A major conference at Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University on Oct. 9-11 is likely to focus on the legacy of Pope Pius XII (pictured here) and his actions or lack of them in the Holocaust, this Associated Press story reports. The conference comes amid revelations from the newly opened Vatican archives -- revelations that suggest the pope knew more about the Nazi regime's mass murder of Jews than previous accounts have reported.
As the AP story puts it: "Newly discovered correspondence suggests that World War II-era Pope Pius XII had detailed information from a trusted German Jesuit that up to 6,000 Jews and Poles were being gassed each day in German-occupied Poland, undercutting the Holy See’s argument that it couldn’t verify diplomatic reports of Nazi atrocities to denounce them.
"The documentation from the Vatican archives, published this (recent) weekend in the Italian daily Corriere della Sera, is likely to further fuel the debate about Pius’ legacy and his now-stalled beatification campaign."
The issue of what Pius XII knew and what he did has been around since the end of the war more than 75 years ago. He's been dismissed as "Hitler's Pope" but also praised for doing what he could to protect Jews. It's important to get history right, and it would be a good thing if this newly released correspondence helped to clear up the picture.
But the AP story is careful not to draw hard conclusions.
For one thing, it notes that "it can’t be certain that Pius saw the letter" received by his close aide, though that person "was Pius’ top aide and had served the pope when he was the Vatican’s ambassador to Germany during the 1920s, suggesting a close working relationship especially concerning matters related to Germany." But no hard proof.
Similarly, the story reports that "Giovanni Coco, a researcher and archivist in the Vatican’s Apostolic Archives," also noted that the writer of the letter that revealed the murdering of Jews "also urged the Holy See to not make public what he was revealing because he feared for his own life and those of the resistance sources who had provided the intelligence."
So although at first blush this doesn't look good for Pius XII's reputation, there still are questions to be answered, and as of today at least, we are no closer to understanding exactly what he did or didn't do to save Jews from the Holocaust. In other words, he has yet to be proven guilty.
That said, the historical context is important, too. As I have written in this longish essay on anti-Judaism in Christian history, for centuries Christianity, including the Catholic Church, taught its followers that the Jews were guilty of the death of Jesus of Nazareth. Because Christianity considers Jesus part of the Holy Trinity, that charge amounts to deicide.
Indeed, it wasn't until the adoption of a document, Nostra Aetate, by the Second Vatican Council in 1965 that the Catholic Church declared that Jewish people -- at the time of Christ and now -- should not be considered guilty of deicide.
Let's hope this new conference will have the resources to reach some conclusions about Pius XII and the Holocaust. It's important to know this history.
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IS SATAN ON THIS LIST, TOO?
A new poll shows that more than half of Republicans think Donald Trump is a "person of faith." Weird. They must think it counts that he considers himself the primary and essential mover and shaker of the universe. Wonder where the headquarters for the Worldwide Church of Solipsism is located, Mar-a-Lago?
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P.S.: Wallace B. Smith, president emeritus of the Community of Christ, based in Independence, Mo., died Sept. 22 at age 94. He served as prophet-president of the Community of Christ from 1978 to 1996 and was widely regarded as an effective reformer who helped to shape the church's future after it changed its name from the Reorganized Church of Latter-day Saints.
Professionally, he was a physician and eye surgeon, but no doubt will be most remembered for changes he helped to make in the life and practices of the church, including building a large temple in Independence dedicated to peace, welcoming women into the priesthood and allowing all Christians to receive Communion at Community of Christ services.
In Smith's time, the Community of Christ, which has about 250,000 members worldwide, moved to become more of a peace church and aligned itself more closely with Protestantism, though it has kept its commitment to the Book of Mormon as scripture. (Smith was a great-grandson of Joseph Smith, founder of the Latter-day Saints movement, often known as Mormonism.) Recently I wrote this Flatland column about a relatively new ministry (housed at the temple in Independence) that seeks to draw in unchurched or inactive people, particularly from younger generations. Here, by the way, is interesting the Religion News Service story about Smith's death.