The Holocaust and the Catholic Church’s Search for Forgiveness

James Bernauer, S.J.

Professor of Philosophy

Boston College


A Presentation at the Boisi Center For Religion and American Public Life, Boston College, October 30, 2002

The purpose of my paper is to pay attention to an unprecedented event in the long life of Catholicism, the Church’s recent confession of fault regarding Christian conduct during the period of the Shoah and its search for forgiveness. Man of theatre and seismographer of symbols that he is, John Paul II has created a religious drama in which Catholics are performing against a backdrop of overwhelming evil, a stage we would gladly exit. But the Pope’s pleas for forgiveness have scripted us who are Catholics into his liturgical play before we are very clear about what it is exactly for which we should feel collective responsibility. Still very early into the performance, we may be already aching for catharsis. But why has it taken so long to seek forgiveness? The Catholic Church did not sleep walk through the last century. It knew a great deal about what was happening to the Jews of Europe during the actual genocide and, in the decades since, the historical record has cast light into many of the darkest recesses. With Hannah Arendt,1 I believe forgiveness is intimately connected to the need for a new beginning. But it was precisely that need which was absent in Catholicism for so long, the desire to begin a new relationship with the Jewish people after the Holocaust.

Without such a desire, why plead for forgiveness? The relationship between Christians and Jews seemed theologically frozen, out of time, stranger to those domains where tragedy and sorrow could transform hearts and minds. There were a few who did prepare for the charismatic role seized by John Paul II: the elderly Jewish scholar Jules Isaac, who pressed to meet with Pope John XXIII to talk about the Church’s historical contempt for the Jews; John’s determination to end that disdain; the bishops 1965 adoption of the "Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions" at the Second Vatican Council.2 Still it is John Paul II who has effected a new relationship with the Jewish people. How it will develop is for the future to disclose but, if we have an appreciation for how the earlier relationship shaped and malformed Christianity, we can sense the radical reinvention that a loving relationship might entail. I would claim, however, that Catholicism’s desire for a new beginning with Judaism is also the desire for a new relationship with itself, the desire to get beyond Christendom. What I mean by Christendom is not an historical epoch but rather a set of attitudes which generated a fortress Christianity. I shall mention but two of them. The first is that Christianity best interpreted itself through a particular form of European culture that asserted its spiritual surpassing of Judaism. The second maintains that the modern world is a definitive repudiation of Christianity and that the Church is responsible for neither its achievements nor its crimes. These distinctions stand behind the continual argument of Church authorities that there is an absolute border between medieval anti-Judaism and modern anti-Semitism.

Taking a cue from the philosopher Charles Taylor, I wish to claim that modernity is frequently an embrace rather than an abandonment of Christianity. Taylor gives the example of modern liberal political culture’s proclamation of universal human rights as a "great advance in the practical penetration of the gospel in human life."3 It was a progress that rested upon exit from an earlier version of Christian practice. While Taylor has stressed the positive side of Christianity’s survival in modern culture, the murder of European Jews forces us to regard the sometimes toxic effects of that endurance. Although I am not able to justify the argument here, I would claim that anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism interpenetrate in ways that, to my knowledge, have not yet been adequately mapped. Christendom’s contempt of the Jews is not a place from which some mere new set of ideas allows us egress. Like the Holy Roman Empire, Christendom formed an intoxicating, imaginative piece of theatre. Only another drama of more than equal appeal will displace it. We are currently experiencing the opening scenes of that new play.

On Pope John Paul II’s Passion. On the first Sunday of the Church’s Lenten Season in the new millennium, the Pope presided at an extraordinary service to confess sin and to request forgiveness. At the heart of the service was the seeking of pardon for sins against the Jewish people. Cardinal Edward Cassidy, president of the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with Jews, opened the prayer: "Let us pray that, in recalling the sufferings endured by the people of Israel throughout history, Christians will acknowledge the sins committed by not a few of their number against the people of the covenant and the blessings, and in this way purify their hearts." The Pope continued: "God of our fathers, you chose Abraham and his descendants to bring your name to the nations: We are deeply saddened by the behavior of those who in the course of history have caused these children of yours to suffer, and asking your forgiveness, we wish to commit ourselves to genuine brotherhood with the people of the covenant."4 This confession and plea for forgiveness emerged from the Pope’s own journey into ever deeper desire for a totally new relationship between Christians and Jews.

There were four major moments in that journey. First was his visit to Auschwitz in June of 1979, less than one year after his election to the Papacy. He described the camp as the "Golgatha of the modern world" and, while acknowledging the deaths suffered by other national groups, he paused and spoke before the Hebrew inscription which commemorated the Jewish victims. He said: "the very people who received from God the Commandment, ‘thou shalt not kill,’ itself experienced in a special measure what is meant by killing. It is not permissible for anyone to pass by this inscription with indifference."5 The second major moment came with his historic entrance into and address at the Synagogue of Rome on April 13, 1986. It was an event that announced, as no other could have, how unprecedented was his ambitious vision of the new relationship with Judaism. The third moment came two years later with his lamentation at Austria’s Mauthausen Concentration Camp. While he spoke of Nazism’s program of extermination as an "insane plan" which aimed to turn "Europe back from the path it had followed for thousands of years," his dramatic plea to the dead looked to a future that would learn from their suffering. He pleaded: "Tell us, what direction should Europe and humanity follow ‘after Auschwitz’ . . . and ‘after Mauthausen’? Is the direction we are following away from those past dreadful experiences the right one? Tell us, how should today’s person be and how should this generation of humanity live in the wake of the great defeat of the human being? How must that person be? How much should be required of himself? Tell us, how must nations and societies be? How must Europe go on living? Speak, you have the right to do so—you who have suffered and lost your lives. We have the duty to listen to your testimony."6

