Rabbi, cardinal focus on Holocaust history

Chancellor says Jews overemphasize Pius' silence on genocide

April 28, 1999|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

Jews have been too focused on the silence of Pope Pius XII during the Holocaust, to the point that it is hindering the advance of Jewish-Catholic relations, a leader of the Conservative Jewish movement told a gathering of rabbis meeting in Baltimore yesterday.

"The relationship between the Catholic and Jewish communities must not be allowed to come down to the sole question of the silence of Pope Pius XII to the Holocaust," said Rabbi Ismar Schorsch, chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America and a spokesman for the Conservative movement. "It is a disservice to the church. It is a disservice to the Jewish people."

Schorsch appeared alongside Cardinal William H. Keeler yesterday during a session billed as "The Chancellor and the Cardinal" at the 99th annual convention of the Rabbinical Assembly, the worldwide association of Conservative rabbis that is meeting this week at the Sheraton Inner Harbor Hotel downtown.

FOR THE RECORD - An article that appeared on the front page of the Maryland section in yesterday's editions of The Sun gave an incorrect date for the birthday of Pope John Paul II. His birthday is May 18. The Sun regrets the errors.

Keeler, who is known for his interfaith work, particularly with Jews, was warmly greeted by the rabbis. As he rose to speak before the room of yarmulke-clad rabbis, Keeler pulled out his red skullcap, part of his cardinal's regalia.

"I got this one from the pope," he said as he put the skullcap on his head.

Jewish leaders have long been critical of Pope Pius XII for his perceived failure to definitively denounce the Nazis and defend the Jewish people from the Holocaust during World War II. That criticism escalated last year when the Vatican released "We Remember, a Reflection on the Shoah," in which it acknowledged Catholic culpability and even complicity in the Holocaust, but also defended the role of Pius XII.

Yesterday, Keeler underscored that culpability.

"Pope John Paul has said the Jubilee [celebration of the millennium] should be for our church the occasion of a great examination of conscience. And you may know already in Rome there have been programs and discussions on the Inquisition and on anti-Judaism," Keeler said. "The statements that Pope John Paul has made in connection with both of these have helped [with the process] of examining our conscience. We are trying to say we made mistakes and as a church we ought to cast our direction in a way that will avoid repeating that kind of mistake."

However, Keeler also said it is not historically accurate to say that Pius XII was silent during the Holocaust.

"There's a lot of homework that's already been done, that apparently some of the Jewish critics are not aware of, about what Pope Pius XII did do," he said. "Anecdotally, Rome is full of accounts of how so many Jewish people there were able to find shelter, and the expense that the Vatican undertook at the pope's personal direction to help them be fed and sheltered."

In addition, Keeler noted New York Times editorials from that period that show Pope Pius XII spoke out against racial injustice and anti-Semitism in his Christmas messages.

Schorsch said that the role of Pius XII "remains a serious bone of contention between Jews and Catholics."

But those failings by the Vatican must be put in perspective, Schorsch said. Since then, Catholic-Jewish relations have been transformed, by the document Nostra Aetate issued in 1965 during the Second Vatican Council that condemned anti-Semitism and ended blaming Jews for the crucifixion of Jesus, and even more by the actions of Pope John Paul II, who has broken new ground in relations with Jews.

Among other actions, he visited the Great Synagogue in Rome in 1986 for an unprecedented prayer service and restored diplomatic relations with the state of Israel in 1993.

"This pope has done more for the Jewish community than many of his [predecessors] collectively," Schorsch said.

Keeler told the gathering that John Paul has scheduled several events during the church's millennium celebration to further Catholic-Jewish relations, including a possible trip to Jerusalem and the surrounding region, and a concert on the model of the 1994 Holocaust concert in Rome that will be performed at the pope's residence on his birthday, Oct. 20.

Pub Date: 4/28/99

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