Report on a draft made by the German Bishops' Conference Work Group regarding a Vatican document on ,'Anti-Semitism, Shoah and Church"

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German Bishops' Conference Work Group

Israele       26/05/1994

Report on a draft made by the German Bishops' Conference Work Group regarding a Vatican document on ,'Anti-Semitism, Shoah and Church", given by Hans Hermann Henrix (Fifteenth Meeting of the International Vatican-Jewish Liaison Committee Held in Jerusalem 23-26 May 1994) and, published here with the permission of Rev. Remi Hoeckman, Secretary of the Holy See's Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews.
This report reverberated too quickly in the media as a kind of prelude of a future Vatican document. The following text makes it clear that it is only a proposal of the German Working Group which has still to be discussed.

In the Vatican document entitled "Notes on the correct way to present the Jews and Judaism in preaching and catechesis in the Roman Catholic Church" of June 24 1985, one of the demands made on catechesis reads as follows: "Catechesis should [...] help in understanding the meaning for the Jews of the extermination during the years 1939-1945, and its consequences". On the part of the Jews, this demand was welcomed and at the same time criticized for not taking into account that the Shoah had also its very own and special significance for the Church and Christianity. They said that it was important and necessary for the Church to make a statement on that aspect.

This criticism was not without a response on the part of the Church. In his letter of 8 August 1987 addressed to Archbishop John L. May (Saint Louis) and at his meeting with Jewish representatives on 11 September 1987 in Miami, Pope John Paul II promised historical and religious studies on the Shoah as well as a Catholic document on this matter. The respective studies were presented at the 13th annual meeting of the International Liaison Committee between the Catholic Church and the Jewish People held of 3-6 September 1990. It was stated: "The intention to prepare a document (on the Shoah) was confirmed by the Holy See's Commission". In addition, the 14th annual meeting of the Liaison Committee which took place on 4-7 May 1992 in Baltimore included a contribution by Rev. Bernard Dupuy OP, offering a reflection on the Shoah. At this meeting Cardinal Cassidy asked me to prepare a draft of a Vatican document on anti-Semitism and the Shoah, in cooperation with Rev. Dupuy. In a series of discussions and agreements at the Baltimore meeting as well as afterwards, Rev. Dupuy and I agreed that the work group "Questions of Judaism" of the German Bishops' Conference Commission for Ecumenical Affairs would make the first draft.

The German work group, presided by Auxiliary Bishop Karl Reger (Aachen), is made up of nine Catholic theologians, all of whom are involved in a more or less intense exchange with Jewish dialogue partners. They represent, among other things, the theological disciplines of Ecclesiastical History, Exegesis of the New Testament, Science of Judaism, Ecumenics and Pedagogy of Religion. Since summer 1992, the work group has held seven meetings on the project. On 11-12 March of this year, the work group gathered with the Polish Episcopal Commission for Dialogue with the Jewish People in the Ecumenical Center of Auschwitz and seized this opportunity for an exchange of some perspectives worked out up to then. Presently we deal with the fourth version of our draft.

The Draft is made up of Three Parts:

1. The way toward the Shoah in the Church;
2. The question of co-responsibility and guilt of the Church.
3. Tasks of the Church in remembrance of the Shoah.

Part 1

Part one refers to the past. It reminds of traditions, situations and stages which have burdened and poisoned the relationship between the Church and the Jewish people. In this respect, our work group does not intend to make a sober and emotionless analysis from a historical point of view. Rather, it faces the historical reality of the Church's anti-Judaism1 in an active and sympathizing way. Consequently expressions of pain and also of lamentation are included.

Already the development of the Church from Judaism was a period of fight reflected in the Scriptures of the New Testament. Theological questions were a centerpiece of the conflicts in the New Testament. During subsequent history cultural and political developments as well as sociological realities were added. They widened the gap between the Church and Judaism. Despite the wide gap there were also historical attempts of understanding and co- existence in harmony. More determining factors were infringements, social discrimination as well as attempts of forced conversion and expulsions. The expulsion from Spain of the Jews in 1492 occurred on the threshold of the modern era, which was especially marked - according to the historical outline of the first part - by the new form of anti-Judaism on racial grounds. A terrible mixture of religious, social, economic, political and racial hostility towards Jews created the historical basis for the European Jews being driven on their deadly way towards the Shoah. The question of where the Church stood in the years from 1933 to 1945 is answered by our draft in saying that the Church as a whole offered no effective resistance to the Nazi persecution and extermination.