Finally, there was the Pope’s pilgrimage to Jerusalem in the year 2000 and especially his speech at Yad Vashem, Israel’s memorial to the victims of the Holocaust. He attributed Nazi crimes to a "godless ideology," but then expressed the sorrow that he hoped would be the foundation for a new relationship between Christians and Jews. The Pope declared: "As bishop of Rome and successor of the apostle Peter, I assure the Jewish people that the Catholic Church, motivated by the Gospel law of truth and love and by no political considerations, is deeply saddened by the hatred, acts of persecution and displays of anti-Semitism directed against the Jews by Christians at any time and in any place."7 Israeli Prime Minister Barak’s reply captured the historical significance of the Pope’s admission. "You have done more than anyone else to bring about the historic change in the attitude of the Church toward the Jewish people initiated by the good Pope John XXIII and to dress the gaping wounds that festered over many bitter centuries. And I think I can say, Your Holiness, that your coming here today to the Tent of Remembrance at Yad Vashem is a climax of this historic journey of healing. Here, right now, time itself has come to a standstill. This very moment holds within it 2,000 years of history. And their weight is almost too much to bear."8

Postwar Discussion. If there was more time I would like to give as much attention to Pius XII’s responsibility for delaying the Catholic Church’s confrontation with the Holocaust as I have to the current Pope’s outreach to the Jews. Pius XII’s address to the College of Cardinals at the end of the war set the tone for the Vatican’s approach to Catholic conduct during the Holocaust for the following thirteen years. There was a strong defense of the Concordat that he had negotiated with the Nazi government in 1933. He presents the Church as a victim, as a survivor of the "sorrowful passion" which Nazi enmity forced upon it. The Church is portrayed as a unified force of resistance to Nazi attacks: "To resist such attacks millions of courageous Catholics, men and women, closed their ranks around their Bishops, whose valiant and severe pronouncements never failed to resound even in these last years of war."9 The only comment that suggested something less than heroic performance came when the Pope spoke of the incompatibility of pagan Nazism and Catholicism and admitted that not all Catholics had seen that at the time: "Some even among the faithful themselves were too blinded by their prejudices or allured by political advantage."10 This did not lead to any conviction about a new relationship with the Jews as is shown in the fact that the one Catholic group working in Germany for improved Catholic-Jewish relations received a warning from the Vatican in 1950 that dialogue between the two faiths risked the danger of making it appear as if the two religions were equal.11 An examination of the reasons for Pacelli’s general attitude at this time is beyond the scope of this paper but the effect of Pacelli’s strategy was to encourage German Church leaders to stress their own sufferings under the Nazis rather than to examine their failures during that period, even though there were strong German Catholic voices demanding such an examination.12 Although Pius was beloved by the German Bishops, a brief struggle can nevertheless be detected in the various drafts of their first pastoral letter after the war which was issued at Fulda on August 23, 1945. As a result of Berlin’s Bishop Preysing’s insistence, a much stronger statement was included in the final version than had been anticipated: "We deeply deplore that many Germans, even of our own ranks, allowed themselves to be misled by the false teachings of national socialism, remaining indifferent to the crimes against human freedom and human dignity; many abetted crimes by their attitude; many became criminals themselves."13 This tone was not to be preserved in later statements which embraced general denials of Catholic responsibility and particular defenses of their episcopal conduct. It is striking that there is only one other collective statement of regret in these immediate postwar years: "The 1948 statement of the Mainz Katholikentag contritely admitted crimes against ‘the people of Jewish stock’."14

But there was lively discussion outside the official statements among German Catholics. Konrad Adenauer who was to become the first Chancellor of the Federal Republic sent a letter to a Bonn Pastor on February 23, 1946, in which he wrote this:

The German people, also for the most part its bishops and priests, cooperated in the National Socialist agitation. It permitted itself to be Nazified without offering resistance—yes, even with enthusiasm. Therein lies its guilt. . . I believe that if the bishops had altogether on a given day spoken out from their pulpits in opposition, much could have been avoided. That did not happen and there is no excuse for it. To the contrary, had the bishops been thrown into prison or concentration camps, that would not have been a misfortune.15

Even earlier there had been a 1945 statement of a group of Rhineland Catholics who admitted that they had not anticipated how Nazi antisemitism could lead to gas chambers. There was a 1946 article by Max Pribilla which accused the Bishops of ignoring the atrocities committed against the Jews. Even more critical was an "Open Letter on the Church" by Ida Friederike Goerres which appeared in 1946 and which attacked the German Catholic Church on a variety of fronts: "career minded prelates, a power hungry institution, authoritarian clergy, and tendencies toward mediocrity, insensitivity and triumphalism." Finally, a widely discussed article by Eugen Kogon questioned the postwar moral authority of the German Bishops as a result of their conduct during the Hitler regime.16

We have an important window into the German Bishops’ view of this criticism in a fascinating, unpublished document which reports on an August 23, 1947 conversation between an official of the American Military Government and several German Bishops. They strongly reject the criticisms of their conduct under the Nazis.17  Cardinal Frings of Cologne, who was the titular head of the German Church at the time, asked the interviewer: "Who has the right to demand that the bishops should have chosen a form of fight that would have sent them to the gallows with infallible certainty, and which would have resulted in a campaign of extermination against the church?" Bishop Stohr of Mainz denied that the survivors of concentration camps were more courageous than the Bishops whom they were now criticizing. He claimed: "Most of them were thrown in concentration camps against their will as a result of indirect utterances and secret actions. Also, many of them became victims of their own imprudence and rashness which have nothing to do with courage." Archbishop Jaeger of Paderborn did voice the fear that, if the Bishops had challenged the Nazi regime more forcefully, there was real danger that "many members of our church, who had been blinded and misled by a deceitful propaganda would all the more have been driven into the arms of National Socialism by too sharp a language." Bishop Dietz of Fulda argued that the conduct of the German Bishops followed the highest model: "The basically pastoral attitude of the church is taken from the higher example set by Jesus when he was brought before the High Priests, before King Herod, and Pilate."18 This model of humility certainly reflected a Catholic theology which praised the cultivation of passive virtues as particularly appropriate for the Christian life; virtues such as obedience, patience, gentleness, mortification.19 It did contrast, however, with the very aggressive approach the Bishops took to the Allied authorities whom they denounced for the denazification program, for the war crimes trials the Allies were conducting and to whom they submitted pleas for leniency for some of the most notorious Nazi criminals.20

