Government sources have called statements made by a senior Vatican official condemning the silence of the Holy See during the Holocaust “unprecedented.” Sources in Jerusalem said it is still too early to tell whether the statements made Tuesday by Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Custos of the Holy Land, reflect a change in Vatican policy about the silence of Pope Pius XII during the Holocaust.
Speaking in Hebrew at a conference at Tel Aviv University on the actions of the Church during the Holocaust, Pizzaballa criticized “church leaders, including those of the highest level, who did not adopt a courageous stand in the evangelical spirit in the face of the Nazi regime.”
Pizzaballa said that after the Holocaust, the Church struggled with “the question of how it failed at the task of molding the conscience of the faithful so they would refuse to cooperate with the Nazi machine of destruction. How so many of the faithful cooperated and even more stood and did nothing.” Pizzaballa added that the 1965 Vatican declaration absolving the Jews from killing Jesus was a “response to the deep crisis created after World War II.”
He said the Church subsequently had made a number of far-reaching changes, among them emphasizing the Jewish identity of Jesus and recognition of the Hebrew Scriptures as an inseparable part of Christian tradition, and that “preachers and the greatest of teachers” had presented Jews in a distorted way, which laid the groundwork for modern anti-Semitism.
“I cannot avoid the horrific thought that if Jesus were alive in the Holocaust, he would have been condemned to the same fate as the Jewish people, as would his mother, his family and his disciples.” Pizzaballa said.
Rabbi David Rosen, a member of the Permanent Bilateral Commission of the State of Israel and the Holy See and brother of Rabbi Jeremy Rosen, does not believe this indicates a change in Vatican policy. Rabbi Rosen argues that Father Pizzaballa is simply more attuned to Jews because of living in Israel and his familiarity with Jewish and Israeli culture. That accounts for what appears to be a more wide-reaching statement.
Will Pious XII be beatified? Should we as Jews care? And does it matter that 85% of Italy’s Jews survived the Holocaust, many of them under the protection of the Church?