The Year Ahead: Pope Francis and the Pius Archives
Tue, 12/31/2013
Pope Francis: Reframing the notion of papal infallibility. Getty Images
Pope Francis: Reframing the notion of papal infallibility. Getty Images

For many Catholics, Pope Francis is a cleansing breath of fresh air. In a short nine months since taking over at the Vatican, he has reset the Church, putting a strong focus on tolerance, simplicity and helping the poor. For Jews, he’s the pope with a rebbe. The pope has maintained a longtime friendship with Argentine Rabbi Abraham Skorka (the two wrote a book together, the 2010 “On Heaven and Earth”); that fact was hailed by Jewish leaders when he was tapped for pope as a sign that the Jewish-Catholic relationship would continue on solid ground.

In the book, then-Cardinal Bergoglio suggested that on the most contentious Jewish-Catholic issue — the refusal of the Church to open the archives of wartime Pope Pius XII, who is headed toward sainthood — he favored opening the archives. (Many Jewish leaders believe Pius did little to try to save Jews during the war.)

A little-reported comment in the pope’s now-famous September interview with a Jesuit publication (in which he said the Church has grown “obsessed” with the culture war issues of abortion, gay marriage and contraception) could hold out hope for the Jewish community on the Pius front. In that interview, he seemed to be reframing the notion of papal infallibility, which reportedly held back John Paul II from being able to criticize Pius’ wartime record. Pope Francis spoke of infallibility as a collective process, one that included not only the Church hierarchy but also the laity (“a dialogue among the people and the bishops and the pope,” he said). It will be interesting to see if Jewish leaders pursue this opening with the pope in their ongoing efforts to have the Vatican open the Pius archives.

Robert Goldblum