After 1959 there was to be an amazing transformation in the German Episcopacy’s attitude toward the Holocaust. Various reasons account for the change. Pius XII had passed away the year before; almost all of the Bishops who had lived during the Third Reich had either died or been replaced; finally, Germans themselves were conducting trials of fellow Germans who had committed atrocities during the war.21 On the occasion of the Eichmann Trial in 1961, the German Bishops requested atonement for the crimes against the Jewish people and composed a prayer for those who had been murdered. This request for atonement was repeated a year later in a pastoral letter released on the eve of the Vatican Council’s opening.22 This period after Pacelli culminates at Vatican Council II when the German Cardinal Bea gives a speech calling for a new relationship with the Jewish people and links his support for a Conciliar declaration to the Nazi genocide of the Jews.23 When the declaration was adopted, the German bishops at the Council made a special statement welcoming it and they also pointed to the genocide as part of its context.24

Most Recent Statements. Shortly after Cardinal Edward Idris Cassidy took charge of the Vatican's Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews in January of 1990, the Commission began work on what was intended to be a single Roman Catholic document on the Shoah. It soon became quite clear that this was not the ideal course because the experiences of different countries were so different during the Holocaust period.25 As a consequence, various national conferences of bishops spoke out before the Vatican’s own statement was released in March, 1998. German Bishops issued their statement in 1995. They admitted that "Christians did not offer due resistance to racial antisemitism" and they confessed a general indifference that paved the way for crimes or even some becoming criminals themselves. While recognizing that there were many individual acts of resistance, the bishops stressed that not even the assaults on the Jewish people and synagogues of November, 1938 led to public protest.26 Two months earlier the Hungarian Bishops commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of the deportation of the Hungarian Jews and requested forgiveness for those Church members who "through fear, cowardice, or opportunism, failed to raise their voices against the mass humiliation, deportation, and murder of their Jewish neighbors."27 In their own statement of January 1995, the Polish Bishops condemned those Catholics who had contributed to the death of Jews. It also paid tribute to those many Poles who lost their lives in efforts to rescue Jews.28 In October of 1995 the Dutch Bishops spoke. They took notice of the sufferings of the Dutch people and praised the "courageous action of the Dutch episcopacy during the war, but then they denounced "a tradition of theological and ecclesiastical anti-Judaism" which "contributed to the climate which made the Shoah possible." "With our pope and other episcopal conferences, we condemn every form of antisemitism as a sin against God and humanity."29

In March, 1997, the Swiss Bishops criticized their own country for its compromises during the war, especially its failure to welcome as many refugees as it could have. But they also criticized Christians as such for those teachings which persecuted and marginalized Jews and which were the source of antisemitic sentiments. In reference to these acts and teachings, the Bishops declared: "we proclaim ourselves culpable and ask pardon of the descendents of the victims."30 The French Bishops chose to make their forceful statement in Drancy, the Paris suburb from which Jews were shipped to Nazi death camps. They accused those who exercised authority in the Church of a "loyalism and docility which went far beyond the obedience traditionally accorded civil authorities." They said that religious teachings had "deformed people’s attitudes" and provided the ground "on which the venomous plant of hatred for the Jews was able to flourish." Even if it can be shown that religious authorities had condemned antisemitism as pagan in origin, "they did not enlighten people’s minds as they ought because they failed to call into question these centuries-old ideas and attitudes."31 The depth of the French declaration echoed the private analysis which the French theologian Henri de Lubac had written in 1944 for Jacques Maritain, who had just been named the Ambassador to the Holy See. The document, conserved in Maritain’s archives, was published only in 1992. De Lubac’s indictment of the French Bishops is severe: they did not have a real sense of the Church’s independence, of its spiritual authority no matter who is in power; Their involvement in administration led them to downplay their evangelical mission; They did not possess a good understanding of Christian doctrine and, thus, were weak in their confrontation with Hitler’s propaganda; The Church had lost touch with its people, most of whom seemed to support the Resistance while the Bishops appeared to favor the Vichy government of Marshal Petain; Finally, de Lubac judges that the Bishops tended to think of themselves as functionaries of the State rather than as exercising shared leadership in the international Catholic Church.32

When the Vatican’s Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews released its eagerly anticipated document "We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah," it seemed a regression from the confession made by the French. It defended Pius XII and emphasized the distinction between Christian anti-Judaism and Nazism’s murderous, racist antisemitism. Its formulations seemed so overly cautious: "Did Christians give every possible assistance to those being persecuted and in particular to the persecuted Jews? Many did, but others did not." It added that the "spiritual resistance and concrete action of other Christians was not that which might have been expected from Christ’s followers."33 Commentators pointed to what they regarded as major flaws: the document did seem to blur the "lines between grievously evil acts and a falling short of extraordinary heroism" and its frequent recourse to the passive voice was interpreted as expelling moral agency."34

Nevertheless, in it the Catholic Church did admit guilt: "We deeply regret the errors and failures of those sons and daughters of the Church." The statement deplored racism and antisemitism, expressed its sorrow for its members’ failures and declared itself an "act of repentance" (teshuvah).35