Part one recapitulates - summarily and roughly - the history of Christian anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism. Its aim is not to make a precise historical analysis and it is not its task, for instance, to examine in great detail the Vatican's reactions and interventions as well as its silence during the years of the Shoah. On the basis of the development of history as a whole, the historical part tries to give a picture of where the Church stood during the years of the Shoah. Due to the very fruitful dialogue with the Polish Commission for Dialogue, the German work group has understood that - besides the behaviour of the German Church and bishops as well as the Vatican diplomacy and policy - the difference according to countries and regions, to personalities and circumstances must be outlined as well. In this context we have to mention not only the collaboration of Christians and church people with the Nazis, but also examples of an authentic resistance and a concrete assistance to Jews, who - in doing so - put their own lives at great risk. For this purpose we will certainly consult the papers of Prague once again. Such a broader differentiation does not reduce the pressure exerted by the second question to which part two of the draft is dedicated.

It is not enough simply to state the fact of the historical burden in the Church's relationship with the Jewish people. Rather, the Church and the Christians have to acknowledge "to what extent the responsibility is theirs", as is said by the Vatican "Guidelines and Suggestions for Implementing the Conciliar Declaration Nostra Aetate, no. 4" of January 1975. Part two of the draft wants to respond to this necessity. It tries to find an answer to the "question of co-responsibility and guilt of the Church".

Part 2

The wording of "co-responsibility and guilt" has been chosen deliberately. It is to draw special attention to the connection and difference of historical involvement and ethical responsibility. Historical involvement means: the tradition of theological and church anti-Judaism was an important element on the way towards the Shoah.

There was a preceding contribution of the Church and Christianity to a climate which was indifferent and sometimes hostile to the Jewish people and Judaism and which paved the way for modern anti-Semitism. But the Christian anti-Judaism was not the only factor in that development. This historical aspect signifies a "co" - responsibility. In the context of a confessional statement, often a "joint" guilt is meant. This appears to us insufficient, for reasons of moral theology. A confession of guilt would affect its own integrity and sincerity if, in acknowledging the guilt, this confession looks upon others at the same time. A guilt before God cannot be halved, it is indivisible. The one who makes a statement of guilt makes a statement about himself/herself and not about others. Consequently there is a historical "co-responsibility" which - in a historical analysis - can be indicated as one factor among many others in a historical development; regarding the actual confessional act, however, it has to be acknowledged as a "guilt". There was consensus with the Polish Commission for Dialogue concerning this theological accentuation - as well as concerning the importance of the clear and unequivocal condemnation of anti-Semitism by a series of church statements of Vatican II or by the fundamental agreement between the Holy See and the State of Israel of 30 December 1993.

Another point remained controversial. It is the question as to whether or not a Vatican document, which is an authoritative declaration of the Universal Church, can adopt the statements made by particular churches on the co- responsibility and guilt of the Church for the Shoah. It is the question as to whether or not the document - on the basis of the confession of guilt voiced by the German and the Polish Church - is to formulate a separate confession. In fact, the German work group has a hope, a vision. Its members want to recommend an express confession of guilt to the Vatican Commission submitting it for a critical and liberal examination. The corresponding passage of the present draft on this matter reads as follows:

"If the German and the Polish Church, in view of the Jewish fate during the years of National Socialism, seek forgiveness, then they already give the answer to the question of co-responsibility and guilt of the Church for the Shoah. What the two particular churches have said is adopted by the Church as a whole. She confesses that she bears co-responsibility for the Shoah and that she has burdened herself with guilt.

For centuries the preaching and theology did not consider the permanence of Judaism as a way of life and faith to be included in God's plan of salvation. It was an enigma to it. The existence of Jews as Jews seemed abnormal to it. What in Christian thought seemed to be out of date or outworn, did not receive the due attention in situations of danger. The Christian perception of the real situation of the Jewish minority was affected when the danger was threatening life. A long standing theology and preaching had soothed the conscience of people and had weakened their ability to resist when, in Europe and Germany, the National Socialist anti-Semitism came up with all its brutality and criminal energy. In their opinion that God's covenant with Israel was broken off and the contemporary existence of the Jewish people was an anachronism, many Christians together with their bishops were so prejudiced that they did not have the necessary clear-sightedness in order to recognize the evil of anti-Semitic persecution by National Socialism and consequently they did not react against it. "In this period of National Socialism - despite the exemplary behaviour of some individuals and groups - we were nevertheless as a whole a church community who kept on living their life in turning their back too often on the fate of this persecuted Jewish people; who looked too fixedly at the threat to their own institutions and who remained silent about the crimes committed against the Jews and Judaism" (Joint Synod of Dioceses in the Federal Republic of Germany, resolution "Our Hope. A Profession of Faith in Modern Times" of 22 November 1975, quoted from: R. Rendtorff/H.H. Henrix, ed., Die Kirchen und das Judendum. Dokument von 1945 bis 1985, Paderborn/Munchen 1988, p. 245). This led to the manifold guilt of many Christians and in the Church: to the guilt of not having done the due good as well as to the guilt of the evil deed, to the guilt of silence and of the failure to render aid as well as to the guilt of not having been there where protest, assistance and protection were necessary and possible.

