Tony KaminsTony Kiamins is a writer living in New York City.
The resignation of Pope Benedict XVI elicited all sorts of praise from Jewish community leaders; the election of Pope Francis and his subsequent meetings with Jewish leaders equal declarations of hope for a bright future for Catholic-Jewish relations.
But the focus on the Catholic Church at a time of transition also raises serious, time-sensitive questions for Jews. Specifically, why won’t the Vatican open its archives that cover the years of the Shoah and its immediate aftermath? It’s not only the wartime and post-war record of Pius XII and the Vatican that we should be concerned with, we still don't know what happened to hundreds, maybe thousands of children left for safekeeping in monasteries, convents, and Catholic homes whose parents and other relatives never came back to retrieve them at war's end.
What is the Vatican hiding?
Not only was the Vatican complicit in the mass murder of European Jews, but their policies saw to it that there would be fewer Jews in surviving generations by making sure at least some became and remained Catholic. It's not as though the Church doesn't have a long history of baptizing Jewish children and keeping them. Indeed documents have come to light in recent years indicating that this practice continued during, and after the Shoah.
This is what makes the Jewish accolades showered upon Benedict XVI and his post-Shoah predecessors, including the much admired John XXIII, so troubling. Regardless of what any of these men did to better Catholic-Jewish relations, and I don't deny they are better because of those efforts, there are still critical unanswered questions.
The Vatican has the answers, but they won’t give them to us. This renders olive branches to the Jews by post-Shoah popes virtually meaningless.
Why is this issue so noticeably absent from Jewish praise of these and previous popes? Why the reluctance to push the issue? Why do we permit the Catholic Church to have any control at all over our lives? We are past the era when we lived at the sufferance of the Church. Yet we continue to behave as though little has changed.
There is some evidence that Pope Francis thinks the archives should be open, but we cannot afford to be silent. Our leaders must demand the archives be opened and that the Vatican immediately be forthcoming with the names and birthplaces of the children who were given to them for safekeeping during World War II.
Their families deserve the comfort of closure in their remaining years and time is running out.