Toward the Future. A defining trait of this penitential moment in the Roman Catholic Church is that it is tied with the desire to keep open the investigation of the church’s conduct during the holocaust. Although some feared that "We Remember" represented the final word from the Vatican, even that document noted that the "very magnitude of the crime" raised questions for legions of researchers ("historians, sociologists, political philosophers, psychologists, and theologians") and, thus, "much scholarly research still remains to be done."36 It would be impossible for me, of course, to describe the many interdisciplinary studies that are advancing our knowledge of this period. But perhaps, as an example of some of the concerns that still must be dealt with, I could point to a few of the questions which the International Catholic-Jewish Historical Commission have raised. This Commission of three Jewish and three Catholic scholars was established in October, 1999, to examine the eleven volumes of archival documents regarding the holocaust that had already been published by the Vatican.37 Unfortunately, this Commission has suspended its work in a very public quarrel. After a year of meetings, the Commission posed 47 questions regarding this material and made requests for additional documents if they were relevant to the questions. Mention of several of these questions will indicate how basic is the information that scholars still need.38

1) After the the Kristallnacht pogrom, the Vatican knew of the public protest by Bernard Lichtenberg, rector of the Catholic cathedral in Berlin. There seems to have been no official reaction by the Vatican but the commission asks for any records of Vatican conversations about the appropriate response to be made.

2) Well before there were charges of Papal silence regarding the Jews, many Polish Catholics felt that Rome was silent in the face of the Nazi brutality they were enduring. Are there further documents that would aid in understanding Vatican reaction to the Polish appeals?

3) Another request concerns the Holy See’s attitude regarding Vichy France’s anti-Jewish legislation. Is it really the case that the Vatican did not object to restrictions on the Jews as long as they were "administered with justice and charity"?

4) At the end of August, 1942, Andrzeyj Szeptyckyj, the Greek Catholic Metropolitan of Lviv (Lwow) wrote the Pope, in great detail, of the atrocities against the Jews and informed the Holy See that he had complained to Himmler personally and made public protest. Is there discussion of a reply to this letter?

5) When Berlin’s Bishop Konrad von Preysing asked the Pope to protest Nazi actions, what impression did the Bishop’s words have on Pius XII?

6) The members of the commission asked for the letter which Edith Stein sent to Pius XI in which she asked him to issue an encyclical condemning antisemitism.

7) Did the Church’s understandable anxiety with converted Jews provide a rationale for inattention to Jews as such?

8) Is there evidence to suggest that Pius XII had developed serious doubts about his policies? Cardinal Roncalli, later Pope John XXIII, writes in his diary of an audience with Pius XII on October 11, 1941 and reports Pacelli asked him whether his silence regarding Nazi behavior (suo silenzio circa il contegno del nazismo) would be judged badly.

Forgiveness and the Jesuits. In the last section of my paper I would like to shift its focus. The power of Pope John Paul II’s seeking of forgiveness is that he brings Catholics with him. As a Jesuit, I feel that his acts and pleas challenge me personally and the Society of Jesus collectively, that we are forced to deal with our history in a new way. Among the requests of the Catholic-Jewish Historical Commission is one of access to various archives of the Society of Jesus. It is understandable inasmuch as Pius XII relied frequently on the Jesuits and their role in his papacy should be better understood. But the request is also an opportunity. The Jesuits too must purify their memory and to do so we need greater understanding of our dealings with the Jewish people. We are very indebted to Vincent Lapomarda for having investigated the activities of Jesuits during the Holocaust. His work honors those Jesuits who were killed by the Nazis, those who rescued Jews, and those who have been recognized as righteous gentiles by Israel’s Yad Vashem memorial.39 But as Father Lapomarda knows far better than I, the historical experience of Jesuits with Jews is shadowed by shameful conduct as well.40 The opening moment in the Jewish-Jesuit encounter was both a stance of courage and a leap into cowardice. Ignatius's devotion to the personal figure of Jesus saved him, and initially the Society, from a most common prejudice: the view that Jewish converts to Christianity and their descendants, the so-called "New Christians" of Spain, were more Jewish than Christian for they were of impure blood. Such tainted character justified their exclusion from Church posts and religious orders. Ignatius courageously resisted ecclesiastical and political pressures and refused to exclude Jewish converts or their descendants from the Society's ranks and, thus, some of the most distinguished early Jesuits were of Jewish heritage.41 Unfortunately, the Society was to abandon its founder's courage and in 1593, under pressure from its own members, banned the admission of all with "Hebrew or Saracen stock;" not even the General of the Order could dispense from this impediment of origin. The Fifth General Congregation explained: "For even though the Society, for the sake of the common good, wishes to become all things to all men in order to gain for Christ all those it can, still it is not necessary that it recruit its workers from any and all human races."42

To my knowledge, no systematic effort has been made to trace the effect on Jesuits of this transformation in the attitude toward Jewish heritage from one of honor to that of disgrace. We do have occasional glimpses which I would like to indicate here. When the Jesuit historian Francis Sacchini wrote in 1622 that the second general of the Society, James Laynez, had Jewish ancestry, the "Spanish Jesuits rose en masse to denounce it." The Provincial Congregation of Toledo called the fact a "slur," a "foul blot," a vile imputation," and requested the General to punish Sacchini.43 An echo of the Spanish sentiment is audible in the pride which the German Ludwig Koch took three hundred years later in the identity of the Society as free of Jews.44 For one major Jewish thinker, Hannah Arendt, anti-semitism was indeed the special charism of the Society: "It was the Jesuits who had always best represented, both in the written and spoken word, the antisemitic school of the Catholic clergy."45 Only in 1946 did the Twenty-Ninth General Congregation abrogate the exclusion but without any explanation of why it was done. The Congregation substituted advice to the Provincials regarding the "cautions to be exercised before admitting a candidate, about whom there is some doubt as to the character of his hereditary background."46 The principle of excluding Jews from the Society helps to account for the posture of the single Jesuit institution which evokes the strongest Jewish repulsion: the journal La Civiltà Cattolica, which has long been accused of the most vulgar anti-Judaism in many of its articles. One historian makes a common criticism in the literature: "So powerful were the habits of theological antisemitism that even during the period of mass murder of Jews, after 1940, the Jesuits of Civiltà kept up their anti-Jewish crusade. In 1941 and 1942, the journal attacked the Jews for mythic crimes, 'perversity,' 'malice,' 'injustice, impiety, infidelity, sacrilege'; for, in the eyes of this crucially important Catholic periodical, Jews were deicides whose pariahship could not be eradicated, and whose crimes were repeated in every generation down to the present."47 It is not surprising then that Jesuits have been branded as "precursors of racialism" in fascist Italy.48 

