How history can help teach moral lessons

Secret Vatican archives covering the wartime correspondence of Pope Pius XII, above, will be opened in March 2020 after Jewish groups asked that the Church help dispel concerns that he turned a blind eye to genocide
Secret Vatican archives covering the wartime correspondence of Pope Pius XII, above, will be opened in March 2020 after Jewish groups asked that the Church help dispel concerns that he turned a blind eye to genocide

The archives of the Vatican that relate to the events leading up to and including the Holocaust, particularly the actions of Pope Pius XII, have been progressively opened since the 1960s.

Now the archive regarding other aspects of the pontificate of Pius XII is to be revealed. This is unlikely to throw additional light directly on Pius and the Holocaust, but will surely help  for a more rounded view of Pius and
his concerns.

“The Church is not afraid of history; rather, she loves it”, said Pope Francis as he confirmed the opening of the archive. However, even “loved”, history frequently proves difficult to handle.

I was privileged recently to take part in a Council of Christians and Jews (CCJ) seminar for Christian clergy at Yad Vashem. It seems redundant to say so, but the subject is harrowing.

How welcome it was when one of ours – a co-religionist, co-national – was noted for some righteous action way back then. And how tetchy and pernickety we could get when it seemed one of ours was held accountable. 

Everything is much easier when it is just about ‘them’.

History properly examines the actions and morality of ‘them’.

However, we only do it justice when we allow it to force us to better know the morality of ‘us’: or when I allow it to force me to consider the morality
of me.

As individuals, communities of faith, and nations, we have much to tussle with if we are to live honestly, justly, lovingly. Learning about history enables us to start.

• Allen Morris participated in CCJ’s Yad Vashem seminar for Christian clergy in 2018

About the Author
Dr Allen Morris is the Roman Catholic Parish Priest of St Nicholas, Boldmere
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