How to proceed? To better understand the attitude of the Roman Catholic Church towards the holocaust, I will work in two directions. First, I will explore source material, and present useful, sometimes controversial books and articles. Here it is important not to go into too great detail, but to see what the discussion is about. Second, I will examine one or two historical episodes in depth. The readers of this blog can then see how sometimes well established scholars come to rather shallow conclusions, get carried away by the desire to point a finger at the Church, or, on the contrary, how overzealous defenders of the Church stretch the truth. I will start with the events surrounding the deportation of the Jews from Slovakia in March 1942. By the way, at a later stage, the focus will switch to the Church during the years of communist dictatorship as well.
In my previous post I mentioned the Actes et documents du Saint Siège relatifs à la seconde guerre mondiale (see the Vatican website). Just the title will give many potential readers a real fright. Fortunately, for those who have no time to learn a couple of new languages, there is the study by John Morley, Vatican diplomacy and the Jews during the Holocaust, 1939-1943, New York, Ktav, 1980. Table of contents. Morley, a Roman Catholic priest, accurately summarises the content of the ADSS that deal with the Roman Catholic Church and the Jews before and during the holocaust.
Morley’s conclusion is a harsh one. “This study of the Vatican and Jewish sources has revealed little evidence that the nuncios manifested any consistent humanitarian concern about the sufferings of the Jews during the years 1939 to 1943.” (p. 196) While the nuncios were “highly active in defense of Church rights”, i.e. baptised Jews, “their involvement in the Jewish problem was tangential at best, and minimal at worst. By a lack of total response to the Jews in their hour of greatest need, the nuncios failed to live up to the high calling that they proclaimed for themselves.” (p. 200) Morley then applies his conclusions to the Vatican’s second-in-command Secretary of State Cardinal Luigi Maglione and to Pope Pius XII himself, however: “This approach does not seem to have been motivated by malevolence or anti-Semitism, but was caused by an inability to depart from cherished ecclesiastical or personal concepts to confront the evils besetting Europe and the Jewish people.” (p. 209)
Critics have attacked Morley’s conclusion, that if the Church stood up, it was mainly on behalf of baptised, Roman Catholic Jews. Interestingly enough, they are calling the ADSS to the witness box too. Regardless of whether these critics are right, or wrong, the great achievement of Morley’s study is to make the ADSS accessible to a broader circle of interested readers as well as scholars.