Insights & Expertise

Film Screening Wrestles with Catholic Church’s Inaction During Holocaust

by Jeffrey Martin ’04, ’05 (M.A.)

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Popes Pius XI (left) and XII were instrumental figures in the Church's response to anti-Semitism before and during World War II.

Saint Joseph’s University will host a special Philadelphia screening of “Holy Silence,” a new documentary exploring the Catholic Church’s actions during the Holocaust and World War II, on Tuesday, March 3.

Nearly seventy years after the Holocaust, questions persist on what role, if any, the Catholic Church could have played in preventing the rise of Adolf Hitler and in intervening to save the lives of Jews in Europe. “Holy Silence” tackles the issue head-on by focusing on a series of major figures of the time, including Popes Pius XI and XII and John LaFarge, S.J., an American Jesuit priest whom Pius XI recruited to draft an encyclical condemning Nazi racism and antisemitism. Pius XI died before the draft could be reviewed, and it is the subject of debate whether his successor may have been one of the forces in the Vatican who kept it from him. LaFarge is the namesake of Saint Josephs’ LaFarge Hall.

The screening is a collaboration between the University’s Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM). Adam Gregerman, Ph.D., co-director of the Institute, serves on the museum’s committee on ethics, religion and the Holocaust.

“After World War II, the Catholic Church had to grapple with the inescapable question of how much centuries of Christian anti-Jewish teaching had led to the events of the Holocaust,” Philip Cunningham, Ph.D., co-director of the Institute, said. “The Second Vatican Council started a path of dialogue between the two faiths, and we continue to do that work. We cannot build on this relationship without continually addressing such questions.”

The film comes at a pivotal time in the understanding of the Church’s actions during World War II. Pope Francis announced last year that the Vatican would open its archives of the pontificate of Pius XII to researchers; the release is scheduled for March 2, the day before the screening.

The screening will be held at 7 p.m. in the Wolfington Teletorium, Mandeville Hall. Gregerman and Cunningham, Ph.D., along with University Professor Rabbi Abraham Skorka; Suzanne Brown-Fleming, director of international academic programs at the Mandel Center of the USHMM; Mark C. Reed, Ed.D., president of Saint Joseph’s; and Steven Pressman, the film’s director, will lead a discussion after the screening.