Nice job by Gary Craig in yesterday’s Democrat and Chronicle. Biggest crowd ever for a book-signing at Barnes & Noble, Pittsford, last night.
“When retired Monroe County Family Court Judge Anthony Sciolino finished his book exploring the Catholic Church’s role in the Holocaust, he could not have foreseen how the controversial issue would resonate with current history.
Sciolino is now promoting his self-published book,The Holocaust, The Church and the Law of Unintended Consequences, as the world welcomes Pope Francis, formerly Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the archbishop of Buenos Aires.
Francis has been accused of ignoring the murders and kidnappings of thousands during the so-called “Dirty War” in Argentina in the late 1970s and early 1980s. His supporters and the Vatican contend that the record shows that Francis did take steps to save lives, and that his detractors are trying to smear him at the start of his papacy.
For Sciolino, the current controversy — and questions of whether Francis was silent during the Dirty War — are remarkably similar to those explored in his book. “The legitimate question is to what extent, if you’re in a high religious position, do you have an obligation to speak out against injustice,” he said.
Of course, there is little in history to compare to the injustice and savagery of the Holocaust. A Catholic himself, Sciolino writes in his book:
“Jews ponder the Holocaust and rightly ask: Where was God? Christians must do the same, but also ask: Where were we Christians? And where was the Church?”
In 1998, the Vatican issued a formal apology, acknowledging that it did not speak out against the Holocaust. But the statement, for many, seemed as much as exoneration of Pope Pius XII, the Pope during the Holocaust, as an apology recognizing the history of the genocide.
“We cannot know how many Christians in countries occupied or ruled by the Nazi powers or their allies were horrified at the disappearance of their Jewish neighbors and yet were not strong enough to raise their voices in protest,” the statement read.
Sciolino said he hoped his research into Catholicism before the Holocaust would lead him to different conclusions than it did. After all, his mother had a photo of Pius prominently displayed at home. But after years of research, spurred in part by a local interfaith exploration of the seeds of the Holocaust, Sciolino could not absolve the Vatican.
“When I started I really hoped that my research would exonerate Pope Pius XII and the Church,” he said.
Instead, he decided that a distinctive anti-Semitism had become rooted in Catholicism, and the Holocaust-related sins of the Church went beyond simple apathy toward Hitler’s growing power. Historians, such as Garry Wills, have explored similar grounds, and Sciolino revisits some of the same arguments.
Other historians contend that, while the Vatican may have been a bystander at the time of the Holocaust, the Church should not be viewed as accommodating the killings of millions.
Sciolino, who as Family Court judge approved adoptions by two same-sex couples, has found himself occasionally on the outs with the more conservative leaning members of his faith. But he said he is willing to debate the premise of his book, aided by the years of research he spent on the topic.
“I have no ax to grind,” said Scioliono, who will discuss his book Tuesday at the Barnes & Noble in Pittsford. “I am not anti-Church. I love the Church. But when the Church errs it needs to admit it erred because if it doesn’t, it’s likely to err again.”
Asked about Sciolino’s book, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rochester responded that it would not comment on the book directly, but did issue a statement: “We wholeheartedly join our voices with Pope Benedict XVI who, on his visit to the Great Synagogue in Jerusalem in 2010, told his listeners that ‘the Church has not failed to deplore the failings of her sons and daughters, begging forgiveness for all that could in any way have contributed to the scourge of anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism. May these wounds be healed forever!’ ’’