There is another institution which needs to be considered in any treatment of Jewish-Jesuit relations, the Papacy. Although Pope Pius XII has become the center of controversy in discussions on the Holocaust, what is really at issue for Jesuits is the special and ongoing relationship which they have had with the papacy since their restoration as an Order in the nineteenth century. The Vatican's assault upon the modern age's liberalism and democracy, and the Society's service to that polemic as well as to an ultramontane Papacy is a very heavy burden for them. They were appreciated: for example, Pope Pius X took consolation in the fact that, faced with evil times, God had delivered to him Jesuits, the "most select line of soldiers, skilled in battle, instructed for fighting, and ready at the command and nod of the leader even to muster against the enemy where he is most concentrated and to pour out [your] lives."49 This was the age of the Papal rejection of modernism and of Vatican authorship of the Syllabus of Errors. Sadly, the enemy of the Church was often identified with emancipated Jewry or Jewish influences. Now that Jews had rights in modern society, it was claimed that special precautions were necessary in order to preserve Christian stability. Jews became a convenient target for the denunciation of a culture which was challenging the Catholic Church and attacking them provided a handy vehicle for protecting Catholic identity.50 Jesuits and Jews are heirs to a history of polemics which made both groups dangerously vulnerable to political assault. The German Kulturkampf put them on opposite sides: after constant Jesuit denunciations of Jewish liberalism and power, many Jews reacted with satisfaction when, in the summer of 1872, Bismarck enacted a law which closed Jesuit institutions and entrusted to the government wide power over the Jesuits and the right to expell them from Germany as a whole.51

A good indication of how pervasive the anti-Jewish animus continued to be is to be found in the recently issued text of the unpublished encyclical on racism ("Humani Generis Unitas") which was commissioned by Pope Pius XI who entrusted its composition to three Jesuits: John La Farge, Gustav Gundlach and Gustave Desbuquois. The fact that Pius XI died before it was released has probably spared Jesuits from much criticism inasmuch as the document manifests the sorry state of our own attitudes toward the Jews at that time. Israelites had been "blinded by a vision of material domination and gain" and were doomed to "perpetually wander over the face of the earth". "Israel has incurred the wrath of God, because it has rejected the Gospel." The Church is not "blind to the spiritual danger to which contact with Jews can expose souls" and she knows of the need to "safeguard her children against spiritual contagion." An especially chilling remark in the document praises the superiority of the Church's historical ways of dealing with the Jews in comparison with the anti-Semitism of the day: while the Church's teaching and practical attitude toward the Jews "demonstrate the need for energetic measures to preserve both the faith and morals of her members and society against the corrupting influence of error, these same doctrines likewise show the utter unfitness and inefficacy of anti-Semitism as a means of achieving that end. They show anti-Semitism not only as pitifully inadequate, but also as defeating its own purpose, and producing in the end only greater obstacles to cope with."52 It is hard to imagine this as part of an effective Papal challenge to Nazi Germany's treatment of the Jews.

Perhaps the most regrettable element in the rancorous relationship between Jesuits and Jews is the loss of that special sense of solidarity in suffering which should have emerged from the history they shared. They were both the most frequent victims for those who sought a total, diabolical explanation for how history operated. They formed, as Lacouture has said, a "tragic couple", both demonized in infamous documents: the Monita Secreta for the Jesuits, the Protocols of Zion for the Jews.53 Their diabolical character was charted on the axes of space and time. Spatially, they operated outside of any specific territory and aspired for domination over the world; they lurked behind thrones at the same time that we were quite willing to overthrow those very kings and nations. Jews and Jesuits were preeminently people of the city and, thus, were allied to wealth, loose morality, and a cunning, deracinated intelligence which was contemptuous of the traditions of the rural past. Temporally, they were at home in periods of decadence and collapse and, thus, they were perceived as devotees of modernity: the same spectacles which detected the Jesuits as fathering the French revolution saw the Jews as the creators of the Russian one.54

This history echoed in Germany in the years leading to and during the period of the Third Reich.55 Jesuits and Jews were linked often in the propaganda of the Nazis and other right-wing groups. Identified as international in commitment and urban in attitude, both groups were regarded as disloyal to the German State and as subversive of Aryan culture and morality. Their danger was a shared one as Cardinal Faulhaber warned in a March, 1933 letter to the Bavarian episcopate: "we confront new situations from day to day, and the present Jew-baiting can turn just as quickly into Jesuit-baiting." And while no group's losses can compare with that of the Jews, the enmity against the Jesuits did not stop at mere baiting: some 83 of them were executed by the Nazis, another 43 died in concentration camps and 26 more died in captivity or of its results.56 Their memory will be adequately honored only when the Society of Jesus acknowledges the many events in its history for which repentance is warranted. I am happy to say that a beginning has been made in this direction.57

