November 5, 1999

Vatican efforts to clear Pope Pius XII of charges of having kept silent during the Holocaust or even charges of virulent anti-Semitism have hit an academic stumbling block.

Early last month the Vatican announced that a special commission of six Jewish and Catholic scholars would be allowed to re-examine 11 volumes of second world war Vatican documents published between 1965 and 1981. Unfortunately it is proving hard to find Jewish scholars prepared to take part.

Robert Wistrich, professor of Jewish European history at Jerusalem's Hebrew University, has already turned down an invitation to be one of the three Jewish scholars, objecting to restrictions put on access to the archives.

The Vatican says the material was selected "objectively" and contains "all the relevant documents". But Professor Wistrich said: "If the purpose ... is to blunt opposition to Pius XII's beatification, I can think of nothing I would less like to be associated with. To re-examine documents selected by Vatican researchers and priests, which have been public for 20 years, would be a pointless exercise. There would, instead, be the risk of being used to provide a fig leaf so the Vatican can say: 'Look, three Jewish scholars have given their approval.' It would be worth doing only if it were the first step towards opening the archives."

Roberto Finzi of Trieste University, author of a book on the fate of Italian Jewish academics under fascism, said: "The Vatican claims the published documents were chosen objectively, but I like to think that my 'objectivity' might be different from the Vatican's. If I were invited on this panel I would accept only with total access.

"Pius XII never took a stand against the Holocaust.

His defenders in the

Vatican say this was to avoid something even worse!"

Father Remi Hoeckman, in the Vatican office of Cardinal Edward Cassidy, who is

responsible for Catholic relations with Judaism, said: "The mixed team has our mandate to examine the published

material. If, then, they have other questions, they are free to ask us."

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