Statement on Catholic-Jewish Holocaust Scholars Group
Sept 16, 2004
Here is the text of a recent statement by American Cardinal William Keeler in the wake of controversy regarding the historians investigating the wartime record of the Vatican. The cardinal is the episcopal moderator for Catholic-Jews relations of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
(Zenit.org, 2 August 2001) Earlier this week the public learned that the team of Catholic and Jewish historians working together on the 12 volumes of published materials from the Vatican Archives of the World War II period has suspended its work for the present period. These carefully chosen words are from their joint letter to Cardinal Walter Kasper, President of the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews.
Many questions still remain, as the scholars´ own Preliminary Report and letter to Cardinal Kasper acknowledge. First, much work remains to be done on the 12 volumes themselves, as the scholars point out. Admittedly they could not achieve a full consensus on how to proceed at this state of their work. They do offer the hope that in dialogue with Cardinal Kasper they may yet discern a way forward.
Now the situation has become more problematic. At an early stage a European member of the group, Dr. Bernard Suchecky, caused serious damage to the group´s credibility by leaking its Preliminary Report during their meeting in Rome last October. This event seriously impeded the work in progress, making it impossible for them to complete a critical phase of their research in timely fashion and diminishing the level of trust of the other members toward one of their number. Earlier this year, another member, Professor Robert Wistrish, troubled the trust level further when, in an interview with the Jerusalem Report, he imputed bad faith to the Holy See.
With sadness I note that the Coordinator of the Jewish side, Mr. Seymour Reich, Chair of the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultation, has released to the press the Group´s joint letter to Cardinal Kasper and used the occasion to misrepresent its content in his press release. Neither Dr. Eugene Fisher, Catholic Coordinator for the group, nor the Catholic members of the team were consulted in this by Mr. Reich, and all three Catholics have firmly rejected it. It now seems more difficult than ever to see a way forward.
It is important to stress that some genuine progress was made by the team of scholars and helpful to recall its origin. Cardinal Edward Idris Cassidy, Cardinal Kasper´s predecessor, suggested that such a group be established during the meeting of the International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee in Rome in March, 1998. It became clear that, although a significant number of documents from the Holocaust years have been published by the Holy See at the direction of Pope Paul VI, scholars had not seriously studied them. I was pleased to be present then and again, a year later, in Baltimore, when Cardinal Cassidy had read publicly a prepared address in which he expressed deeply felt disappointment that his offer to facilitate such a study had not been taken up by the IJCIC. The spirit of Cardinal Cassidy´s suggestion and, I would like to believe, the spirit with which the group itself undertook their work was one of dialogue. They were asked to see whether our two faith communities, by bringing together appropriate historical scholarship, could work toward that reconciliation of memory called for in the Holy See´s We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah, a document issued only a week earlier.
The publication of We Remember coincided with the actual arrival in Rome from Jerusalem of a joint pilgrimage group comprising of six American bishops, seven rabbis, two priests and two laymen, one Catholic and one Jewish. Next day, we listened as the rabbis in the group clearly and constructively raised in direct conversation with Cardinal Cassidy virtually all of the Jewish concerns with the document--along with significant positive reactions as well--that were to come out in the public forum in ensuing weeks and months. At the ILC meeting the following week the Jewish representatives presented the identical issues.
In view of the general lack of knowledge of the documents of the Holy See, I supported Cardinal Cassidy´s move to put the 12 volumes of Vatican documentation on the table for mature scholarly dialogue. He wisely decided not to involve someone from the Pontifical Commission itself directly with the group, lest there be the slightest appearance of an attempt by the Holy See to influence the work of the scholars. I was delighted with his selection as Catholic Coordinator for the scholars´ group of our own staff person at the Bishops´ Conference, Dr. Eugene Fisher, identified to me years earlier by Cardinal Johannes Willebrands as most qualified for the consideration of any Catholic-Jewish issue.
Dr. Fisher has served well and ably in the estimation of those involved in the process. So too, I believe, have all three of the Catholic scholars, Fathers Gerald Fogarty, SJ, and John Morley, and Dr. Eva Fleischner, who later resigned from the team. All three are Americans, and we in the United States can be proud of and grateful for their generous response to the request made of them by Cardinal Cassidy on behalf of the Holy See. One question to ask of any dialogue group is whether the members have been able to work through the differing personal and professional experiences they bring with them to the table toward some measure of consensus. The Preliminary Report of this group indicates that they were able to do so on significant matters if by no means on everything.
It is seen more clearly than ever that the work of reconciliation will be long and immensely challenging. Of crucial importance for the future must be the separation from scholarly research of elements of a politically driven agenda that poisons the atmosphere and makes true progress unattainable. As Rabbi Bemporad, Director of the Center for Interreligious Understanding, counseled in an address last year at the Centro pro Unione in Rome, the establishment of a proper atmosphere is crucial to the success of any interreligious dialogue. If there is a lack of trust, mutuality, or respect, then genuine dialogue cannot take place, said Rabbi Bemporad.
Joint efforts by Catholic and Jewish scholars working together can bear fruit in the long run, provided the dialogue is conducted in a spirit of mutual respect and trust. I believe we must continue to look for a way to bring Catholic and Jewish memories of the period of the Shoah together for a reconciling dialogue. Those who might wish to politicize this moment of pain should reflect on what is at stake in our effort to grapple together with our history for the sake of both Jews and Catholics. In the end, under God, our common message should be one of renewed hope for all humanity.