Conclusion. Saul Friedländer, certainly one of the greatest scholars of the holocaust, has written of "the historian’s paralysis" that the Shoah has created: the inability to think the heterogeneous phenomena of Nazism: "messianic fanaticism and bureaucratic structures, pathological impulses and administrative decrees, archaic attitudes within an advanced industrial society." He is not afraid of drawing the possible implication of National Socialism’s complexity: We may be led to the "conclusion that the destruction of European Jewry poses a problem which historical analysis and understanding may not be able to overcome."58 Friedländer has sighted the territory of a modernity that is not beyond Christianity and a Catholicism that is not independent of the modern age. A more critical historical analysis will certainly have its tasks to perform there. But that place is also where the dynamics of confessing fault, seeking forgiveness and doing penance provide a guide to the operations of sin. While the historical force of political-religious categories have been studied before, today there is a new volume and intensity to the study of their operation.59 These scholarly investigations will aid us in sensing the poisonous vapors embedded in our styles of thinking and released through our ways of acting. But, just as Friedländer has, the Vatican recognizes the limit of mere historical data: The Shoah "cannot be fully measured by the ordinary criteria of historical research alone. It calls for a ‘moral and religious memory" and, particularly among Christians, a very serious reflection on what gave rise to it."60 John Paul II’s pilgrimages are at the center of that memory, a memory which is a reminder that it is we who permit those toxic vapors to determine our feelings and deeds. The Catholic search for forgiveness which I have spoken of today is a summons to responsibility and to awareness of how dangerous religious faith and spiritual commitment is. This search is creating for Catholicism a new more critical relationship with its historical reality. But it is also the forging of a new relationship between Christians and Jews. The recent "Jewish Statement on Christians and Christianity,’ which was signed by many Jewish leaders and thinkers is a sign that the penitential voice of Christianity is being heard.61 Catholics should be grateful.


  1. See Arendt, The Human Condition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958) 236-243.

  2. See Jules Isaac, The Teaching of Contempt: Christian Roots of Anti-Semitism (New York: McGraw-Hill), 1965.

  3. A Catholic Modernity? Charles Taylor’s Marianist Award Lecture, edited by James Heft (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999) 18.

  4. "Service Requesting Pardon," (March 12, 2000) in Origins 29, 40 (March 23, 2000) 648. This request for forgiveness was so unprecedented that it required a lengthy justification from the Catholic Church’s International Theological Commission. See the Commission’s "Memory and Reconciliation: The Church and Faults of the Church" Origins 29, 39 (March 16, 2000) 627-644.

  5. "Homily at Auschwitz, June 7, 1979" in Pope John Paul II, Spiritual Pilgrimage: Texts on Jews and Judaism 1979-1995, edited by Eugene Fisher and Leon Klenicki (New York: Crossroad, 1995) 7.

  6. "Lamentation at Mauthausen Concentration Camp, June 24, 1988" in Spiritual Pilgrimage: Texts on Jews and Judaism 1979-1995, 117-118.

  7. "John Paul II’s Address at Yad Vashem" (March 23, 2000) in Origins 29, 42 (April 6, 2000) 679.

  8. Ehud Barak, "A Nation that Remembers" (March 23, 2000) in Origins 29, 42 (April 6, 2000) 680.

  9. Pius XII, "Nazism and Peace" (June 2, 1945) in The Catholic Mind 43, 992 (August, 1945) 454, 451.

  10. Pius XII, "Nazism and Peace" (June 2, 1945) in The Catholic Mind 43, 992 (August, 1945) 452.

  11. See Michael Phayer, The Catholic Church and the Holocaust, 1930-1965 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000) 189-190, 207.

  12. For example, see Vera Bücker, Die Schulddiskussion im deutschen Katholizismus nach 1945 (Bochum: Studienverlag Dr. N. Brockmeyer, 1989).

  13. "Pastoral" of the German Bishops at Fulda (Aug. 23, 1945) in The Catholic Mind 43, 995 (November, 1945) 692. For a discussion of the drafts, see Michael Phayer, "The Postwar German Catholic Debate Over Holocaust Guilt," Kirchliche Zeitgeschichte 8, 2 (1995) 429-430.

  14. "The German Catholic Church After the Holocaust," Holocaust and Genocide Studies 10, 2 (Fall, 1996) 154. The statement may be found in Die Kirchen und das Judentum: Dokumente von 1945 bis 1985, edited by Rolf Rendtorff and Hans Henrix (Paderborn: Verlag Bonifatius-Druckerei, 1989) 239-240.

  15. Frank Buscher and Michael Phayer, "German Catholic Bishops and the Holocaust, 1940-1952" German Studies Review XI, 3 (October, 1988) 485. The German text may be found in Die Kirchen im Dritten Reich, volume 2, edited by George Denzler and Volker Fabricius (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer, 1984) 255.

  16. Phayer, "The Postwar German Catholic Debate Over Holocaust Guilt," Kirchliche Zeitgeschichte 8, 2 (1995) 430-432.

  17. A copy of the document, "The Catholic Church and Dr. Kogon" is in the John Riedel Papers, series 1, box 2, Catholic Church and Nazism File in the Archives of Marquette University. Riedel was Chief of Catholic Affairs for the Office of Military Government for Germany from 1946 to 1948 and later a professor of philosophy at Marquette. The official was Richard Akselrad. My attention was called to it by Michael Phayer’s article, "The Postwar German Catholic Debate Over Holocaust Guilt," Kirchliche Zeitgeschichte 8, 2 (1995) 435-436. I want to thank Marquette for giving me access to these papers.

  18. "The Catholic Church and Dr. Kogon" 2-4.

  19. See Jakob Nötges, Nationalsozialismus und Katholizismus (Cologne: Gide Verlag, 1931) especially 193-195.

  20. For this see Phayer, "The Postwar German Catholic Debate Over Holocaust Guilt," Kirchliche Zeitgeschichte 8, 2 (1995) and Frank Buscher and Michael Phayer, "German Catholic Bishops and the Holocaust, 1940-1952" German Studies Review XI, 3 (October, 1988) 463-485. Making pleas for Nazi war criminals was not just a Catholic phenomenon as Robert Webster shows in his "Opposing ‘Victor’s Justice’: German Protestant Churchmen and Convicted War Criminals in Western Europe after 1945," Holocaust and Genocide Studies 15, 1 (Spring, 2001) 47-69.

