ROME, NOV. 21, 2002 (Zenit.org).- In a two-page article in the Roman newspaper La Repubblica, a Jewish historian has reopened the debate on the Vatican’s relations with Nazism.
Michael Marrus, professor of the history of the Holocaust at Toronto University and a former member of the now-dissolved commission of Jewish and Christian historians that looked at those difficult years, says the Vatican has yet to answer some critical questions.
Although the Holy See has announced the publication in 2003 and 2005 of secret documents referring to relations between Germany and the Vatican, ZENIT asked Jesuit Father Peter Gumpel, historian and relator of Pius XII’s cause of beatification, to respond to Marrus’ questions.
The Toronto professor has doubts about the Vatican’s reaction to “Kristallnacht” in Germany and the violence there encouraged by the authorities, which included attacks on Jewish neighborhoods, destruction of synagogues, and deportation of Jews to concentration camps.
Father Gumpel responded: “When Lord Rothschild organized a protest meeting in London against Kristallnacht [in 1938], Eugenio Pacelli, Vatican Secretary of State, sent a statement of solidarity with persecuted Jews on behalf of Pope Pius XI.”
“The Holy See’s protest was read publicly during the meeting,” he said. “The complete text of the Vatican note is in the sixth volume of the ‘Minutes and Documents of the Holy See Related to the Second World War’ [‘Actes et documents du Saint Siège relatifs à la seconde guerre mondiale,’ or ADSS], in pages 12 and 13, and page 539 of the appendix.”
In his article in La Repubblica, Marrus said that he would like to know what the German cardinals said in the two meetings they had with Pius XII in 1939.
Father Gumpel answered that “49 pages — from page 387 to page 436 — are published in the second volume of the ADSS, in which it is possible to read the full text of these two meetings. The Holy Father and the cardinals were totally against Hitler, but they knew that it was necessary to act with much caution, as the 1937 encyclical ‘Mit Brennender Sorge’ against Nazism had only caused persecutions, and the outbreak of war was imminent.”
Marrus also said that Pius XII only helped those Jews who converted to Catholicism.
The Jesuit historian recalled, however, that “the facts speak for themselves: The Holy See spent millions of dollars to save Jews, regardless of whether or not they were baptized. In some cases, Pope Pacelli was not satisfied with obtaining entry visas for German Jews in South America, but also looked for the money to pay for their trip.”
Marrus also suggested that the Vatican abandoned the Polish government in exile in London.
“As made clear in the third volume of the ADSS, the Polish bishops were not at all favorable to public protests, as they thought it would worsen their situation,” Father Gumpel said.
He added: “When, at the request of Pius XII, an Italian priest took pamphlets to Cardinal Adam Sapieha, archbishop of Krakow, so that he could distribute them among the Polish bishops and clergy, as the pamphlets said that the Pope was with them, the cardinal did not wish to accept them.”
Father Gumpel quoted the cardinal saying: “I thank the Holy Father. Dear Monsignor, no one better than us Poles know how grateful and sensitive is the interest the Pope has in us. But a public demonstration of the Pope’s love and interest in our problems is not necessary, as it would only increase them. Don’t you know that if I advertise this, if they find these papers in my home, there would not be enough Polish heads for the Nazis’ reprisals.”
In his article in La Repubblica, Marrus also referred to a message written by Greek-Catholic Metropolitan Andrzeyj Szeptycky of Lviv, who said Catholics collaborated with Nazis.
“I have read Metropolitan Szeptycky’s letter several times and he says exactly the opposite,” Father Gumpel said. “In a passage, he says: ‘I must mention with great recognition the help we are given by German Catholics through the channels of an association dedicated to helping Germans outside of Germany.’ I cannot see how an allusion to Nazism can be seen in this, totaling altering the sense of the letter.”
Lastly, Marrus referred to the appeals of Archbishop Konrad von Preysing of Berlin, whom Pius XII later made a cardinal, and deplored that the Church did not make public appeals against Nazism in those years.
Father Gumpel responded: “Bitter experience taught the leaders of the Catholic Church that, after each public protest, an opposite reaction took place than the one desired. Robert M.W. Kempner, United States attorney at the Nuremberg Trials, stated clearly that the Holy See could not act in any other way.”
“Any public action would have cost much blood, while a prudent attitude allowed Pius XII and the ecclesiastical authorities to help, in a hidden way, hundreds of thousands of Jews,” he added.
Father Gumpel concluded: “I share the hope of historian Michael Marrus to ‘to see the debate on Pius XII normalized,’ but it must be done with objectivity, honesty and justice.”