Nuncio's Writings Tell of No Controversy Over Jewish Children

Interview With Journalist Andrea Tornielli on Archbishop Roncalli's Files

ROME, JAN. 25, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Published accounts of personal writings of Archbishop Angelo Roncalli, the future Pope John XXIII, show there was no controversy in France over the question of baptized Jewish children. 

This runs contrary to recent reports in another Italian newspaper, which implied the Holy See kept some Jewish children from being returned to their families in postwar Europe. 

The latest reports appeared in last Sunday in the newspaper Il Giornale. Journalist Andrea Tornielli revealed the content of the some of the agendas of Archbishop Roncalli, the future Pope John XXIII, when he was papal nuncio in France. The agendas will be published this year in France by historian Etienne Fouilloux. 

There was nothing in the Giornale report to back up the allegations that the Holy See, the Holy Office, or Pope Pius XII were opposed to the return of Jewish children to their parents. 

Journalist Tornielli shared some details of his findings in this interview with ZENIT. 

Q: You have been able to see Roncalli's agendas for the years 1949-1953, when the future Pontiff was still nuncio in Paris. Which chapters refer to the issue of baptized Jewish children? 

Tornielli: The only allusion is the annotation on February 20, 1953. Roncalli, already a cardinal, went to bid farewell to French President Vincent Auriol, who spoke about the Finaly case, regarding two Jewish children baptized in the midst of a dispute between their aunts, who claimed them, and the Catholic family that had cared for them. 

Here is the text: "Afternoon, farewell visit to President Auriol, who was most kind as always. He spoke to me about the Finaly matter, to which I gave no importance ..." 

As can be seen, it was a marginal episode. In the rest of the agendas, nuncio Roncalli, who writes everything down and talks about everything, never alludes to the case of the two baptized children, or to the instructions of the Holy Office regarding the requests of Jewish organizations. 

Q: How many Jewish children were baptized and how many were not returned to their relatives? 

Tornielli: There are no precise statistics. France is the European country where there was the greatest number of secret baptisms. Moreover, they took place contravening the dispositions of canon law and of French Catholic bishops. But the only case that the protests refer to is that of the Finaly brothers. 

Q: What was the reaction the Jewish world to this affair? 

Tornielli: As usual, there were different reactions. There were those who manipulated the affair, going so far as to call Pius XII a "kidnapper" of children. There were others, such as American Rabbi Jack Bemporad, who offered to look, instead, at the enormous number of Jews who were able to save their lives thanks to the Pope's charity. 

Q: What were relations like between Pope Pius XII and the then nuncio Roncalli? Is it true that they had opposite intentions and views of the world? 

Tornielli: John XXIII's pontificate was certainly different from that of Pope Eugenio Pacelli -- different Popes by character and formation. They had to carry out their respective pontificates in successive but very different periods. 

Blessed John XXIII is the one who unleashed a historic change in the Catholic Church, convoking the Second Vatican Council. Pius XII had also thought about it but, after World War II, the bishops could not stay away for too long from their dioceses. 

Having said this, however, one deduces from these documents that Archbishop Roncalli was a faithful executor and interpreter of Pope Pius XII's directives, and this harmony is reflected in the notes of the agenda that tell us about the audiences of Paris' nuncio with the Pontiff. 

Q: Some historians of the Second Vatican Council describe John XXIII as a "socialist Pope." But those who met him in the Vatican describe him as a rather conservative Pontiff. What is your opinion in this respect? 

Tornielli: In my opinion, one must be careful with clich├ęs, no matter where they come from. The "myth" of a "progressive" and even "revolutionary" Pope John is unfounded and not historical. 

Suffice it to mention the insistence with which he recommended the study of Latin to seminarians, the rash that unauthorized liturgical innovations caused him, the strong and clear sharp retorts one reads in his agendas against the Communist ideology and the fact that, during his pontificate, the protocol of the papal court did not change an iota in regard to that of his predecessor. 

However, one must not fall into the opposite error, presenting this great Pope as an inveterate conservative. He was a traditional man, capable of demonstrating enormous courage in important moments, of carrying out prophetic gestures that have penetrated the hearts of millions of people. 

Q: Then, everything Il Corriere della Sera wrote on Dec. 28 is very far from the historical truth? 

Tornielli: The Church, which regards baptism as the most important sacrament, had the doctrinal framework of canon law. But it behaved with great humanity and common sense, including in the cases of Jewish children saved and baptized and then claimed by their parents. 

In one case, Pius XII himself intervened, ordering the immediate return of children to their mothers, even if they had been baptized.