Letters: Vatican's archive

Vatican's sealed archive hampers Christian-Jewish understanding


Sir: By common consent the Roman Catholic Church has played a distinguished role following the Shoah in mending the historic breach between Christians and Jews.

The encyclical Nostra aetate (1965) emphasised the unique place for Jews as a people with whom God has made a covenant which is irrevocable. Subsequent documents have therefore invited Christians to see the anti-Judaism in the Gospels in its context as a product of sibling rivalry, and to work to avoid both the suggestion that Judaism is superseded by Christianity and the consequent tendency for religious anti-Judaism to fuel widespread anti-semitism. Furthermore, individual Roman Catholics have rightly been recognised for their courage during the Second World War. Nuncio Angelo Roncalli, later Pope John XXIII, signed countless baptismal certificates, for instance, to ensure safety for Jews facing Nazi persecution.

At a time when the need for understanding between faiths has been heightened as a result of recent terrorist violence, and when anti-semitism and faith- and race-hatred crimes more generally are on the increase across Europe, the importance of the visit made by Pope Benedict XVI to the synagogue in Cologne, so early in his pontificate, should not therefore be underestimated. It is a very strong indicator of the seriousness with which he regards inter-faith relations.

This is sadly, however, undercut in two related ways, by the refusal of the Vatican to open its archives to the scrutiny of scholars of the Holocaust period - at a time when grave doubts remain as to the degree of the Vatican's active opposition to the Nazi regime - and by the intention, consequently seen by many as divisive, to advance the beatification of Pius XII, the pope during the war years.

What is needed is an unambiguous commitment on the part of all Churches to be consistently open and, where appropriate, self-critical in relation to the ambiguities of a past too often characterised by Christian-inspired persecution of the Jews, and an institutional unwillingness to counter this. Anything less will merely bury this historic problem beneath a veneer of friendliness which actually masks deep-seated and continued suspicion. This will not help our urgent quest for a more peaceful and stable world.



When police have to shoot to kill

Sir: Is Ann Cryer (Opinion, 22 August) trying to score political points in referring to the current policy relating to potential suicide bombers as "short-circuiting our criminal justice system" and likening it to capital punishment?

While there are many question to be answered as to where on the scales of honest error, cock-up or incompetence the de Menezes killing comes, to talk as Ms Cryer does only serves to inflame the situation still further.

A simple scenario: firearms officers are on a Tube train, with firm intelligence that there is about to be a suicide bombing. They observe and positively identify a member of a terrorist cell wearing a rucksack with protruding wires and looking nervous. What do they do? Tap him on the shoulder and say "Would you care to come along with me, sir?"

Clearly something went horribly wrong at Stockwell station and an innocent man died, but to go from there to accuse as Cryer does, is a disservice to us all.



Sir: The shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes was of course tragic. But it needs to be remembered that we are in a war situation. And, in war, tragic mistakes happen.

It would be very sad if our highly dedicated and professional police force (the frontline troops in the present situation) were to be demoralised or unnecessarily oppressed by this one mistake. By all means, let the proper inquiry go on. But let's also give due praise and regard to the thin blue line which effectively is all that stands between us and murderous terrorists.



Sir: In your leader of 20 August you rightly criticise the police for introducing a "shoot to kill" policy, stipulating that suspects are to be shot in the head if they are believed to be suicide bombers posing an imminent danger. You argue that it was a fundamental change in policing which the police should not have introduced without announcing what they were doing and subjecting the decision to proper democratic scrutiny.

It could be that the "shoot to kill" policy, as you describe it, is also unlawful. Section 6 of the Human Rights Act, which incorporated the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law, says that it is unlawful for a public authority to act in a way which is incompatible with a Convention right. Section 2 of the EHCR says that no one shall be deprived of life intentionally save in the execution of a sentence of a court or if it results from the use of force which is no more than absolutely necessary: a) in defence of any person from unlawful violence; b) in order to effect a lawful arrest or to prevent escape of a person lawfully detained; or c) in action lawfully taken for the purpose of quelling a riot or insurrection.

Notice that the Convention refers to "force which is no more than absolutely necessary", not "force which is believed by a police officer, in the heat of the moment, to be no more than absolutely necessary".

Policemen, like the rest of us, are subject to the rule of law. The "shoot to kill" policy, by instructing them to do something that could well be unlawful, places them in an impossible position. If the authorities want a "shoot to kill" policy they should ask Parliament to change the law.



Sir: What we are being asked to believe has a rather familiar air.

As it emerged that the man shot dead at Stockwell tube station was innocent the debate raged around the country. It's a tragedy, but why did he run away? Why did he vault the ticket barrier? He may not have deserved to die but he must have been up to no good.

If, as now seems likely, Mr de Menezes was acting in a perfectly normal manner this will, in the absence of some severe communications failure somewhere within the force, have been known at the highest level very early on on in the investigation.

Sir Ian Blair has questioned the source of the original information about Mr de Menezes's behaviour. He tells us that Mr de Menezes is one more victim of the the terrorist attacks. Most people just want to know why we were allowed to continue believing something which now appears to be untrue.

It reminds us of a different Blair who, when asked why the public was allowed to believe that it was under far greater threat from Saddam Hussein than it actually was, said that he acted in good faith and did what he thought was best in the interests of our security. This was not the question we were asking.

