Pius XII Postulator Assails "Distorted" News Leaks

Jesuit Cites "Irresponsible Behavior" by Some Historians

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VATICAN CITY, JULY 26, 2001 (Zenit.org).- Some Jewish members of a panel probing Pius XII´s wartime activities have "repeatedly leaked distorted and tendentious news" to the media and are guilty of "irresponsible behavior," a Jesuit historian charged today.



Jesuit Father Peter Gumpel, the postulator of the cause of beatification of Pius XII, made his statement in a declaration authorized by the Vatican.

"From the beginning of the work, some -- not all -- of the members of the Jewish component of the group publicly spread the suspicion that the Holy See was trying to conceal documents that, in its judgment, would have been compromising," Father Gumpel said.

"These persons then repeatedly leaked distorted and tendentious news, communicating it to the international press," the German historian lamented.

His comments came in the wake of a decision by the commission of Jewish and Catholic historians to halt its investigation into Pius XII´s conduct during the Holocaust.

The panel contended that the Vatican has not offered it access to the archives necessary for its research. But Father Gumpel noted that 3 million pages of documents have not yet been cataloged and thus not yet usable by scholars.

The commission communicated its decision in a letter addressed to Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Commission for Interreligious Relations with Judaism, who is directing the initiative. Elan Steinberg, director of the Jewish World Congress, reported the decision to the New York media.

The commission was established in 1999 to probe accusations that Pius XII avoided public condemnation of Nazi atrocities. The group comprised three Jewish historians and three Catholics, who were reduced to two, after Eva Flieschner resigned.

On June 21, Cardinal Kasper requested the preparation of a final report by the historians. The request, made in a letter, acknowledged that the Vatican archives, from 1923 onward, are not accessible to researchers for technical reasons.

On July 20, the five historians responded with a letter addressed to the cardinal, in which they said that "without a positive response to our respectful request" to study these archives, the commission´s conclusions are not credible. Therefore, they suspended their work.

Professor Michael Marrus of the University of Toronto, one of the three Jews on the commission, said that this "does not necessarily mean the end of our work. I believe we must continue at a certain level, although the Vatican´s support in this topic would have been very useful."

Eugene Fisher, Catholic coordinator of the commission and adviser of the U.S. bishops´ conference, said that two archivists are working as fast as possible to catalogue the post-1922 documents. He added: "The question is not if the documents are published, but when. It is only a question of time."

Father Gerald Fogarty, the other Catholic expert on the commission, said that he does not think the Vatican is concealing evidence that would implicate Pius XII. "I doubt that there is a smoking pistol in those documents," he said.

Seymour Reich, the Jewish coordinator of the group, said he feels "very disappointed with the Vatican´s lack of response."

For his part, at the request of the Vatican State Secretariat, Father Gumpel published a note today [see Documents] in which he accuses some commission members of betraying the trust placed in them, including inaccurate news leaks.

The Jesuit also cited another problem, regarding 12 volumes of documents published by the Vatican relating to World War II.

"Each member of the group examined two volumes," Father Gumpel wrote, "and each one of them should have written a report. At the end of this preliminary work, the disparity in the judgments was such that Eugene Fisher, the group´s coordinator, said: ´They were so different in form and substance that a joint summary report would have been most difficult to write.´"

Father Gumpel also complained about the historians´ lack of interest in the 47 reports he wrote last October in response to their questions.

Likewise, the German Jesuit pointed out that the cataloging of the archives, being carried out by the Vatican, will make possible a full consultation of its documents, unlike the situation in the United States and England, where many documents remain reserved.

"It is evident that the tendentious news spread in recent days is groundless, the objective being clearly one of publicity to the detriment of the Holy See," Father Gumpel wrote.

"Thus," he added, "this initiative, which was intended to improve relations between the Catholic Church and the Jewish community, has failed, and this is the direct responsibility of those who, contravening the most elementary academic and human norms, have made themselves culpable of irresponsible behavior."