An international commission of historians set up by the Vatican in an attempt to clear Pope Pius XII of charges of maintaining a silence during the Holocaust has instead published a report highly critical of papal policy.
The commission, composed of three Jewish and three Catholic historians, was asked by the Vatican to examine Holy See diplomatic documents from the second world war. It concluded that 47 questions remain to be answered.
These include: "Why did the pope give approval of Vichy’s anti-Jewish legislation on condition that it be ‘carried out with justice and charity’?"; "Why did the Holy See oppose the emigration of Jewish children to Palestine, well knowing that by remaining in Europe they would die in the gas chambers?"; and "How did Pius respond to reports from the Metropolitan of Lvov regarding the massacre of Jews?".
The commission, formed a year ago, examined 12 volumes of documents, covering the period 1939-45. The Vatican had some difficulty recruiting scholars because it insisted that the rest of the Holy See’s archives would remain secret and that the commission would examine only documents selected by Vatican researchers.
The Jewish historians who took part were Robert Wistrich of Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Michael Marrus of Toronto University and Bernard Suchecky of the Free University of Brussels. The Catholics were Gerald Fogarty of the University of Virginia, Eva Fleischner of Montclair University, New Jersey, and John Morley of Seaton Hall University, New Jersey.
"There was unanimous agreement on our final report," said Professor Wistrich.
Professor Fleischner said: "I was staggered when I read the documents. It is obvious that the Holy See was informed of the Holocaust very early."
The Vatican has not responded clearly to the commission’s request for access to its archives. It played down the report by not presenting it in the conference hall of its press office as expected, or even inside Vatican City, but in a room of the Russian Ecumenical Centre outside the Vatican.
Pope Pius XII’s potential beatification has been attacked by Jewish organisations and from within Catholicism itself. Criticisms were compounded by John Cornwell’s 1999 book, Hitler’s Pope.