Saturday, May 14, 2005

The Vatican and the Holocaust

Professor Arthur Hertzberg has this piece in the NYTimes today about how the overtures Pope John Paul II and now Pope Benedict XVI are making to Jews cannot make up for the Vatican's silence during the Holocaust, which Hertzberg blames on the doctrine of infallibility.

First, I don't think Hertzberg understands infallibality completely. While he points out that it applies only to matters of faith or morals, he doesn't understand that those infallible pronouncements must come ex cathedra - from the chair of St. Peter - and not from the pope's individual response or the individual responses of local bishops.

Second, I did take a Holocaust history class this semester and we were supposed to talk about the Vatican's response (as well as the response of other nations), but we didn't get to it because we fell 3 or 4 lectures behind. I don't know enough about the Vatican's response to say Pope Pius XII should have done more. But my history professor pointed out that the Vatican was simply trying to protect the Church, that statements from the top denouncing the Holocaust were putting thousands of Catholics in harm's way. She added that the Vatican hid many Jews in Vatican City and around Rome during the Holocaust and that then Cardinal Roncalli, the future Pope John XXIII, while the Vatican's ambassador to Turkey and Greece, personally helped saved tens of thousands of Jews and called him "one of the great heroes of the Holocaust."

Finally, should the Vatican have done more? Probably. Would that have helped? Not at all. With what army, exactly, was the Vatican supposed to defend itself and local churches against the well-trained, well-equipped and bloodthirsty Nazis? Would Hitler, Himmler, Eichmann, etc. seriously have decided that a major stand by the Vatican was enough for them to drop their plans to slaughter all of Europe's Jews? Hardly.