican and in other archives, said Cardinal Parolin, "have made it easier for everyone to understand how many historical records have been manipulated in the period following the Second World War."

Pope Pius XII's ‘undeclared resistance’

Thanks to the opening of the archives, Cardinal Parolin continued, "it became evident that the Pope followed both the path of diplomacy and that of undeclared resistance. This decision was not apathetic and lacking in action" but instead entailed significant risks for anyone involved and participating.

Historians have years of work ahead of them, the Secretary of State concluded, hoping that "they will continue to shed light on one of the most discussed and delicate periods of Pius XII's pontificate."

Di Segni: positions that in history have caused suffering

Afterwards, Riccardo Di Segni, Chief Rabbi of the Jewish Community of Rome, spoke at the conference, inviting everyone to "distinguish between emotion and history, because a proper detachment is needed to examine the facts.”

“There is a religious dimension which is different from the political one, between the great events of history and the countless micro-stories,” he said. “The course of events itself is different from the moral plane."

He said that during the pontificate of Pius XII, "the sufferings of the Jewish people were theologically justified. But there is a difference between explaining dynamics and making a moral judgment."

Jewish-Christian dialogue, concluded Mr. Di Segni, arises from a revision, thanks to the Second Vatican Council, "of positions that have caused great suffering in history."

‘Massacres out of racial hatred’

After the introductory speeches, the first session addressed Pope Pius XII's motivations and decisions in the face of fascism, Nazism, and communism, in an attempt to balance his roles as head of the Church and the Holy See.

Speaking on the topic "Words, Silences, and Misunderstandings in the Documents of Pius XII," Giovanni Coco, archivist of the Vatican Apostolic Archive, recalled that in November 1945 Pope Pius XII had an audience for the first time with a group of Jews.

They had survived concentration camps and had come to express their profound gratitude for the assistance received from the Catholic Church.

In his speech, Mr. Coco recalled, the Pope was understanding and mentioned the "racist passions" that had "swallowed countless innocent victims" because of their "race," but carefully avoided making any explicit reference to the word "extermination."

‘Concern for an unhealed wound’

This persistent silence on the Holocaust, continued Mr. Coco, is an historical controversy that has lasted for half a century.

The debate over the Pope's attitude has involved historians, philosophers, and theologians, even though the complete Vatican papers were not directly available before, except for the selection published in the Actes et Documents du Saint-Siège relatifs à la Seconde Guerre Mondiale.

"The recent opening of the Vatican Archive for Pius XII's Pontificate has finally allowed access to all the documents. And now the documents will reveal," the archivist explained, "how concepts such as anti-Semitism, extermination, and silence formed in the minds of Pope Pacelli and the Church of the time."

According to Mr. Coco, they were certainly influenced by the excessive caution of Monsignor Angelo Dell'Acqua, with the Secretary of State, who had been entrusted with the dossier on the Jews, for whom the news of the Holocaust was "Jewish exaggerations."

It is not true, concluded Mr. Coco, that the Holocaust passed without leaving an impact on Catholic teaching.

In a speech to jurists in 1953, Pope Pius XII, he noted, spoke of "massacres out of racial hatred" and "the horrors of concentration camps," but not of "extermination”.

Pope Piux XII, he said, remained "moved by concern for an unhealed wound" until the end.

Thank you for reading our article. You can keep up-to-date by subscribing to our daily newsletter. Just click here

10 October 2023, 16:09