  21. "The German Catholic Church After the Holocaust," Holocaust and Genocide Studies 10, 2 (Fall, 1996) 161-162.

  22. Die Kirchen und das Judentum: Dokumente von 1945 bis 1985, 241-243.

  23. See Stjepan Schmidt, Augustin Bea, the Cardinal of Unity (New Rochelle:New City Press, 1992) 505-506.

  24. Die Kirchen und das Judentum: Dokumente von 1945 bis 1985, 244.

  25. Cardinal Cassidy, "Reflections Regarding the Vatican’s Statement on the Shoah,"(May,1998) Catholics Remember the Holocaust (Washington, D.C.: National Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1998) 62.

  26. The German Bishops, "Opportunity to Re-examine Relationship with the Jews,"(January, 1995) Catholics Remember the Holocaust (Washington, D.C.: National Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1998) 10.

  27. The Hungarian Bishops and the Ecumenical Council of Churches, "Joint Statement on the Occasion of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Holocaust," (November, 1994) Catholics Remember the Holocaust (Washington, D.C.: National Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1998) 8.

  28. Polish Bishops, "The Victims of Nazi Ideology,"(January, 1995) Catholics Remember the Holocaust (Washington, D.C.: National Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1998)12-15.

  29. "Supported by One Root: Our Relationship to Judaism,"(October, 1995) Catholics Remember the Holocaust (Washington, D.C.: National Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1998) 22.

  30. Swiss Bishops Conference, "Confronting the Debate About the Role of Switzerland During the Second World War,"(March, 1997) Catholics Remember the Holocaust (Washington, D.C.: National Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1998) 26.

  31. French Bishops, "Declaration of Repentance,"(September, 1977) Catholics Remember the Holocaust (Washington, D.C.: National Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1998) 32, 34.

  32. Henri de Lubac, "La Question des eveques sous l’occupation" Revue des deux mondes (February, 1992) 67-82

  33. "We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah," Catholics Remember the Holocaust (Washington, D.C.: National Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1998) 52-53.

  34. Peter Steinfels, "Beliefs," The New York Times (March 21, 1998) A7; James Carroll, "Vatican Response to the Holocaust," The Boston Globe (March 31, 1998) A17. Garry Wills is particularly critical in his Papal Sin: Structures of Deceit (New York: Doubleday, 2000) 13-19.

  35. "We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah," Catholics Remember the Holocaust (Washington, D.C.: National Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1998) 52-53.

  36. "We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah," Catholics Remember the Holocaust, 49.

  37. Acts et Documents du Saint Siège relatifs à la seconde guerre mondiale, 11 volumes (Vatican City: Secretariat of State, 1965-1981).

  38. "The Vatican and the Holocaust: A Preliminary Report" by the International Catholic-Jewish Historical Commission (October, 2000).

  39. Vincent Lapomarda, The Jesuits and the Third Reich (Lewiston: Edwin Mellen Press, 1989) and "The Jesuits and the Holocaust," Journal of Church and State 23, 2 (Spring, 1981) 241-258.

  40. I develop this history at greater length in an essay "Catholicism’s Emerging Post-Shoah Tradition: The Case of the Jesuits," Remembering for the Future: The Holocaust in an Age of Genocide, edited by John Roth and Elisabeth Maxwell (Hampshire, U.K.: Palgrave, 2001) 381-395.

  41. See Reites, "St. Ignatius of Loyola and the Jews" Studies in the Spirituality of the Jesuits 13/4 (September, 1981). However, Ignatius too was a man of him times and when it came to the matter of Jews who were not and did not wish to become Christians, he could support the oppressive policy of ghettoization imposed by Pope Paul IV in his 1555 "Cum nimis absurdum."

  42. Decree 52. English translation in For Matters of Greater Moment: The First Thirty Jesuit General Congregations, edited by J. Padberg, S.J., M. O'Keefe, S.J., J. McCarthy, S.J. (St. Louis: Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1994) p. 204.

  43. James Broderick, The Progress of the Jesuits (1556-1579) (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1946) pp. 310-311.

  44. See his entry "Juden" in his Jesuiten-Lexikon: Die Gesellschaft Jesu einst und jetzt (Paderborn: Verlag Bonifacius-Druckerei, 1934) pp. 939-942.

  45. Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1976 new edition), p. 102.

  46. Decree 8. English translation in For Matters of Greater Moment, p. 625.

  47. Robert Michael, "Theologia Gloriae and Civiltà Cattolica's Attitude Toward the Jews" Encounter 50:2 (Spring, 1989) pp. 158; see Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, pp. 116 and 120; Ronald Modras, The Catholic Church and Antisemitism. Poland, 1933-1939 (Chur, Switzerland: Harwood, 1994) pp. 334-340; Richard Webster, The Cross and the Fasces: Christian Democracy and Fascism in Italy (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1960) pp. 122-127; and the discussion "La Civiltà cattolica, Jews, and anti-Semitism," in The Hidden Encyclical of Pius XI, ed by Georges Passelecq and Bernard Suchecky (New York: Harcourt, Brace & Company,1997) pp. 123-136.

  48. E. Rossi, Il magganello e l'aspersorio (Florece, 1958), cited by Meir Michaelis, "Christians and Jews in Fascist Italy," in Judaism and Christianity under the Impact of National Socialism, 1919-1945, ed. by Otto Dov Kulka and Paul R. Mendes-Flohr (Jerusalem:Historical Society of Israel and the Zalman Shazar Center for Jewish History, 1987) p. 274. For more on La Civilta Cattolica, see Susan Zuccotti, Under His Very Windows: The Vatican and the Holocaust in Italy (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000) 11-14.

  49. Address to the General Congregation Delegates (Oct. 16, 1906). Cited in David Schultenover, S.J., A View from Rome: On the Eve of the Modernist Crisis (New York: Fordham University Press, 1993) p. 166.