Even if Sir Ian had no hand in creating the wrong impression, is allowing the wrong impression to linger any more forgivable?



We cyclists should stay on the road

Sir: As a cyclist, I share Don Newton's sentiments on pavement cycling (letter, 22 August). It is wrong to cycle on the footpath and there is only one excuse for pavement cycling: confusion.

Local authorities seem to insist upon painting outline pictures of bicycles on footpaths with white paint and calling the footpath a "shared-use facility". No wonder some cyclists seem to think it's acceptable to cycle on the footpath.

I cycle on the road, where I'm supposed to be. Yet I find myself yelled at by motorists to "Get off the bloody road!" and "Get on the bloody cycle path!" when all there is alongside is a footpath. No wonder some cyclists are confused.

The greatest aid to cycling safely on the road is to do it. The more of us that are out there cycling where we have a right to be, on the road, the safer we are as motorists get used to cyclists being there. Do not forget, when we are motoring (I also drive) we do not have a right to be on the road, we have a licence, which can be revoked should we misbehave enough. Pedestrians, cyclists and equestrians actually do have a right to be on the road, even though the disciples of Clarkson would have motorists think otherwise.



Gaza pull-out and Sharon's strategy

Sir: Let's be clear about one thing: the Israeli pull-out from Gaza is not an act of benevolence or a sacrifice necessary to establish long-term peace in the region. Mr Sharon is appeasing the international community until they relax their pressure on him.

Sometimes you need to forfeit a battle to win the war. This carefully choreographed retreat is part of a grand plan to strengthen Israel's hold in the region by diverting attention from considerable expansion and consolidation elsewhere. It is also intended to generate world sympathy through the plight of the Gaza settlers, who are in reality just pawns in a much bigger game.

Israel condemns the fundamentalists who cause so much horror in the region today yet ultimately they are a product of their own creation. Drive 800,000 Palestinians from their homes into the squalor of refugee camps for 40 years and what other result would you expect? My father, a Palestinian Christian and a British citizen for 45 years, visited his birthplace in Jerusalem for the last time recently - he hardly recognised the people he used to call his fellow countrymen, and mentioned particularly the growth of Muslim militancy as a result of the conditions they have endured.

If Mr Sharon is really serious about long-term peace, why isn't he concentrating his efforts on agreeing a final settlement?



Yank-bashing won't save the planet

Sir: I can only commend The Independent for its consistent and high-profile efforts in highlighting the issue of climate change and the devastating threat it poses to all life on earth (leading article, 19 August). However, I am concerned that in persistently pointing at the Bush administration as the bad guy on global warming we are deflecting attention away from our own woefully weak attempts at tackling this issue.

At least with George Bush you know where you stand. Tony Blair, on the other hand, consistently tells us that climate change is a huge problem yet completely bottles it when it comes to the hard decisions required to change people's behaviour and propel us into a low-carbon era. At the same time, we are missing the enormous economic opportunities that this presents.

Unfortunately, until our political elite accepts that a serious problem requires serious answers all the Yank-bashing in the world won't get us very far.



Sir: It would be more than a pity if the welcome recognition by some US senators of the urgent need to address climate change (report, 19 August) was to degenerate into mere anti-Bush rhetoric.

My own conviction is that any public figure - not least presidential hopefuls - who is serious about the issue should, in addition to any political stance, make a personal commitment to reduce their own carbon emissions.

In June, as chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Climate Change, I launched my 25/5 Challenge - a pledge to cut personal emissions by 25 per cent by 2010. I shall be writing to invite Senators Hillary Clinton and John McCain to join the growing group of legislators who recognise that deeds can be more persuasive than words.



High-flyers may not be the best teachers

Sir: Stephen Usherwood (letter, 16 August) may be misled in thinking that the teaching profession needs to recruit high-flying students. In my experience (teacher training in higher education) the high-flying students cannot understand the needs of pupils who are not as self-motivated, academic and interested as the high-flying teacher was at their age.

What teaching needs are able teachers who have experience of working in schools and know what teaching holds for them, but want to be teachers anyway. We also need a generation of teachers willing to stand up for the rights of teaching as an art-form, getting it back from the stranglehold of "testable standards".



New money

Sir: I note that the Royal Mint is looking for modern, representative designs for our coinage. May I suggest a map of Europe surrounded by stars?



English at last

Sir: How interesting that "people born in England are English" (Letters headline, 17 August). Perhaps this concession might now be extended to Her Majesty the Queen, who is often wrongly described as German although she herself, her parents and grandparents were all born in this country, and the late Queen Mother was of overwhelmingly British descent.



Run with the wolf

Sir: I enjoyed Peter Marren's article about the proposed reintroduction of large carnivores to Britain (22 August). I note the comment at the end of the assessment of wolves " ... would certainly collide with the safety culture". I suggest we accept the wolf and ditch the safety culture.



Not that intelligent

Sir: R Whittington makes some interesting points about eyes and intelligent design (letter, 18 August) but complicates the argument. I would simply ask: if eyes are evidence of an intelligent creator why are so many people forced to wear glasses?



Way out, man

Sir: Charles Nevin (Third Leader, 19 August) gives credibility to the notion that if you remember the Sixties you weren't really there. He forgets that it was Eric Clapton who was called God. Mind you, Clapton worshipped Hendrix.



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