Vatican to open archives on ‘Hitler’s Pope’ to set the record straight
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Vatican to open archives on ‘Hitler’s Pope’ to set the record straight

Pope Francis has finally met a 30-year-old appeal from Jewish groups to reveal wartime documents showing what Pius XII knew and did

Secret Vatican archives covering the wartime correspondence of Pope Pius XII, above, will be opened in March 2020 after Jewish groups asked that the Church help dispel concerns that he turned a blind eye to genocide
Secret Vatican archives covering the wartime correspondence of Pope Pius XII, above, will be opened in March 2020 after Jewish groups asked that the Church help dispel concerns that he turned a blind eye to genocide

The Vatican has agreed to open its archives on the wartime pope accused of staying quiet as Jews were led to their deaths in the millions during the Holocaust.

Campaigners have long urged the Catholic Church to reveal what Pope Pius XII knew and did during the Holocaust, to set the historical record straight on a man dubbed “Hitler’s Pope”. Jewish groups say he turned a blind eye to genocide.

In 2016 Pope Francis said he was receptive to the idea of opening the archives, describing Pius XII as “a great defender of Jews” who hid Jewish families in convents and even in his own house, with 42 Jewish babies born there.

Pope Francis

In 2010, before he became pope, Francis co-authored a book with Rabbi Abraham Skorka, the pair being good friends from their days as religious leaders in Buenos Aires. In it, they said it was “reasonable” for independent researchers to be able to read the thousands of closed-file documents hidden away in Vatican vaults.

“Let them be opened up and let everything be cleared up,” they wrote, addressing criticism of Pius that he never denounced Hitler. “Let it be seen if they could have done something [to help] and until what point they could have helped.”

Once elected, Skorka urged the pontiff to use his influence to push for openness, a battle they finally won this week, as Francis revealed the secret archives would open on 2 March next year. “The Church is not afraid of history,” he said, adding that Pius’ legacy had been treated with “some prejudice and exaggeration”.

The late Jewish historian Sir Martin Gilbert defended Pius for directly helping to save 4,700 Jewish lives in Rome and that 477 Jews were given refuge in the Vatican, arguing that he should be included in Yad Vashem’s Righteous Among the Nations.

However the demand for open access increased in 2009 after Pius was declared “venerable,” the second of four stages on the way to sainthood, and this week Rabbi David Rosen, the international director of interreligious affairs at the American Jewish Committee, welcomed the long-awaited move by the Vatican.

“It is particularly important that experts from the leading Holocaust memorial institutes in Israel and the US objectively evaluate as best as possible the historical record of that most terrible of times, to acknowledge both the failures as well as the valiant efforts made during the period of the Shoah,” he said.

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