Signs of the Times

Scholars Say Vatican’s Published Material on Holocaust Inadequate

After a yearlong study, a commission of three Catholic and three Jewish scholars said that published Vatican material on World War II leaves unanswered many important questions about Pope Pius XII and the Holocaust. In a report made public on Oct. 25, the commission called on the Vatican to open its entire historical archives of the period. The report posed 47 specific questions - many asking how Pope Pius and his advisers reacted to detailed reports of Jewish sufferingand said the answers can come only through further documentation.

The Vatican and an umbrella Jewish organization established the commission in 1999 in response to an ongoing debate over the Vatican’s wartime policy. The commission studied the 11 volumes of Vatican archive material published by the Holy See between 1965 and 1981. The commission’s report, while praising the objectivity of the editors who worked on the 11 volumes, said that important pieces of the historical puzzle are missing from that collection. Missing in the volumes are the day-to-day records and internal communicationsdiaries, memoranda, briefing notes, appointment books and minutes of meetingsthat would shed light on how Pope Pius and the Vatican arrived at their policy decisions, it said.

There is evidence that the Holy See was well informed by mid-1942 of the accelerating mass murder of Jews, the report said. But the report asked for additional material to help historians determine how this information was received at the Vatican and what attention was given to it.

The commission found, for example, that in 1940 Bishop Mario Besson, a Swiss, wrote the pope about concentration camps in France and asked for a public appeal by the pontiff. But there was no documentation about the pope’s response. An eyewitness account of the atrocities and massacres committed against the Jews came from a Ukrainian bishop in 1942. The commission asked if there was additional evidence of follow-up at the Vatican. In a third example, the commission noted that Bishop Konrad von Preysing of Berlin wrote several times to the pope, urging an appeal for the Jews. The pope responded that local bishops had the discretion to determine when to be silent and when to speak out in the face of the danger of reprisal. The commission asked for further evidence of any discussions that led to the pope’s position.

The report said the published volumes include astonishingly detailed accounts of killings of Jews. It said, for example, that in 1942 the Vatican received an account from an Italian chaplain reporting that 2 million Jews had already been exterminated. It asked if the pope ever referred to those accounts. As an indication of how much more material the Vatican may hold, it noted that in Vol. 10 alone of the published volumes, editors refer to 700 documents that have not been published.

Peter Gumpel, S.J., the postulator for the cause of beatification of Pius XII, called the commission’s conduct disloyal to the Holy See, academically unacceptable and incorrect in an interview with ZENIT News Agency. He said he found errors in almost all the questions posed by the commission. He said the report should have been discussed with well-informed people in Rome before publication.

Sri Lankan Bishops Condemn Massacre of Young Former Rebels

Sri Lanka’s Catholic bishops condemned the massacre of 26 youths who once belonged to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The youths were undergoing rehabilitation at a camp in central Sri Lanka Oct. 25 when the massacre occurred. We condemn this crime unequivocally and offer our deepest sympathies to the bereaved families of the youths, the bishops said in a statement signed by Bishop Oswald Gomis of Anuradhapura, president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Sri Lanka. A village mob broke into the camp killing 26 Tamil youths and injuring 16 others. Police claim that attackers set the camp on fire and that the victims were burnt, bludgeoned and hacked to death.

New Rules Show Growing Control of Ideologies in China

New rules on the religious activities of foreigners in mainland China must be viewed as part of an attempt by the Chinese authorities to control religions and ideologies, say China church watchers. The State Administration of Religious Affairs issued Rules for Implementation of the Provisions on the Administration of Religious Activities of Aliens within the Territory of the People’s Republic of China on Sept. 26.

Anthony Lam Sui-ki, senior researcher at the Hong Kong Diocese’s Holy Spirit Study Center, said the new rules represent the government’s determination to control religions and the growing number of cults, including the outlawed Falun Gong. The rules include the 1996 provision forbidding foreigners to select, appoint and change religious personnel, which was directed at the Catholic Church.

