Declaration by Pius XII Relator on Historians Panel

Author: Fr Peter Gumpel


Fr Peter Gumpel

A panel of Jewish and Catholic historians, studying the Vatican's actions during the Holocaust, halted its work earlier last week, saying it wasn't getting enough access to Vatican archives. Below is a translation of a declaration made by Jesuit Fr Peter Gumpel, an historian and relator of the cause of beatification of Pius XII, in the wake of those allegations. The Vatican authorized the declaration.

Fr Peter Gumpel, S.J., 76 yearsold, historian by formation and relator for the cause of Pius XII, refutes the main objection that would be at the origin of the resignation of the international committee, that the Holy See refuses to open the historical secret archives. Already, last October, Cardinal Jorge Mejía, Archivist and Librarian of the Roman Church, clearly explained the situation to the group. For the period in question the extremely vast quantity of material of the secret archives after 1923 has still not been catalogued and hence is not available for examination for technical reasons. The 12 volumes already published after a labour of 15 years by four world-famous Jesuit historians, respected for their integrity, contain 5,000 documents that bear scrutiny and examination. It is interesting to note that the relator for a cause of beatification and canonization of Pius XII is aware that his own work has to be worthy of supreme trust because it will be subject to further scrutiny by the Promoter of the Faith and the experts of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints, some of whom have lived through the Second World War and the experience of dictatorship. Here is a translation of Fr Gumpel's statement, which was made public on 26 July.

"Not Completed the Task Entrusted"

In recent days, a violent attack has been unleashed again against the Catholic Church. The occasion for this defamatory campaign follows the decision of the Jewish-Catholic study group to suspend its activity.

This mixed study group was established in 1999 with the specific task to examine the 12 volumes of the work "Actes et Documents du Saint Siège relatifs à la seconde guerre mondiale", which includes all the documents of the Vatican archives during the Second World War.

This initiative was praiseworthy in itself, leading to an in-depth study of the historical truth regarding the activity of the Supreme Pontiff, Pius XII, during the Second World War, with special reference to his work of assistance to the persecuted Jews.

Anyone who has read this work can see how the Supreme Pontiff made every possible effort to save as many lives as possible, without any distinctions whatsoever. Unfortunately, this aspect was not sufficiently examined and considered by the said group.

Instead, from the beginning of the work, some—not all—of the members of the Jewish component of the group publicly spread the suspicion that the Holy See was trying to conceal documents that, in its judgement, would have been compromising.

These persons then repeatedly leaked distorted and tendentious news, communicating it to the international press.

Although aware of this manifestly incorrect behaviour, the Holy See continued to encourage the discussion, despite the fact it had the possibility and right to withdraw from its participation in this group.

Indeed, in the course of an academic discussion, the least that can be expected from participants, is an attitude of mutual respect and reciprocal trust regarding the honesty of the participants.

Despite the Holy See's total willingness to continue the work of historical research, it was noted that not all the group's components, and perhaps not even one, had read the 12 volumes that were to be examined.

Each member of the group examined two volumes, and each one of them should have written a report. At the end of this preliminary work, the disparity in the judgements was such that Eugene Fisher, the group's coordinator, said: "They were so different in form and substance that a joint summary report would have been most difficult to write".

At this point, the group decided to formulate and transmit to the Holy See a list of 47 questions. Among other things, the group requested the possibility to examine all the documents kept in the Vatican archives and not published to date.

The study group came to Rome in October 2000 and met with Cardinal Edward I. Cassidy, Cardinal Pio Laghi, Mons. (now Cardinal) Jorge Maria Mejía, and the undersigned in the capacity of expert appointed by Cardinal Cassidy. The purpose of the meeting was to answer the questions posed and clarify the historical events.

I met with the said group on 24 October 2000, after preparing 47 dossiers to respond specifically and in detail to every single question sent to me 15 days before the meeting. With keen disappointment I observed that the reading of the volumes in question was done in a superficial manner, with interpretations of dates and facts that on some points were completely reversed. Given my explanations and the enclosed documentation, the members of the group could not object to anything.

At the end of the meeting, during which we were only able to address 12 of the 47 questions, I expressed my absolute willingness to continue the discussions. Unfortunately, this proposal was not accepted, also because following a new news leak, for which a Jewish member of the group was responsible, the time available was used to try to resolve issues of the internal crisis.

As a result of this situation, a consultation of two members of the group with the historian Fr Pierre Blet was cancelled.

It is disconcerting that in the subsequent months some Jewish members of the study group systematically spread the news that they had never received answers to their questions. Moreover, to date, the group has never presented a definitive Report on their work and, therefore, have not completed the task entrusted to them.

Instead, they have decided to suspend their work, alleging as the motive that they have not been allowed unlimited access to the Vatican archives. In this connection, it is known that the Vatican archivist, Cardinal Jorge Maria Mejía, explained in detail to this group the technical impossibility of viewing the post-1922 documents, given the quantity of the material (more than 3 million pages) which has not been catalogued.

Every scholar knows that no archive can be consulted if the documents are not catalogued and classified. In the recent odious attacks on the Holy See, it has been said that the Holy See has no intention to open the archives.

This news is resoundingly false because, as it was clearly stated to the members of the study group, all the material referring to the pontificate of Pius XII will be made available, as soon as possible, not only to them but to all scholars.

The Holy See is not imposing any kind of restrictions, as has been the case to date with other archives, such as the U.S., English and others.

In this connection, I can attest that some of my collaborators, famous historians, have consulted the above mentioned archives, and have said that the very documents they requested were removed or were under embargo.

This circumstance was categorically confirmed by a member of the study group during the meeting held in Rome. The scholar told everyone about his own personal experience in research work in the U.S. archives.

At this point it is evident that the tendentious news spread in recent days is groundless, the objective being publicity to the detriment of the Holy See. Therefore, the initiative, which was intended to improve relations between the Catholic Church and the Jewish community has failed, and this is the direct responsibility of those who, contravening the most elementary academic and human norms, have made themselves culpable of irresponsible behaviour.  

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
1 August 2001, page 3

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