The specific list of Jewish religious objects that lay in the Vatican's basement long has been disputed, but one local man, heading up a foundation named for his father, wants to see the items documented, catalogued and possibly returned to a representative of the Jewish people, such as The Israel Museum in Jerusalem.
Local attorney Clifford A. Rieders, president of the Herbert Rieders Foundation for the Recovery of Objects Judaica, has been in communication with the Vatican in an attempt to learn what it possesses.
"I want the Vatican to tell us what's really there," he said.
Rieders hopes to be invited to meet with the Pope and Cardinal Farina, through whom he's communicated thus far, in the fall.
The desire to discover what items the Vatican has began in the 1980s when Rieders' father read an article by Dr. Manfred Lehman about Jewish objects, art and possessions at the Vatican. Lehman took a strong view that most of the Vatican Judaica was obtained improperly because of persecution by the Catholic Church.
After Herbert's death, the foundation began to explore the Vatican Judaica collection, how it arrived in the Vatican and what its future may be.
The foundation has one of the greatest collections in the world about what is in the Vatican, Rieders said.
Last fall, the foundation released a documentary titled "Vatican Judaica, Golden Treasures, The Vatican Jewish Collection" to
educate people on what their collection reveals and what scholars believe is there.
"It debunks a lot of myths as to what may be there," he said.
As the documentary grows in popularity, Rieders has been asked to speak around the world, but he still is waiting to hear if he will talk to the Vatican.
"I would love to do that," he said.
Some of the rumors about the Vatican's collection come from pop culture. The Ark of the Covenant is considered largely because of the Steven Spielberg film Raiders of the Lost Ark. Another item is the chalice of Jesus because of Dan Brown's novel "The Da Vinci Code," in which the main character uses clues in Da Vinci portraits to find the location of a religious relic.
Unlike the novel, Rieders wants to keep what he is doing based on fact.
"I'm not interested in sensationalism," he said.
Most scholars feel the items rumored to be in the Vatican, which also includes the menorah from the Second Temple, no longer exist, Rieders said.
Instead what they believe is inside are the oldest original manuscripts and the oldest Bible.
Over the centuries, the Bible has been censored and edited, he said. Scholars can receive a clearer picture of the original text by looking at older copies.
People today know what was written upon the Ten Commandments, but by having manuscripts from people who originally wrote about them, it gives scholars more with which to work.
As an example, Rieders provided the sixth commandment, "You shall not murder." He asked if that meant it was permissable to kill in self-defense.
In addition to the manuscripts, he said there could be important objects of art that were used in religious ceremonies to show how people lived.
In the last few years, the Vatican has begun to catalogue, Rieders said.
"The Vatican has been showing more," he said. "We're seeking total disclosure."
The manuscripts could be extremely valuable study aides for anyone who studies archeology, history and religion, Rieders said.
Foundation for Recovery
The Herbert Rieders Foundation for the Recovery of Objects Judaica is working to cooperate with the Vatican to get the answers, the disclosure and the voluntary returns it seeks.
As an alternative to returning the items, Rieders said one possibility is to have a joint depository, perhaps in Jerusalem, so the objects and manuscripts can go back and forth.
The foundation is the only organization in the world to receive answers to the questions it posed to the Vatican, according to Rieders.
"It was a very feisty response," Rieders said. "They're very protective of what they've got. The breakthrough is that they responded ... It's the fruits of almost 50 years of work."
Sister Jacinta Cosica answered the 17 questions on behalf of Cardinal Raffaele Farina in 2007.
She gave a detailed explanation of the history of the Vatican Jewish collection, which seems to begin immediately following the Sack of Rome in 1527.
"The Vatican Library collection of Judaica consists only of ... Hebrew books, both printed books and manuscripts," she wrote. "At present, aside from several hundreds of early printed books, The Vatican Library holds 907 Hebrew manuscripts."
All of the manuscripts are detailed in the "Hebrew manuscripts in the Vatican Library: Catalogue." The Hebrew Incunabula are listed in "Hebrew Incunabula in the collections of the Vatican Library."
"Regarding the supposed existence of a 'catacombs collection,' we may state definitely that such an allegation is baseless," Cosica wrote.
She also denied that the Judaica collections held in the Vatican Library are not a bulk of stolen property and that the Judaica items will not be excluded from public display.