The document-- available for now only in English and Italian-- was presented to the press in Rome today by Cardinal Edward Cassidy, president of the Vatican commission for relations with Judaism; and Msgr. Pierre Duprey and Father Remi Hoeckman, the vice-president and secretary, respectively, of that commission.
The Vatican plans for such a document were first announced in August 1987. Cardinal Cassidy explained the unusually long production schedule by saying that the Church needed to time for thoughts to "mature" before issuing such a public document. He also revealed that individual bishops' conferences had sought time to make their own statements prior to the publication of the Vatican document. (The bishops' conferences of France, Poland, and Germany have all recently issued statements on the Holocaust.)
The document was prompted by the request of Pope John Paul II, who himself wrote a preface. In preparation for the Jubilee Year 2000, he called for a general examination of conscience among all Christians, to unearth and correct "errors and infidelities of the past." The recognition of the grotesque evil of the Holocaust is an importance aspect of that examination of conscience, he said.
Recognizing the evil of the Holocaust, the document says, compels Christians to initiate a dialogue with the Jewish community to ensure that anti-Semitism is eradicated, and the hideous horrors of the Nazi regime can never be repeated. The document suggests that sorrow for the pain inflicted upon the Jewish people should be made manifest in repentance, and this in turn should motivate Christians to fight against any tendency to demean "those who worship the one Creator and Lord" and who share with Christians their one father in faith: Abraham.
The document continues by arguing that the Holocaust is a tragedy "which must never be forgotten," the central horror of a century marked by inhumanity. "No one can remain indifferent" to this historic episode, the Vatican teaches, adding that the magnitude of the horror is so great that it cannot be put into words. This was not only a crisis of history but a crisis of the spirit, and of religion, the document states.
The document also retraces the "tormented" history of relations between Christians and Jews. It points to an earlier (November 1997) document in which Pope John Paul explored the theological errors that led to "anti-Judaism"-- that is, contempt for Jewish people. But it also recalls-- as the Pope taught in that discourse-- that "anti- Semitism" of the sort that fueled the Holocaust was a specific racial theory, clearly contrary to Christian teaching. That Nazi ideology was firmly condemned by the Church, most notably in the encyclical Mit Brennender Sorge by Pope Pius XII. Thus the Holocaust must be attributed to a "modern and neo-pagan regime," as Cardinal Cassidy put it in today's news conference.
Nevertheless, the document released today probes the question of whether Nazi racial theories could have been enacted into law without the complicity of Christians-- whether anti-Semitic attitudes among the Christians of Europe facilitated the acceptance of the Holocaust. Although some Christians offered courageous resistance to the Nazis, and did everything within their power to protect Jews, others regrettably did nothing-- or even cooperated with the Nazis.
The document concludes with a repetition of the theme that Pope John Paul II introduced when he visited the synagogue in Rome in April 1986: the necessity for all Christians to recognize and honor "our elder brothers."