Statement of Commission for Religious Relations with Judaism

Vatican Archives Will Be Opened, Cardinal Says

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VATICAN CITY, AUG. 27, 2001 ( Here is a translation of the statement published last Friday by the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with Judaism on the work of Jewish and Catholic experts analyzing wartime Vatican documents.

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Relations between the Catholic Church and Judaism have taken a positive turn since the «Nostra Aetate» Declaration (No. 4) of the Second Vatican Council (1965). Dialogue has thus replaced former disputes.

In this new atmosphere, in October 1999 the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with Judaism and the Jewish International Committee for Interreligious Consultations took the initiative to establish a group of experts, composed of three Jewish and as many Catholic representatives, with the task to examine and present relevant questions about the eleven volumes of the collection «Actes et Documents du Saint-Siège Relatifs à la Seconde Guerre Mondiale,» published between 1965 and 1981, by some well-known historians. In fact, until this date, only marginal account was taken of the rich documentation contained in these volumes in the public debate regarding the Holy See and the Holocaust.

The Commission for Religious Relations with Judaism learned with regret last July of the decision of the group of experts to suspend their research. At the same time, it is grateful to the members of the group, especially to the Catholic representatives, for all that was done and for the good will demonstrated.

From the beginning, it was clear that, within the limits of the task entrusted to the group, it would not be possible to respond to all the questions, which could only have been resolved by consulting sources that are not yet accessible, or with further study. However, it was thought that its possible results would have in good time encouraged a debated objective.

The experts of the group agreed to take on their not-easy task. They were never told, at any time, that they could have access to the documents of the Vatican Archives subsequent to 1922.

In October 2000 the group of experts presented a Preliminary Report, which includes 47 questions, a document that was the object of controversial discussions on the part of other historians. The continuation of the research on the part of the group was fully examined in the course of the meeting of the International Committee of Catholic-Jewish Liaison, at a gathering held in New York (May 1-4, 2001). From the positive success of such examination, resulted the desire of both parts to continue the research and end with the presentation of a Final Report.

But in fact the impossibility of overcoming the different interpretations given by the group to the tasks and purpose must be noted. Moreover, indiscretions and controversial writings on the Jewish side contributed to awaken feelings of mistrust. All this made it practically impossible to continue joint research.

Such scientific work can be done only on the basis of uprightness, in respect and mutual trust of those who undertake it. Such an indispensable condition was totally lacking because of the controversy that ensued after the suspension of the research work and of the suspected offenses that accompanied that suspension. The Catholic members of the group publicly distanced themselves from such controversial interpretations and evaluations. At the present stage, and on this basis, it does not seem possible, therefore, to foresee a reactivation of the common endeavor.

The Commission for Religious Relations with Judaism wishes to remove any doubts on the irreversibility of the road undertaken toward understanding between Jews and Christians, a road that must be traveled in mutual interest. Such a process, started by the Council, has been continued by Pope John Paul II. Even authoritative Jewish representatives have made it known that they do not desire this open controversy, confirming the wish to continue further in the dialogue on religious questions.

Certainly, understanding between Jews and Christians also calls for research into history. Access to all the relevant historical sources are, therefore, a natural need of such research. The desire of the historians to have access to the archives relating to the pontificate of Pius XI (1922-1939) and of Pius XII (1939-1958) is understandable and legitimate. In respect of truth, the Holy See is ready to allow access to the Vatican Archives as soon as the work of reordering and cataloguing of the sources in question is completed.

The Commission for Religious Relations with Judaism will use the next months to find adequate means to reactivate the research on a new basis, in the hope that it will be possible to attain a common clarification of the questions raised. All this with the conviction of the Commission that the Catholic Church does not fear the historical truth.

August 24, 2001

Cardinal Walter Kasper

[Original text: Italian; translation by ZENIT]

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