If there are a people on the face of the earth who have elicited passions, it is the Jews. The issue or question of the Jews has been so polemical so that it is virtually impossible to have an ambivalent standpoint on the Jews. The fundamental question of the Jew has been serious that The Church as a whole has had stakes, both positive and negative in it, especially when the historical development is brought into question. The reality of this standpoint is well illustrated by a barrage of apologies which have emanated from the Catholic Church, to the Jews. For instance, on March 13th, 2000, Pope John Paul II apologized to the Jews and the rest of the world for the sins of the Church, with these sins mainly being the sustenance of anti-Jewish Catholic doctrines and the crusades. Earlier on March 17th, 1998, the Vatican had issued apologies to the Jews for failing to fight against the Holocaust. The same development took place on November 4th, 2005. The French Church also issued apologies to the Jews on October 1st 1997, while on May 27th, 2001, the Roman Catholic Church in Poland would repeat the same apology to the Jews.
These above developments clearly show the extent the world has dealt with the Jews, with the policy which best characterizing this relation being described as anti-Semitic and the Holocaust serving as the hallmark and epitome of anti-Semitism. In itself, the phrase anti-Semitism has basically come to refer to the hatred of the Jews while etymologically, it had been being used to refer to the hatred of the Jews and Arabs as Semites. The Holocaust took place in the third Reich, which is commonly known as the Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945 as a totalitarian form of rule. The Third Reich was under the tutelage of Adolf Hitler and his (in)famous Nazi Party. In itself, the Holocaust refers to genocide of about six million European Jews in the wake of the World War II, with the genocide having been systematically carried out as a state sponsored extermination of the Jews who were mainly occupying Nazi territory at the time.
The role or the response that the Catholic Church made Nazi anti-Semitism is hard to fix to one definition. At the moment, as already discussed, the Catholic Church has not only condemned anti-Semitism together with its stark manifestation, the Holocaust, but has also issued an array of apologies for having not done much to avert the Holocaust. This means that presently, the Church abhors the historical Nazi-fanned anti-Semitism, on one hand. On the other hand, it is possible that the Catholic Church made responses which were neutral or too weak willed to be considered as serious.
Precisely, the role that the Catholic Church made during the Nazi anti-Semitism at the time and the response it made on the same, at that instance is not clear and in-depth. The same can be said to be true, if the roles that the leaders or clergy is to be examined. As Eugenio Pacelli (1876-1958), Pope Pius XII's activities in respect to the rise of the Nazi anti-Semitism remain largely unclear. At the time, Pope Pius XII as the Vatican envoy to Germany during the 1920s must have been having great influence and say in the then current affairs that were making inroads into German history at the time. The veracity of this observation is attested by the fact that Pope Pius XII in 1930s, negotiated a Concordant with Germany, successfully. This Concordant was powerful enough to grant the Germans, the freedom of worship as Roman Catholic adherents. This proves the fact that Pope Pius XII was powerful enough to make a point on German policies, since a treaty is as powerful as its movers and shakers.
However, it is important to take to stock, the fact that one of the factors which impeded the Catholic Church from making concrete and salvific responses to the matter which was the Nazi anti-Semitism was the very same Concordant which had been mooted and advanced by Pope Pius XII. Although the Concordant was hailed as an instrumental piece of legislation which secured the German Roman Catholics' freedom of worship and assembly, yet, its flipside was that it had been fundamentally tampered with Pope Pius XII's policy of Neutrality. This policy of neutrality maintained that the Roman Catholic Church in Germany was not to take any active part in disputing or advancing the policies which were being crafted and ratified in the Third Reich.
This above policy of neutrality was also not just Pope Pius XII's idea, but also a bargaining chip for the realization of the Concordant with Germany: as Eugenio Pacelli would become Pope at the start of World War II, the Church would be made to agree to become increasingly less politically active. In return to this neutrality from the Church, the state or the Third Reich was to allow the Catholic Church and its adherents to go about their services and in the partaking of their sacraments in peace. The gravity behind this development is felt in the fact that even in the face of the adherents of the Roman Catholic Church being cognizant of the rise of the Nazi anti-Semitism and the plan to carry out the Holocaust; the faithful were to remain silent on the same, so as to avoid not being politically correct. Perhaps, the most radical thing that the Catholic Church faithful would do was to murmur or gossip about the rise of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust.
Conversely, the reverse of the Concordant was that should Pope Pius XII have attacked Hitler, the Nazi Party or the policies of the Third Reich directly, the Nazis would have rescinded the provisions therein (in the Concordant), thereby leading to the dissolution of the Concordant and the dissolution of the Freedom of worship and assembly for the Catholic Church and its faithful. Indeed, this dilemma was captured in a July 1942 incident where the Archbishop of Utrecht wrote a personal letter as a protest against the persecutions of the Jews in Holland. No sooner had the Archbishop of Utrecht finished circulating the latter to the body politic, than the Nazi forces rounded up as many Jews, Catholics and non Aryans as possible, thereby deporting them to concentration and death camps.
