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Reviewed by:
  • The Papacy, the Jews, and the Holocaust
  • John Jay Hughes
The Papacy, the Jews, and the Holocaust. By Frank J. Coppa. (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press. 2006. Pp. xxii, 353. $59.95.)

Before venturing into the minefield covered by this book, Coppa notes that "many of the most influential works on the Church and the Holocaust have been produced not by historians and theologians but by dramatists, novelists, [End Page 339] journalists, and lawyers."Hence "one must keep in mind the difference between advocacy and historical scholarship."

Coppa deserves credit for writing as a historian, albeit—and this is a major weakness of the book—one so detached that he is often unwilling to judge between sharply contesting advocates. Herewith an example of his "on the one hand—on the other hand"methodology.

Coppa reports, correctly, that the protest of Pope Pius XIIagainst the Nazi roundup of Roman Jews in mid-October 1943 was private and discrete. He also gives the reason:because the German Ambassador to the Holy See, Ernst von Weiszäcker, who worked behind the scenes to frustrate his superiors' persecution of Jews, warned the Pope that a public protest would put the Jews at even greater danger. Labeling the Pope's policy "subtle benevolence"(toward whom?Coppa does not tell us), he writes that "some observers are convinced that [the Pope's course of action] avoided a massive massacre of Roman Jewry. Others discount the papal role in saving Rome's Jews."A footnote refers to the works of Susan Zuccotti. The reader is not informed that her arguments have been decisively refuted by Ronald Rychlak. Though herself a historian (unlike many non-historians cited uncritically by Coppa—notably James Carroll, a frequent source throughout the book), Zuccotti's work is a prime example of what Coppa calls in his Introduction "a process of selection that bolsters a preconceived interpretative bias."In a work heavily dependent on secondary sources the failure to distinguish between advocates and honest seekers after truth is a major flaw.

We all make mistakes. But the number of them in these pages is troubling. Repeated citations of an important article by Martin Rhonheimer all refer to non-existent page numbers. Well-known contemporary names are garbled (curial Cardinal "Jeijia,"Archbishop "Gunthausn"of Seattle). Coppa writes twice about "2600 priests at Vatican II,"seemingly unaware that almost all were bishops. He gives a version of the prayer for the Jews in the Good Friday liturgy never heard in any church in the English-speaking world. A reference to a "bishop's protest" against Nazi euthanasia fails to identify the prelate in question. A number of pronouns lack antecedents, leaving the reader to guess at the author's meaning.

Worst of all is his account of "a postwar document, discovered only at the close of 2004," ordering that Jewish children baptized during the Holocaust not be returned to their parents. Coppa fails to inform readers that within days of this discovery the document in question was shown to be of uncertain provenance, and that its account of Vatican policy was false. An omission of this magnitude is difficult to excuse.

Inconsistencies abound. Coppa writes on page 143, for instance, about Pius XI's "conciliatory approach toward Nazi Germany,"only to tell us fifteen pages later that "between 1933 and 1936 Pius made more than thirty protests against [End Page 340] Nazi actions."Coppa cites defenders of the disputed 2000 Vatican document Dominus Jesus who pointed out that calling Christianity the only true religion "does not claim that all others are false, or even that Christianity is perfect as it is lived today."His comment that "this line of thought seems to defy logic" makes one wonder about Coppa's own logic.

A writer familiar with Catholicism could not write about the priest at Mass "sanctifying the host."Nor could he call Pope John Paul II's statement that Vatican II's language about Christ as "the only Savoir of the world does not forbid, but on the contrary calls for, the peaceful relations with the believers of other religions"merely "one side of the debate."And such a writer...


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