  50. See Olaf Blaschke, "Wider die 'Herrschaft des modern-jüdischen Geistes': Der Katholizismus zwischen tradionellem Antijudaismus und modernem Antisemitismus," in Deutscher Katholizismus im Umbruch zur Moderne, ed. by Wilfried Loth (Stuttgart: Verlag W. Kohlhammer, 1991) pp.236-265.

  51. See Uriel Tal, "The 'Kulturkampf' and the Jews of Germany" BINAH: Studies in Jewish History I (New York: Praeger, 1989) pp. 173-193.

  52. The Hidden Encyclical of Pius XI, pp. 249, 251, 252, 253. See the thoughtful review by Michael Marrus, "The Vatican on Racism and Antisemitism, 1938-39: A New Look at a Might-Have-Been" Holocaust and Genocide Studies VII,3 (Winter, 1997) pp. 378-395. For a general consideration of "Jesuit anti-Judaism" see Reiner Brüggermann and Gerd Spellerberg, "Die Gesellschaft Jesu und die Juden: Eine Betrachtung über die Folgen des jesuitischen Antijudaismus" Werkhefte Katholischer Laien 15 (March 1961) 82-89.

  53. Jean Lacouture, Jesuits: A Multibiography (Washington,D.C.: Counterpoint, 1995) p. 176. For general discussions of the demonization theme and hatred toward one or both groups and the relationship to each other, see Manfred Barthel, The Jesuits: History and Legend of the Society of Jesus (New York: William Morrow, 1984); Alexander Brou, Les Jésuites de la légende, 2 vols. (Paris:V. Retaux, 1906,1907); Geoffrey Cubitt, The Jesuit Myth: Conspiracy Theory and Politics in Nineteenth-Century France (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993); Bernhard Duhr, Jesuiten-Fabeln: Ein Beitrag zur Kulturgeschichte (Freiburg im Breisgau: Herder'sche Verlagshandlung, 1892); Léon Poliakov, La causalité diabolique: essai sur l'origine des persécutions (Paris: Calmann-Lévy, 1980).

  54. As examples of this literature, see René Fülöp-Miller, The Power and Secret of the Jesuits (New York: Viking, 1930); E. Paris, Histoire secrète des jésuites (Paris: Fischbacher, 1970).

  55. As examples of this large literature, see Burghard Assmus, Jesuitenspiegel: Interessante Beiträge zur Naturgeschichte der Jesuiten (Berlin: A. Bock Verlag, 1938); Alfred Bass, An alle Deutschvölkischen! Die Deutschvölkischen im jesuitisch-jüdischen Fangnetz (Leipzig: Leipziger Verlag, 1920); Ludwig Engel, Der Jesuitismus eine Staatsgefahr (Munich: Ludendorffs Verlag, 1935); O. Gröbler, Jude, Jesuit und Freimaurer im Blitzlicht (Leignitz: Hahnauer 45, 1932[?]); Erich Ludendorff, Das Geheimnis der Jesuitenmacht und ihre Ende (Munich: Ludendorffs Volkswarte Verlag, 1929); Alfred Miller, Der Jesuitismus als Volksgefahr: Eine Betrachtung zu den Münchener Novemberereignissen (Munich: Deutscher Volksverlag, 1923); NSDAP, Das zweite Novemberverbrechen: der jüdisch-jesuitische Novemberverrat in München 1923 (Nazi pamphlet, 1923); Alfred Rosenberg, Schriften aus der jahren 1917-21 (Munich: Hoheneichern-Verlag, 1943); G. Schultze-Pfaelzer, Das Jesuiten-Buch: Weltgeschichte eines falschen Priestertums (Berlin: Brunner-Verlag, 1936);

  56. March 31, 1933 in Akten Faulhaber, ed. by Volk, I, p. 684. Cited in Theodore Hamerow, "The Conservative Resistance to Hitler and the Fall of the Weimar Republic, 1932-34," in Between Reform, Reaction, and Resistance: Studies in the history of German Conservatism from 1789 to 1945. Edited by Larry Eugene Jones and James Retallack (Providence: Berg, 1993) p. 461. The numbers of Jesuits killed is taken from Vincent Lapomarda's The Jesuits and the Third Reich.

  57. Two international meetings of Jesuits in Jewish-Christian Dialogue have now been held. The first was held in Krakow, Poland in December 1998 with the theme "Jesuits and Jews: Towards Greater Fraternity and Commitment." The second was held in the summer of 2000 in Jerusalem with the theme "The Significance of the State of Israel for Contemporary Judaism and Jewish-Christian Dialogue."

  58. Saul Friedländer, "From Anti-Semitism to Extermination," Unanswered Questions: Nazi Germany and the Genocide of the Jews, edited by François Furet(New York: Schocken Books, 1989) 31.

  59. There is the distinguished work of the late Israeli historian Uriel Tal. For example, see his "On Structures of Political Theology and Myth in Germany Prior to the Holocaust," The Holocaust as Historical Experience, edited by Yehuda Bauer and Nathan Rotenstreich (New York: Holmes & Meier, 1981) 43-74. More recent works include the two volumes edited by Hans Maier and Michael Schäfer, Totalitarismus und Politische Religionen (Paderborn: Ferdinand Schöningh, 1996); Der Nationalsozialismus als politische Religion, edited by Michael Ley and Julius Schoeps (Bodenheim: Philo Verlagsgesellschaft, 1997); Claus-Ekkehard Bärsch, Die politische Religion des Nationalsozialismus (Munich: Wilhelm Fink Verlag, 1998).

  60. "We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah," Catholics Remember the Holocaust, 49.

  61. The statement was published in The New York Times (September 10, 2000) 23. It was reissued in Christianity in Jewish Terms, edited by Tikva Frymer-Kensky (Boulder: Westview Press, 2000) xvii-xx.