The Rev. Chan Kim-kwong, executive secretary of the Hong Kong Christian Council, said China fears it may lose control of people’s ideology as the country opens up upon entering the World Trade Organization. Greater control of foreign influence in religion should be viewed as just one element designed to assure that all things are under control, he said. The new code says foreigners wishing to preach and expound Scripture must be invited by official Chinese religious bodies and have governmental approval. Exchanges with Chinese religious must be conducted through Chinese religious bodies.

Gallup Pollsters Report Bible Reading in Decline

According to a recent Gallup Poll, American readership of the Bible has declined since 1990, from 73 percent to 59 percent. About 6 in 10 Americans say they read the Bible at least on occasion, with the most likely readers being women, nonwhites, older people, Republicans and political conservatives, say the pollsters. Alec Gallup and Wendy W. Simmons, who were in charge of the Gallup Poll, said they also found that the percentage of frequent readersthose who read the Bible at least once a weekhas decreased slightly over the last decade, from 40 percent in 1990 to 37 percent today.

Congress Passes Debt Relief, Abortion Compromise

Congress passed and the president signed a $14.9 billion foreign aid bill that included the full U.S. share of $435 million for third world debt relief and left it up to the next president to decide on abortion-related family planning funding abroad. The agreement on full U.S. funding of debt relief for the world’s most heavily indebted poor countries marked a major victory for religious and humanitarian advocates of the poor. The Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, an interfaith citizens’ movement against hunger, said, Not since Dr. Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement has the grass-roots action of churches and people of good will so influenced our nation’s leaders.

Parishes Active in Helping Oregon Cities Help Homeless

A project based at a Catholic parish figures prominently in a new strategy for dealing with homelessness unveiled by the city of Portland, Ore. An organization at St. Francis of Assisi Parish called Join: A Center for Involvement sends more people into the streets and under bridges to reach out to homeless people and help them make the transition to permanent housing. We meet people where they are, said Rob Justus, director of Join, which wants to have homeless people be advocates on their own behalf. The city’s new plan, announced by Mayor Vera Katz and Commissioner Erik Sten, was in part prompted by a recent court ruling that invalidated the city’s ordinance against homeless campers.

Pope to Visit Ukraine

A papal visit to Ukraine is expected in June, according to Auxiliary Bishop Julian Gbur of Stryj, secretary-general of the Synod of Bishops of the Ukrainian Catholic Church. He said that the pope’s priority would be to address the conscience of post-Soviet nations and that Russian Orthodox approval was no longer seen as a condition for the visit.

The pope’s desire has always been to meet the Orthodox patriarch of Moscow [Alexei II] before visiting Ukraine. But since that meeting has been put off for so long, one can ask whether it is right to penalize a people who have wanted a papal visit for many years, said one church source. The Vatican sources said the visit was being studied at the diplomatic level, which means the pope and his aides could still decide against making the trip; but they said Ukrainian officials were pressing for the visit.

The Orthodox Church, nominally comprising three-fifths of Ukraine’s population of 50 million, has been divided since 1992 among three denominations: the Lviv-based Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which is in communion with the Moscow-based Russian Orthodox Church; the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church; and the Kiev-based Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Only the Moscow-linked church is recognized as canonical by Orthodox leaders abroad. The Lviv-based Ukrainian Orthodox Church, the largest of the three, refused to invite the pope, citing persecution of Orthodox Christians in the country, but would not be allowed to prevent the visit, said Bishop Gbur. He added that Ukraine’s smaller Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church and Kiev-based Ukrainian Orthodox Church had declared themselves in favor, believing a papal visit would help bring them closer canonical status.

The 5 million-strong Ukrainian Catholic Church, which was legally revived in 1990 after more than 40 years of Soviet prohibition, has six dioceses and 1,700 parishes, mostly in western Ukraine. Ecumenical ties have improved in Ukraine in the last four years, with attempts to settle outstanding property and jurisdictional disputes. In 1997 a Council of Churches and Religious Organizations was formed with state backing, while several interchurch associations are operating at the local level.

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