The children were entrusted to the church's care to save them from the death camps. But if the parents survived the war and came forward to reclaim their sons or daughters, the children were only to be returned "provided [they] have not received baptism", the Vatican ordered.
The instructions, contained in a letter dated October 20 1946, were sent by the Holy Office, the Vatican department responsible for church discipline, to the future Pope John XXIII, Angelo Roncalli, who at that time was the Holy See's envoy in Paris. The letter was published yesterday by the Italian daily Corriere della Sera.
The letter ends with the words: "Please note that this decision has been approved by the Holy Father." This may well have been a warning to the then Monsignor Roncalli, who, in his previous job as the pope's nuncio, or ambassador, in Istanbul, was suspected by some in the Vatican of an excessively pro-Jewish outlook.
The letter deals a new and crushing blow to the reputation of the wartime pope, Pius XII.
Source: "Vatican hit by new row over war role: Pope kept Jewish families apart", by John Hooper. The Guardian December 29, 2004.
Leave it to The Guardian to put the worst anti-Catholic spin on this, leaving its readers to draw their own conclusions ("See? This PROVES that Pope Pius XII was anti-semitic!") -- but let's unpack this.
The nature of the instructions and the qualification for retaining custody of the children -- "provided they have not received baptism -- reveals the guiding principle: concern for the spiritual welfare and salvation of the children, once baptized, now Catholic, supercedes the rights of the parents to raise their offspring. We may find it controversial. Indeed, it was the same principle that led to the famous and tragic "kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara:
Let us reverse the relationship for a moment. If a baby were to be relenquished to the custody of Jewish foster parents, and in that time converted to Judaism (or was raised as a Jew), would they then be inclined to return the child to its Gentile (though natural) parents and thereby endanger his faith?
It's an unlikely situation, I admit, given the circumstances and Jewish-Christian historical relations in general, but again, we see the guiding principle of such a directive, and it is not entirely unreasonable to expect that this was the Vatican's motivation in its post-WWII instruction.
Whether a deliberate tactic or just plain ignorance on the part of the reporter, suffice to say by omitting any likely rationale for the Vatican's directive, The Guardian perpetuates the notion that Pius XII was motivated by anti-Jewish sentiments in issuing such an order.
The document reads: "Those children who have been baptized cannot be entrusted to institutions that are unable to ensure a Christian education.
"Regarding those children who no longer have parents and for whom the Church has been responsible, it is not advisable that they be abandoned by the Church itself or entrusted to persons who have no rights whatsoever over them – unless they are able to take responsibility over themselves. This obviously applies to children who have not been baptized.
"If the children have been entrusted [to the Church] by their parents, and if the parents now claim them back, they can be returned, provided the children themselves have not been baptized. It should be noted that this decision of the Congregation of the Holy Office has been approved by the Holy Father."
As the Jerusalem Post notes: "the pope instructed Nuncio Angelo Roncalli to refuse to hand back children who had been baptized by their Catholic caretakers, but Roncalli, the future Pope John XXIII, disobeyed."
Our present Holy Father, John Paul II, had a somewhat different mindset as well, at least giving due respect to the rights of the parents. According to a commentator on Amy Welborn's blog:
If memory serves me correctly the above account is taken from The Hidden Pope, Darcy O'Brien's fascinating "parallel biography" of the Holy Father and his lifelong friend Jerzy Kluger. Kluger went on to be enlisted by the Holy Father as an intermediary in the negotiations leading to the Vatican's formal recognition of Israel.
Note: this is not a discussion of the justifiability of the Vatican's rationale in itself and the proper rights of natural parents -- that's for another blog, at another time, although it appears that Open Book's Commentariat is presently debating the issue. Perhaps Jimmy Akin and other theological minds could weigh in?
Meanwhile, that Pope Pius XII didn't hate the Jews but possessed a clear concern for their welfare is bolstered by many testimonies, including:
- "On Pius XII's Help to Slovakian Jews", Zenit.org interview with Monsignor Walter Brandmuller, on a new book attesting "to the Holy See's intervention to prevent the persecution of Jews in Slovakia during World War II."
- "Praise for a U.S. Diplomat's Memoirs on Pius XII" Zenit.org. June 17, 2004. According to Pius XII historian Peter Gumpel, U.S. diplomat Harold Tittman's "correspondence with the United States confirms the Holy See's absolute independence in its opposition to the Nazis and its endeavor to support the victims of the conflict."
- "Pius XII Gave Instructions Specifically to Save and Protect Jews" Zenit.org January 9, 2003. Two documents published by Inside the Vatican reveal Pope Pius XII's preferential help for the Jews. According to Zenit, the letters were addressed to Bishop Giuseppe Maria Palatucci of Campagna, in southern Italy, where a major concentration camp was located. The Bishop, along with his nephew Giovanni, chief of police in Fiume, were caring for hidden Jews interned in Campagna. The letters document two donations by the Pope "preferably to those suffering for reasons of race" and "to be distributed in aid to interned Jews."
My compilation of news, articles and book reviews on Pius XII can be found here.