Vatican opening archives on Holocaust-era pope

Pope Francis says the Vatican archives on Holocaust-era Pope Pius XII will be opened next year.

Pius’s role – helping or ignoring the plight of Jews during the holocaust – has been much debated.

On the one hand, he has often been criticised by Jews for his apparent silence during the holocaust. On the other, some Catholic leaders say Pius and other Catholic clergy helped European Jews.

They also argue that during the Nazi regime, broad action by the Church could have resulted in severe reprisals against Catholics.

Although the Vatican usually waits until a pontiff has been dead for 70 years before opening the archives, an exception has been made in this case, so the documentation can be seen while holocaust survivors are still alive. Pius died nearly 61 years ago in 1958.

Vatican archivists began preparing the documentation for consultation in 2006, at the orders of German-born Pope emeritus Benedict XVI.

Francis says he hopes opening the archives will allow “serious and objective historical research” to “evaluate, in the proper light and with appropriate criticism, the praiseworthy moments of the Pontiff…”

The archives will also produce information about “moments of serious difficulties, of tormented decisions,” he says.

These moments may have seemed to some as “reticence” but were attempts to keep humanitarian initiatives alive.

The documents are expected to include various letters and messages between Pius and other Vatican officials and Catholic clergy throughout Europe.

Noting that opening the archives is “the right thing to do”, International Director of Inter-religious Affairs for the American Jewish Committee (AJC), Rabbi David Rosen, says he hopes the documents will provide a clearer picture of Pius’s actions.

The AJC has been raising the issue of opening the archives with the Vatican for the past 30 years, Rosen says.

Prefect of the Vatican Secret Archives Bishop Sergio Pagano also reportedly requested time to catalogue the large amount of documents before their release.

Holocaust historian and head of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Israel, Dr Efraim Zuroff, say Pius never specifically denounced the Nazi persecution and the mass murder of European Jews. Nor did he ask Catholics to help save Jews from persecution.

Zuroff says “two cardinal questions” needed to be answered about Pius’s papacy.

“The first is what information reached the Vatican regarding Holocaust crimes, and the second is when did that information reach Pius XII?”

He says the Vatican’s papal nuncios who served as ambassadors were active in many countries where Jews were persecuted and murdered, and that he would have received “accurate information regarding the fate of the Jews… at a relatively early date, most probably before such news reached the Allies.”


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