This attempt at an in-progress assessment of scholarship on Catholicism could not have occurred at a more fortuitous moment. The partial opening of Vatican archives in 2003 generated great public
expectations, with implications particularly for German historians. Most experts expect this material to facilitate mainly a fine-tuning of details rather than sensational new discoveries.
Upon closer inspection, the history of German Catholicism proves to be more thoroughly researched than one might assume from the public debates that reiterate the same arguments, for example over Pope
Pius XII. Nonetheless, the case of forced laborers who worked in Church installations also demonstrates that scholars sometimes »discover« a topic only when the public already awaits
authoritative answers from historians.
Inspired by this state of affairs, the Kommission für Zeitgeschichte (Commission for Contemporary History, founded in 1962), and the Catholic Academy in Bavaria organized a conference in May 2003 devoted
to three major sets of issues: What findings can scholarship on Catholicism present? What questions have been previously neglected? And what impulses, for example through international
and interconfessional comparative work or through methodological innovation, lead the way from here? In a critical dialogue between generations of scholars, the participants debated such subjects
as »Catholicism and anti-Semitism,« »the Catholic Church and the Third Reich,« and »Church and society after 1945.«
The Commission for Contemporary History’s »Series B: Research« dates to 1965, with Ludwig Volk’s (SJ) dissertation on the Bavarian bishops’
posture toward National Socialism. Informed observers will hardly be surprised to discover that, after 40 years and in the 100th volume of the series, that question has acquired new currency with
the availability of new materials. It is now clear that these newly opened sources are having an even stronger influence on the historical debate than previously supposed – at least by those
who would have preferred to cling to their established views – and »the past that will not go away« still contains a few surprises.