According to Phayer, given the above incident, there are certain scholars who have come up to repudiate the accusation against the Church that it was complacent at the time of the Nazi anti-Semitism on the Jewish question. These scholars are up in arms, maintaining that the position of the Catholic Church and its faithful was not that of indifference towards the Jews, but that of concern; but the Church was not able to reverse the situation, given that its bargaining power had been bridled in the wake of the dictatorial rule by the Third Reich and its voice muffled by the dictates of the Concordant which saw the Nazi regime having an upper hand.
As a matter of fact, those who are in favor of the Catholic Church cite an incidence in 1942 where the Pope is known to have prepared a statement which condemned the Nazi persecution of the Jews. Nonetheless, seeing the developments that took place in Holland, he rescinded the decision to make the letter public. The same withdrawal from the decision is seen to have been spurred on by the disastrous fate of the Dutch bishops who had protested against the exportation of Jews from Denmark.
At the same time, it is important to note that the points that have been advanced by the above scholars to advance their support for the Catholic Church cannot be easily gainsaid. These point out at an instance in which the same Pope Pius XII saved Jews in their hundreds of thousands from death. One account puts the exact figure as 750,000 for the Jews who had been saved by Pope Pius XII. Others settle at 860,000 for the same. It is against this backdrop that the same scholars wax polemical in indicating that Pope Pius XII posthumously qualifies for the title "Righteous among the Nations", as a term which is used on the non Jews who have helped in saving Jews from the Nazis.
In another wavelength, at one end, that the Catholic Church made critical and risky responses against the rise of anti-Semitism in the Nazi regime is a matter which is well and multiply attested by other scholars. These point out at the fact that more frequently than any other organization known to the world, the Catholic Church, being led by Pope Pius XII publicly condemned oppression of the racist form. This was especially backed by supporting sources and documents, especially those which are known as the "wartime Christmas messages." At the other end however, there are critics who are equally passionate in discounting significance of the response the Catholic Church made on the Nazi anti-Semitism, saying that the language that Pope Pius XII used in the "wartime Christmas messages" were too vague to be understood by the German hoi polloi as directly referring to the Nazi atrocities, or the suffering of the Jews in the Third Reich.
Those such as Lewy who are in the support of the Roman Catholic Church having played a significant role in fighting Nazi anti-Semitism cite the incident in which the Church directly and publicly condemned the Nazi-crafted policy of killing the physically and mentally disabled in the 1930s. The same point at the fact that the Nazi forces discontinued the program temporarily as proof to the success of the moralist and brave efforts that the Catholic Church had made. However, dissenting voices use the same argument to discuss the responses that the Catholic Church had made, in regard to anti-Semitism under Nazism. These argue that the inconsistency and insincerity of the Catholic Church is seen in the effort and success of protecting the mentally and physically disabled. They argue that if the Catholic Church was sharp and precise in vouching for the rights and freedoms of the disabled to live, then the "wartime Christmas message" was arguably, not specifically or courageously meant to condemn anti-Semitism in the Nazi regime. Otherwise, the Catholic Church would have been specific by using specific terms such as anti-Semitism or the Holocaust, just as it was specific when it was clamoring for the observation of the mentally and physically handicapped rights and freedoms.
In an interesting twist, there are those who maintain that the Catholic Church is not to blame for its supposed silence during the time of the Nazi anti-Semitism. It is said that there are Jewish groups which prevailed on Pope Pius XII to remain neutral at the time of the World War II so that the Pope Pius XII and the Catholic Church would be more diplomatically helpful. The rationale behind this standpoint is that Jews surmised that if the Catholic Church would have become openly vocal and outspoken on anti-Semitism in the Third Reich, several possibilities would have materialized: the Church would be deemed as being partisan, thus her role in assuaging the extent and consequences of World War II and anti-Semitism would be clipped, in the international world and also locally, in Germany; or/ and the Church would be falling in danger of being included in the list of those shortlisted for the Holocaust (as was seen in the July 1942 case where the archbishop of Utrecht condemned the mistreatment and persecution of Jews in Holland, only to have Catholics being added to Jews and non Aryans who had been earlier earmarked for the Holocaust).
The same scholars and apologists such as Ware who would come in defense of the Catholic Church as having made critical response needed for the stopping of the Nazi anti-Semitism point out at some of the roles which were carried out by the church. Among the activities, the Vatican as the heart of the Roman Catholic Church is said to have hid at least 477 Jews during World War II. Other 4,238 Jews were also being hidden in the church's convents and monasteries, to keep them away from the Holocaust.
It is also pointed out that while carrying out the above undertakings, Pope Pius XII had spoken to a few trustworthy and select officials in private settings. This effort was being made by the pope to encourage the German officials to help these Jewish victims, and to also facilitate the hiding of as many Jews from the danger of the Holocaust as possible.
Therefore, it is easy to see that the mistake that the Catholic Church did was to fail to take a definite stand on the matter. The facts that: the Catholic Church never excommunicated any Nazi from its congregation; and Pope Pius XII never condemned Hitler's misdeeds underscore the inconsistency of the Catholic Church.