The Sounds of Silence: Explaining French Bishops’ Support for the Statut des Juifs

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Description: This article draws on decision-making theory and research on status and tacit alignment to explain how French bishops during the Holocaust decided to support the Vichy regime's initial anti-Semitic policy against Jews, the Statut des Juifs. Previous work on the French Catholic Church during the Holocaust argues that bishops' interests and ideologies motivated their support for Vichy. I complicate these assertions through process-tracing analysis of original documents from French diocesan archives, including bishops' notes, diaries, and correspondences. Findings suggest that the rupture caused by the Nazi invasion and occupation of France, and the resulting division of the Church, powerfully impacted French bishops' abilities to coordinate and determine a course of action. This chaos, and the selective repression by Nazis of bishops who were once outspoken advocates of Jews, provided opportunities for vocal, high-status, and pro-Statute bishops to set the trajectory of the Church in motion. Others remained quiet, and their silence was decisive: in a time of disarray when the Church was seeking to determine a common stance, bishops' silence appeared as a tacit signal in favor of endorsing legal anti-Semitism.

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