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ADL: For the sake of Holocaust survivors, Vatican should meet to discuss opening WWII archives now

Report from the 21st International Liaison Committee Meeting in Paris (February 27 - March 2, 2011)

Posted: March 15, 2011

During an international conference of Vatican and Jewish interfaith leaders in Paris, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) called on the Vatican to convene a special meeting with Catholic and Jewish scholars and institutions to discuss opening relevant portions of its World War II Secret Archives for the sake of aging Holocaust survivors and their families, and out of respect for historical truth.


The request came during a three-day conference, known as the International Liaison Committee (ILC).  It marked the 21st meeting between the Holy See's Commission of Religious Relations with Jews and the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations (IJCIC), a coalition of Jewish organizations of which ADL is a charter member.


Representing ADL were Rabbi Eric J. Greenberg, ADL's Director of Interfaith Affairs, and Martin L. Budd, Chairman of ADL's Outreach and Interfaith Committee. Representing the Holy See Commission were its president, Cardinal Kurt Koch; vice president, Bishop Brian Farrell; and Secretary Father Norbert Hofmann, all based in Vatican City. 


The ILC conference was titled "Forty Years of Dialogue: Reflections and Future Perspectives" and was held in Paris to honor the first gathering in 1971. Some 70 delegates and observers reviewed the progress made in improving relations between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people and discussed successes and continuing issues of concern.


Rabbi Greenberg said there are rising concerns among Jewish and Catholic scholars and Holocaust institutions over the unclear status of the archives of Pope Pius XII. "As we come here to celebrate 40 years since the first joint meeting and all the progress made in Catholic-Jewish relations, as a sign of our deepening friendship we must also discuss the serious challenges we face in an open atmosphere.  We are now at a serious juncture regarding the secret archives and the debate over Pope Pius XII's actions regarding the Jewish people during the Holocaust. At stake are the rights of Holocaust survivors and their families to finally learn, before their deaths, the ultimate fate of their loved ones, who were lost during the Shoah. At stake is truth and historical accuracy."


ADL's call to open the archival documents from 1939-1946 to qualified independent scholars came as one Vatican official asserted there is nothing newsworthy in the documents, and another Vatican leader suggested that the Vatican should withhold archival materials if their release could harm Catholic-Jewish relations.


Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace told participants at the Paris conference that archival documents that could be harmful to Catholic-Jewish relations could in principle be withheld.


Cardinal Kurt Koch said he is certain there are no surprises or "novelties" in the Pius XII archives. He also said the archives are still closed because of "technical" reasons, but gave no indication when they would be opened.


ADL expressed concern over the Vatican's failure to date to provide a reliable timetable for access to scholars and Holocaust institutions, even as out-of-context Vatican documents are being used by Pius supporters for ideological purposes. The late New York Cardinal John O'Connor called for the archives to be opened 12 years ago, and Vatican archives officials told Jewish leaders four years ago that they could be opened in about five years.


But the Vatican seems no closer today to opening the archives, and concerned observers note there is no reliable projected date for access. Raising concerns are the Vatican moves to proceed with the beatification of Pius XII, whose candidacy, in part, is being driven by what supporters are claiming are his yet unsubstantiated actions to save Jews during World War II. 


While sainthood is generally an internal Catholic matter, invoking the Holocaust makes it an issue for the Jewish people and historical truth.  When Pius XII was declared "blessed" by Pope Benedict last year, the official Vatican announcement explained that he should be seen as "a model of eminent Christian life."


Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta, moderator of Catholic-Jewish relations for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Father James Massa, USCCB's executive director  for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, and Bishop William Murphy of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, Long Island, helped represent American Catholic leadership.


Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal from Jerusalem and Israel's Ambassador to the Vatican, Mordechay Lewy participated, as well as a representative from Israel's Foreign Ministry, Bahig Mansour and representative from Israel's Chief Rabbinate, Oded Wiener.   Besides ADL, the IJCIC coalition includes representatives from the Conservative, Orthodox and Reform rabbinical and synagogue bodies, B'nai B'rith International, American Jewish Committee, World Jewish Congress and the Israel Jewish Council on Interreligious Relations. 


Besides reviewing ILC's history, delegates discussed bio-medical issues, the need to educate both communities about the necessity of interfaith cooperation - particularly the next generation of Jewish and Catholic leaders, and rising violence by extremists being conducted in the name of religion. 


Archbishop Gregory and Rabbi Greenberg co-chaired a panel on the plight of religious minorities in the Middle East. Participants discussed the growing concern of Jews and Catholics over the rise in violence and terrorism in the name of God, particularly the killings of Christians in the Middle East region. The conference met as a Catholic government minister in Pakistan was assassinated, apparently by Islamic extremists, the latest in a series of killings of Christians including Iraq and Egypt.


ILC participants helped plant a tree in memory of Ilan Halimi, a French Jew killed by an anti-Semitic gang in 2006, and visited the Drancy internment camp, from which French Jews were transferred to death camps by the Nazis.


Rabbi Greenberg joined with Bishop Murphy, Bishop Farrell and Rabbi Leonard Gordon, representing United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, in drafting the ILC's Joint Communiqué, which denounced persecution and violence against religious minorities and expressed support for pro-democracy movements across North Africa and the Middle East.


The document stated: "In many parts of the world, minorities, especially religious minorities, are discriminated against, threatened by unjust restrictions of their religious liberty, and even subjected to persecution and murder," the document declared. "Speakers expressed a profound sadness at repeated instances of violence or terrorism "in the name of God", including the increased attacks against Christians, and calls for the destruction of the State of Israel. The conference deplores every act of violence perpetrated in the name of religion as a complete corruption of the very nature of a genuine relationship with God."


ILC delegates rejected attempts to expand the ILC conference into a tri-faith meeting that would include a world Muslim organization. A majority of delegates emphasized the importance of keeping the focus of the ILC on bilateral Catholic-Jewish relations, as the dialogue is still at the "beginning of the beginning" as Cardinal Walter Kasper, past President of the Vatican Commision, has stated.  In fact, the 1970 ILC Memorandum of Understanding, which governs the ILC meetings, does not mandate the inclusion of Muslims.


Interfaith experts noted that while Jews, Christians and Muslims all believe in the one God of Abraham, neither Jews nor Christians share sacred texts with Islam as Jews and Christians do, and Mohammed, while profoundly influenced by Judaism and Christianity, did not start out as a Jew or a Christian, while Jesus, Mary, Joseph and the Apostles were all Jews, thus creating a distinctive relationship between Judaism and Christianity.

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