Center for Catholic-Jewish Studies Participates in Historic Conference, Examining Archives of Pope Pius XII
Discussion of difficult topics such as the pontiff’s and Vatican’s actions during the Holocaust will help ensure ‘never again’
Saint Leo University’s Center for Catholic-Jewish Studies was one of the organizers of a historic international conference in Rome, which looked at new research based on the recently opened Vatican archives of Pope Pius XII’s pontificate.
“New Documents from the Pontificate of Pope Pius XII and their Meaning for Jewish-Christian Relations: A Dialogue between Historians and Theologians,” took place October 9-11 at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.
In March 2020, Pope Francis opened millions of documents pertaining to the pontificate of Pope Pius XII (1939-1958), before, during, and after World War II and the Holocaust. While it will take decades to analyze and ascertain the full significance of these archives estimated to be at least 16 million pages, some important discoveries were made and discussed during the conference.
Notably, the opening of the conference came following the terrorist attacks by Hamas in Israel. The conference observed a minute of silence to honor the victims of the attacks.
"We have come to study these documents and to think about their meaning for our lives,” said Suzanne Brown-Fleming, director of international academic programs at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, opening the conference October 9. “Not to blame, not to shame, but to study.”
Along with Saint Leo University, the museum’s Programs on Ethics, Religion, and the Holocaust at the Jack, Joseph, and Morton Mandel Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies was one of the organizers of the conference. Other organizers included the Contemporary Jewish Documentation Center Foundation (Milan, Italy), the Cardinal Bea Centre for Judaic Studies and faculty of History and Cultural Heritage of the Church, Pontifical Gregorian University (Rome), and the Institute for International Research, Yad Vashem, World Holocaust Remembrance Center (Jerusalem).
Brown-Fleming said that as a practicing Catholic, "it's been a dream to study these documents together with my Jewish friends and colleagues in a transparent, open way, as the Holy Father asked of us in 2019 when he announced the opening of the documents.” She said this reminded people that “the Church is not afraid of history.”
“The New Documents from the Pontificate of Pope Pius XII and Their Meaning for Jewish-Christian Relations: A Dialogue Between Historians and Theologians, was truly a historic meeting,” said Dr. Matthew Tapie, director of Saint Leo’s Center for Catholic-Jewish Studies (CCJS) and Rabbi David Maayan, assistant director. “The Rome conference, co-organized by the CCJS and others, represented the first time that the Vatican’s Apostolic Archive organized and participated in a conference on this important and often polarizing topic.
“Cutting-edge research on the new documents was presented for analysis by high-level scholars in a way that broadened the discussion beyond Pius XII to the question of the Vatican’s reaction to the Holocaust,” the two CCJS leaders said. “And these difficult topics were also discussed in the context of Jewish-Christian dialogue. The conference was a real achievement, made possible by Pope Francis implementing the principle of St. Pope John Paul II that the Church is not afraid of history, and that Christians have a duty to study the causes of the Holocaust to ensure that something like it never happens again.”
Saint Leo’s Tapie was one of the participants on Tuesday, October 10, for Part 2 of The Rescue of the Jews session. His topic was “Baptism as Rescue?: Parental Rights and the Question of Baptism Invitis Parentibus.” This was part of the discussion examining whether Jews were rescued and why. It also was the 80th anniversary of the October 1943 round-up in Rome, which was an important moment of opportunity for the Vatican.
CCJS’s Maayan presented at the conference on Wednesday, October 11, as part of The Uncertain Road to Nostra Aetate, when the Second Vatican Council rejected antisemitism and underlined the bond between Christianity and Judaism. His topic was “Self-Understanding and Understanding the Other: Nostra Aetate and a Theology of Dialogue.”
“This conference was very meaningful to me to be able to bring together historians and theologians to discuss these issues, since many do not think of the two disciplines as complementary,” Tapie said. “But history and theology are both crucial for seeking to understand the past and interpret its meaning for the future so things like the Holocaust never happen again.”
Conference In The News
The historic international conference garnered news coverage from across the world. View a few of the news stories:
National Catholic Reporter: https://www.ncronline.org/vatican/vatican-news/archives-show-mixed-vatican-response-holocaust-scholars-say
Photos by Romano Siciliani