Pope skips remarks on opposition to Nazis 70,000 Germans attend John Paul's outdoor Mass

June 23, 1996|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

PADERBORN, Germany -- Pope John Paul II yesterday lauded German Catholics who resisted Nazism but, in a departure from his text, omitted remarks laying claim to a broad Roman Catholic stand against the Holocaust.

Before 70,000 people at an open-air Mass, the pope spoke of four Catholics who died resisting Nazism, two of whom he has already beatified and two others whom he planned to beatify today in Berlin.

In Catholic practice, beatification is the penultimate step before sainthood.

"Their martyrdom was a witness to Christ and a sign of resistance against the demonic forces of a godless world," he declared.

But he then skipped over a passage saying: "These four blessed represent the many Catholic men and women who, at the cost of many and diverse sacrifices, rejected National Socialist tyranny and resisted the brown ideology.

"They are thus part of the resistance offered by the whole church to a system contemptuous of God and human beings."

For the Vatican, the prepared text of the pope's speeches is the official record of what he said, whether or not he utters the whole speech.

The Vatican spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, said he did not know why the pope had omitted the section. He told reporters the written text of the speech stood as the official record of the pope's views on the relationship between the Catholic Church and the Hitler regime.

Thus, the pope will be on record as claiming a far more assertive church role against the Nazis than historians do. But he avoided openly saying so in front of a German audience that has been taught differently.

Many historians have concluded that both the Catholic and Protestant churches in Germany were docile during the Nazi era, although some Catholic scholars maintain that Pope Pius XII, who led the Catholic Church from 1939 to 1958, sought quietly to protect many Jews.

German historians have said German clergymen supported what they saw as the Nazi onslaught on atheistic Bolshevism, and only a handful used their pulpits to condemn the persecution of Jews. Since last year, German bishops have routinely acknowledged that as Bishop Karl Lehmann of Mainz put it recently, the Catholic Church "failed in many ways regarding the protection of the Jews."

Previously, Pope John Paul has called the Holocaust a "monstrous abyss" but has not produced a promised definitive text on the church's relationship toward it.

The visit to Germany is the pope's first since reunification in 1990. This city is where the Holy Roman Empire was born almost 1,200 years ago.

His journey to the land of the Protestant Reformation had led some German Protestants to hope he would offer a symbolic gesture toward Martin Luther, the founder of the Reformation, who was excommunicated in 1521.

But in a series of speeches the pope limited himself to saying that "we all brought guilt upon ourselves," highlighting a Catholic "failure" to respond to Luther's revolt and Luther's "passion."

Pub Date: 6/23/96

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