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Vatican-Appointed Commission Raises New Questions about the Vatican's Role in the Holocaust

Aired October 26, 2000 - 1:31 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: The delicate relationship between Catholics and Jews is being tested once again. Just released: some information a Vatican-appointed commission uncovered about Pope Pius XII and what he knew about the Holocaust.

The story from CNN's Jim Bittermann.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIM BITTERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After 10 months of study, a Vatican-appointed commission of Catholics and Jews has raised 47 significant new questions about the Vatican's role during World War II, and particularly why Pope Pius XII did not raise his voice sooner against the Holocaust, since, according to the panel of historians, he knew about it as early as June, 1942.

ROBERT WISTRICH, HISTORIAN: The information was there. Later in '43, you even have notes of the secretary of state: situatione horrible. They talk about four million Jews killed in Poland. I mean, of course they knew.

BITTERMANN: The commission report seemed only bound to raise more controversy about the Vatican's wartime pope who is currently being examined by the church for possible sainthood. But the picture of Pius that emerged to some commission members is that he was, at best, naive in his reaction to Nazi crimes.

EVA FLEISCHNER, THEOLOGIAN: His immediate recourse was to prayer. That was his hope for a solution somehow. For his own personal comfort, he believed deeply in prayer. And again, I would say today, this was utterly inadequate. And I speak here as a believing and practicing Catholic. It was utterly inadequate.

BITTERMANN: The report is unlikely to do much, as Pope John Paul II has often hoped, to improve relations between Catholics and Jews. But the commission suggested that what might help is for its members to get Vatican approval for further research into its archives.

SEYMOUR REICH, COMMISSION COORDINATOR: The ball is in the Vatican's court. I think they understand that. The group is really now waiting for that process to take place.

BITTERMANN: But it's not clear the Vatican will grant the commission further access to its secret wartime files in order to get answers to the questions now raised.

LORENZO CREMONESI, VATICAN SPECIALIST: I think the Vatican is in a quite difficult position, because the questions are so difficult to answer, which will open up new question on the role of the pope and the Vatican and the church during the Holocaust. And the Vatican will be really obliged to answer.

BITTERMANN (on camera): There was no immediate reaction from Vatican officials to the commission's preliminary report, which seems to have reopened nagging doubts about exactly how far the church wants researchers to look into its conduct during World War II.

Jim Bittermann, CNN, Rome.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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