The Pope in Jerusalem

Published: 2000-03-16

Pope John Paul II is scheduled to visit Israel next week and give an address at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem (March 23).

There is great tension over this encounter for the following reasons. During World War II the Vatican, with its far flung connections, especially in Poland, was in a position to know what was happening to the Jews. To be more precise, it could not have failed to know. However, to put it very simply, the World War II Pope Pius XII did not behave at the time as though a "Holocaust" were in progress.

The detractors of Pius XII accuse him of moral failure in this conduct. On the other hand the typical defenders of Pius XII argue, for example, that speaking out would have made matters worse, and that Pius XII did a great deal to help the Jews, so much so, for example, that Israele Anton Zolli, the Chief Rabbi of Rome, converted to Roman Catholicism in 1945 in appreciation, even taking the baptismal name Eugenio, because it was that Pope's name.

I have written elsewhere at greater length on this problem. In this item I wish to stress my evaluation that the detractors have the better of the argument in this dialogue, and that the arguments of the defenders, if the standard "Holocaust" legend is accepted, do not survive analysis. By contrast my explanation for the Pope's behavior is that he did not act as though the Holocaust were in progress because there was none in the sense of the legend. I have given the same reason why the Allies did not so act. However unlike the Allies, at the end of the war the Pope did not join in the propaganda claiming a mass extermination of Jews and Pius XII remained generally silent on the matter in the postwar years. Thus the typical defense of Pius XII is hopeless and the only coherent defense is the revisionist: there was no Holocaust for the Pope to oppose.

Because of this simple logic, Israel correctly sees the Catholic Church as a potential danger to its golden goose and wishes to neutralize this danger by pressuring the present Pope to concede moral failure on the part of Pius XII. However morality is not the real object; politics and shekels are.

The Chief Rabbi of Israel, Israel Meir Lau, says he welcomes the visit of Pope John Paul II, but that this Pope must condemn Pope Pius XII who, he claims, "stood silently on our blood" (Chicago Tribune, 3 March 2000, sec. 2, p. 7). From the Chief Rabbi of Rome, 1945, to the Chief Rabbi of Israel, 2000, is quite a journey.

Now the problem is what Pope John Paul II will do in Israel. Will he agree to meet with Lau, figuratively spitting on the grave of his predecessor? Will the Pope's address at Yad Vashem condemn the behavior of Pius XII, thereby doing worse?

I am pessimistic. This is the Pope who yielded to the Jewish demands that the Catholic Carmelite convent be removed from the grounds of the former Auschwitz concentration camp (Chicago Tribune, 20 Sept. 1989, sec 1, p. 1 and 21 Sept. 1989, sec 1, p. 24). Why shouldn't there be a Catholic institution there? Thousands of Catholics died at that camp, as this man from nearby Cracow well knows. John Paul II chose to humiliate his Church. Why not chuck Pius XII as well?

In 1999 Jews demanded that the canonization process for Pius XII (the otherwise routine beatification preliminary to declaring him a saint) be called off, and the Vatican responded by backing down from its previously expressed intention of doing the beatification in 2000 (Forward, 15 Oct. 1999, p. 3; Chicago Tribune, 4 Nov. 1999, sec. 1, p. 34).

Thus the chucking has been well under way for months, and I expect that Pope John Paul II will complete it at the Yad Vashem next week. I hope I am wrong.

Postscript of 25 March 2000. The Pope disgraced himself and his Church on March 23 by not only meeting with Rabbi Lau before the Yad Vashem affair, but in Lau's rabbinate. He provided Lau with an advance copy of his address.

However things could have been worse. At the Yad Vashem the Pope, speaking in English, grieved over the "Shoah" (Hebrew alternative to "Holocaust"), but he did not make the apology for the behavior of Pius XII. Thus he did not "complete" the chucking.

The Muslim Grand Mufti of Jerusalem provided a notable contrast. He rejected an invitation to meet later in the day with the Pope, Rabbi Lau, and the Sephardic Chief Rabbi. Instead he sent his representative Taysir Tamini, who just delivered an anti-Israel speech and walked out.


16 March 2000. Modified 25 March 2000.


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Author(s): Arthur R. Butz
Title: The Pope in Jerusalem
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Published: 2000-03-16
First posted on CODOH: March 14, 2000, 6 p.m.
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