Nuncio's Writings Tell of No Controversy Over Jewish Children
With Journalist Andrea Tornielli on Archbishop Roncalli's Files
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 clichés, 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
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.