The Church acknowledges a connection between the long advocated "teaching of contempt" towards Judaism and the brutal anti-Semitism in modern Western world. The history of failure and guilt towards the Jewish people forms part of her. This is a fact which the Church bemoans. She feels shame and repentance and recognizes the need for conversion. In view of the failure of the Church and of the faithful towards the Jewish people we confess in the witness of Saint John: "If we say, we have never sinned, we make him a liar and his word finds no place in us" (1 John 1:10). We invoke God to grant us forgiveness and we request the Jewish people to hear this word of conversion and will of renewal."

Is it possible that such a confession of guilt be expressed as an authoritative declaration of the Universal Church? Or does such a formulation of the acknowledgment of guilt lack sufficient differentiation between the different dimensions of guilt, for instance between the German Church, the churches of those countries which from 1939 to 1945 were under Nazi-German occupation and the Church as a whole? During the next weeks, the work group will again examine these questions.

Part 3

The completion of part three "Tasks of the Church in remembrance of the Shoah" will also require intensive efforts. For this part, Prof. Franz Mussner has revised, deepened and enlarged his programme of a "theology after Auschwitz" which he presented at the 13th annual meeting in Prague. Apart from perspectives of a conversion and renewal of the theology after Auschwitz, this third part is also to offer help in view of recognizing the biblical statements and their historical facts through preaching, liturgy and teaching. This implies that it has to be pleaded for really taking the Old Testament seriously or efforts have to be made to arouse sensitivity to the fact that anti-Judaic statements within the New Testament may, even today, provoke anti-Judaism among Christians if these statements are not accompanied by thorough explanations. The findings of theological research into the trial against Jesus should find entrance into the teaching of the Church just as the teaching on Israel in the Epistle to the Romans should reach the parishes today. And finally it is necessary that the Catholics are recommended to show an attentive and caring solidarity with the Jewish people. First and foremost this means that Christians must engage in resolute actions against all recent and new manifestations of anti-Semitism. This solidarity implies that a Christian identity must not be defined in terms of its rejection of Judaism. Solidarity between the Church and the Jewish people becomes apparent as witness to a joint responsibility for the world, which has to be outlined. The drafts of Part Three submitted up to now must be revised with regard to the persuasive power of their content as well as to the problem of size.

When will the German work group be able to present the result of its studies and deliberations to the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews? We do hope that one of the three members of the editorial staff will soon have recovered from his severe disease, that in summer and autumn the questions relating to the content can be clarified, and that in winter the drafting will be brought to a conclusion.


In conclusion of this report I would like to point out the trouble and distress the work group experienced in accomplishing this task we were faced with. More than once we had to admit that we were at a loss for an answer to the questions under consideration and thus we were forced to grow silent. Often enough our personal judgements were so different and even opposite that, as a consequence, our relationship as colleagues and friends was sorely tried in this controversy. This left us not only with the impression of inability and impotence to master the challenge of the Shoah but the question also arose whether in this theological and existential examination of the questions relating to the Shoah the deadly power of Auschwitz grasps at us from afar. This power wants to drag us down to its unfathomableness and to its destruction of life, belief, of speaking and of thinking and consequently to its silence. A helpless and insufficient word can already be a protest against this power of destruction. The work group experienced phases of resignation and of "now more than ever". It is well aware of the possibility to fail. The Jewish audience may think of the word of Rabbi Tarfon who said: "It is not your duty to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it" (Aboth 2:16). The Christian may have in mind a parable of Jesus saying: "When you have done all you have been commanded to do, say, "We are useless servants. We have done no more than our duty". (Luke 17:10).

1 Translator's remark: The author of the German text distinguishes between "Judenfeindschaft" (=hostility towards Jews on religious grounds) and "Antisemitismus" ( = hostility towards Jews on racial grounds). In the following text "Judenfeindschaft" is translated by the term "anti-Judaism", and "Antisemitismus" by the term "anti-Semitism" in order to make clear distinctions between both expressions.

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