1946 Document on Jewish Children Tells a Different Story

Undercuts Tale That Vatican Tried to Keep Them From Their Families

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ROME, JAN. 12, 2005 (Zenit.org).- The latest in a series of accusations about Pope Pius XII's behavior vis-à-vis the Jews and Nazi persecution seems to have little basis in fact.



The latest round began Dec. 28 when an Italian newspaper published passages of an alleged 1946 Vatican document that supposedly aimed to keep baptized Jewish children from being returned to their families.

The text, as stated in Il Corriere della Sera by Alberto Melloni, director of the G. Dossetti Library of the John XXIII Foundation for Religious Sciences of Bologna, was "a disposition of the Holy Office," as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was formerly known. The document was said to be dated Oct. 20, 1946.

But after careful research, ZENIT discovered that the document, in fact, was not of the Holy Office and did not bear evidence of the reported date. Nor did it state what the article in Il Corriere said it did.

The document, whose original is in French, was written under the oversight of the then apostolic nuncio in Paris, Angelo Roncalli, the future Pope John XXIII.

It was meant to explain to the French clergy the instructions he had received from the Holy See, specifically, from the secretary of the Congregation for Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs, Monsignor Domenico Tardini.

In his newspaper article, Alberto Melloni did not quote the archive from which the document came.

In fact, the document, in full, was published last Tuesday after being tracked down by Italian journalist Andrea Tornielli of the Milan newspaper Il Giornale.

Tornielli revealed that the original is kept in the Centre National des Archives de l'Église de France, archive of the secretariat of the French episcopate, position "7 CE 131."

ZENIT obtained by fax a copy of the original and verified that the text has the seal of the apostolic nunciature of France -- as opposed to what Il Corriere della Sera published, which attributed it to the Holy Office.

ZENIT also verified that the document is dated Oct. 23, 1946, three days later than that mentioned by Il Corriere, and that the terms of the Vatican proposal are very different from what the Italian newspaper had reported.

The original document contradicts Melloni's version. It states, in fact, that the children should be returned to their original Jewish families.

Regarding "Jewish institutions," which during those months were working in Paris and throughout Europe to transfer children to Palestine, the document states that each case must be examined individually.

ZENIT learned that the history of the document began in March 1946, when Isaac Herzog, the chief rabbi of Jerusalem, addressed a letter to Pope Pius XII in which the former wrote: "The Jewish people very much remember with profound gratitude the help given by the Holy See to the people that suffered during the Nazi persecution."

Profound thanks are given for the "thousands of children who were hidden in Catholic institutions," and the rabbi requests that these children be returned to the Jewish people.

Herzog emphasized how Pius XII "has worked to banish anti-Semitism in many countries" and concluded with an invocation: "God willing, may history remember that when everything was dark for our people, His Holiness lit a light of hope for them."

Pius XII took to heart the fate of these Jewish children and, in that same month of March, asked the Holy Office to study the case.

The Holy Office, after hearing from several consultors, prepared a document in response to the Pope's request.

In August 1946, some French bishops and, specifically, Coadjutor Archbishop Emile Guerry of Cambrai and Cardinal Pierre Gerlier of Lyon, asked nuncio Roncalli for pointers as to how to resolve the situation of Jewish children saved from Nazi persecution.

Angelo Roncalli gathered all this material and, at the end of September, sent a letter to the Vatican Secretariat of State requesting instructions.

Roncalli was answered by Monsignor Tardini, secretary of the Congregation for Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs, not in the way quoted by the article in Il Corriere, but rather in the way mentioned above.

Journalist Andrea Tornielli told ZENIT that the Church in France resolved the problem in the vast majority of cases by returning the children, whose lives it saved, to their surviving families.

During the war, priests and religious received orders from the Holy See and bishops not to baptize these children. Baptism requires the consent of the person receiving the sacrament or of the parents, if the recipient does not have the use of reason. This is revealed in documents quoted by www.vaticanfiles.net.