NEW YORK – Addressing the continuing controversy over Pope Pius XII’s actions during World War II, Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan expressed sympathy before a Jewish audience April 12 at researchers’ “present frustration about the pace of opening the Vatican Archives” from that period.
“Whatever is needed to complete this project, even in phases rather than only as a whole, should be explored for its practicability,” said the New York archbishop and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in an evening talk at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York.
“Whatever the archives hold, the Catholic Church does not fear the truth about the often heroic and sometimes disgraceful conduct of her leaders and members during the Second World War,” he added.
The archbishop, a trained historian who served as the bishops’ liaison for Catholic-Jewish relations until his election as USCCB president in November, said he sometimes hears questions about how the church can consider both Pope Pius XII and Pope John Paul II as candidates for beatification.
But, he said, “what constitutes holiness of life – that is to say, closeness to and friendship with God – is not measured in the same way as political, social or financial success.”
“Decisions about holiness are spiritual in nature, and often surprise or upset historical judgment,” Archbishop Dolan said.
“Beatification and canonization in the Catholic Church do not carry any approval of specific historical decisions a would-be saint may have made,” he added. “That kind of judgment belongs to historians and scholars.”
Noting that he spoke the evening before the 25th anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s visit to the Rome synagogue, he said that visit furthered between Catholics and Jews “the ongoing chapters of true dialogue, built on the admission of past wrongs, and the resolve to build a friendship that will prevent these from happening again.”
He said it is time for Catholics and Jews to move beyond a “dialogue of grievances” to common action “as believers who live in an increasingly secular culture.” Among issues of common concern he cited interreligious marriage, “handing on our traditions to our children, and stopping the ‘leakage’ of faithful.”
By discussing those shared concerns, Catholics and Jews can explore “our common apprehensions, strategies and practical tactics that help us understand not only each other’s traditions, but thereby often (help) ourselves to see our own in a new way,” Archbishop Dolan said.
Noting the upcoming beatification of Pope John Paul, he said he had been “moved by how many of you have expressed your desire to join with us in thanking God for the gift of John Paul’s leadership, a bridge to Jews and Christians alike.”
He said the late pope’s “fundamental esteem for Jews” was rooted in his birthplace of Wadowice, Poland, “where Jewish and Catholic children built lifetime friendships in the face of 20th-century bigotries.”
Archbishop Dolan praised Pope John Paul for his 1986 visit to the Rome synagogue, his establishment of diplomatic relations with Israel in 1993 and his 2000 trip to Jerusalem, “not only as the home of Jesus, but as the city of the living God for Jews and Muslims alike.”
He said Catholics and Jews should look together at the legacy of both Pope Pius XII and Pope John Paul.
“Surely our shared desire to understand not only the role of the pope but of the Catholic Church as a whole in the Holocaust will help all of us to reaffirm the central importance of continuing education against genocide and of the real achievement of John Paul II in helping to implement the urgent concerns” of “Nostra Aetate,” the Second Vatican Council’s declaration on non-Christian religions, he said.
“The common concern we face is to defeat the anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism that gave rise to the Holocaust, and which we see dangerously repeating itself across the globe,” Archbishop Dolan said.
He said a Jewish dialogue participant told him “that now Jews and Christians are closer than ever, as we both as in the crosshairs, for example, of religious extremists.”