April 8, 1998
Last month, the Vatican issued a 14-page report that apologized for the Catholic Church's silence during the Holocaust. Following a background report, Margaret Warner and guests discuss the apology and its historic significance.
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
April 8, 1998
A discussion on the Vatican's report.
February 28, 1997
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Remembering Holocaust victims through food.
May 24, 1996
Prof. Daniel Goldhagen talks with David Gergen about his book, Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust.
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The Web site of The Holy See.
MARGARET WARNER: Close to six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust, imprisoned in concentration camps, gassed in chambers, and buried in mass graves. The perpetrators were Adolf Hitler and his Nazi regime. But historians have long questioned whether others--including the Catholic Church--did all they could to save Europe's Jews from extermination. Some historians also have argued that centuries of Catholic teachings against the Jewish religion--teachings that included blaming the Jews for Christ's death--contributed to a climate in Europe in which anti-Semitism could flourish.
Pope Pius XII.
Pius XII became Pope in 1939. Under his leadership, the Vatican maintained a position of strict neutrality in World War II. The Pope was largely silent about the Nazi atrocities. His only public comment came during his Christmas message of 1942, when he spoke of the "hundreds of thousands of persons who, without any fault on their part, sometimes only because of nationality or race, have been consigned to death or a slow decline." Defenders later said Pope Pius believed he could accomplish more working behind the scenes. But critics found his public silence shameful.
"...indelible stain on the history of the century."
John Paul II, who became Pope in 1978, took steps to ease tensions between Catholics and Jews. He was the first Pope to visit a concentration camp, Auschwitz. He was also the first Pope to visit a synagogue. He led the Vatican to open relations with the state of Israel. And in 1987, he ordered a study on Catholicism, anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. The result, issued last month, is a 14-page report called "We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah," or Holocaust. The Pope's preface called the Shoah a "crime" that "remains an indelible stain on the history of the century." The lead author of the report was Australian Cardinal Edward Cassidy.
CARDINAL EDWARD CASSIDY: It's more than an apology. We feel that we need to repent, not only for what we may have done individually, but also for those members of our Church who failed in this regard.
MARGARET WARNER: The document decries the failure of Catholics to do more to save the Jews, saying: "Did Christians give every possible assistance to those being persecuted, and, in particular, to the persecuted Jews? Many did, but others did not. For Christians, this heavy burden of conscience of their brothers and sisters during the Second World War must be a call to penitence. We deeply regret the errors and failures of those sons and daughters of the Church."
Criticism of the document.
But the document does not fix any responsibility on the Vatican itself, nor on the Catholic Church as an institution. And on the question of the roots of Nazi anti-Semitism, it states: "The Shoah was the work of a thoroughly modern neo-pagan regime.
Its anti-Semitism had its roots outside of Christianity and, in pursuing its aims, it did not hesitate to oppose the Church and persecute her members also." The report was heralded in many quarters. But some critics said it didn't go far enough. In the wake of those criticisms, Catholic and Jewish leaders continue to meet, and have agreed to extend their probe into the Church's conduct during the Holocaust.