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Saturday, November 14, 2009

Scholars discuss Catholic Church's role in Holocaust

By David A. Schwartz
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
November 4, 2009

Pope Pius XII has been called "Hitler's Pope" for his passivity and complicity in the Holocaust. Yet he was eulogized by Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir and praised by Nobel scientist Albert Einstein and U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower.

Pope John Paul II was lauded for his efforts in healing the rift between Jews and the Vatican. But scholars have questioned whether John Paul went far enough a decade ago in recognizing the roll of the Catholic Church when he published "We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah."

And Benedict XVI, the current Pope, has been criticized for returning a Holocaust-denying, excommunicated bishop to the papal fold and for being insensitive to the feelings of Jews.

Kevin Madigan, a history professor at the Harvard Divinity School, discussed the rolls the Popes and the Catholic Church played in the Holocaust in a lecture last Sunday on "The Vatican and the Final Solution." Madigan spoke to about 30 scholars at the Council of Centers on Jewish-Christian Relations conference at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton.

In a remarkably candid discussion after his lecture, Madigan and two other scholars criticized the three Popes and the Catholic Church.

Rabbi Alan Brill, a professor at Seton Hall University in South Orange, N.J., blasted the Vatican for not making a "full confession" and expressing regret directly to Jews.

"[Pope Benedict] understands the Holocaust even if he doesn't get the Jewish memory of the Holocaust," Brill said. If Benedict seeks reconciliation, he said, the painful history of the Holocaust needs to be addressed.

Kevin Spicer, a Catholic priest and associate professor at Stonehill College in Easton, Mass. said the Catholic Church doesn't understand the German effort to exterminate the Jews of Europe.

The Church must recognize its complicity in the propagation and dissemination of Christian anti-Semitism, Spicer said. Its century-old role in the Holocaust "damaged the cause of Jewish-Christian relations and dialogue."

Pope John Paul II understood through his Jewish friends what Jews went through in the Holocaust, Spicer said. And he was "moving toward recognizing the Covenant of Abraham."

Benedict, Spicer said, finds it impossible to use the words "Holocaust, Catholic Church, Jews and anti-Semitism in the same sentence."

Madigan said, "The Christian appropriation of the Holocaust is embarrassing to many of us." He said Auschwitz was "planted on the ground that was cultivated by Christians."

Hungary's Jews were the last in Europe to be sent to the gas chambers and Pope Pius XII knew in 1944 that Germany was going to lose the war, Madigan said. If Pius had protested, "more than 800,000 Hungarian Jews could have been saved."

As for Golda Meir praising Pope Pius XII, she was "historically naïve or politically motivated or both," Madigan said.

Holocaust survivor Ana Kan, 80, of Boynton Beach said the Catholic Church helped her family during World War II by hiding her and her parents and brother in the Vatican for 10 days before they were sent to Spain.

"Some of this I do not know," said Barbara Little, 58, of Boca Raton, who is Catholic. Pius "behaved reprehensively during the war," Little said.

Loretta Weinberger, who lives in Delray Beach and spends part of the year in Israel, said the Pope won't admit the role the Catholic Church played in the Holocaust. "I think the Jews should stop expecting an apology," Weinberger said. "They're not going to get one."

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