“The Church isn’t afraid of history,” Francis said, as controversial wartime pope faces scrutiny ahead of any decision to grant him sainthood.
By Associated Press and World Israel News Staff
Pope Francis says he has decided to open up the Vatican archives on World War II-era Pope Pius XII, who has been accused by Jews of staying silent on the Holocaust.
Declaring that “the Church isn’t afraid of history,” Francis told employees of the Vatican Secret Archives on Monday that the archives spanning the 1939-1958 pontificate would be open to researchers on March 2, 2020.
He said Pius XII’s legacy had been treated with “some prejudice and exaggeration.”
Jews have been seeking the move for decades.
Some said the pontiff turned a blind eye to the Holocaust by not speaking out forcefully.
The Vatican has claimed he worked quietly behind the scenes to save Jews and not to worsen the situation for many, including for Catholics in parts of Nazi-occupied Europe, using behind-the-scenes diplomacy to try to save lives.
The Vatican usually waits 70 years after the end of a pontificate to open archives. There has been pressure to make the Pius XII documentation available sooner, while Holocaust survivors are still alive.
The American Jewish Committee (AJC) welcomed the announcement by Pope Francis.
“For more than 30 years, AJC, the global Jewish advocacy organization, has called for the full opening of the secret archives on Pope Pius XII, to shed light on his activities as pontiff during World War II,” the organization said in a statement.
“Pope Francis’s decision to make these materials now fully open and available for international scholarly research is enormously important to Catholic-Jewish relations,” said Rabbi David Rosen, AJC International Director of Interreligious Affairs, who has met regularly and is said to have raised this issue with Pope Francis and his predecessors.
“It is particularly important that experts from the leading Holocaust memorial institutes in Israel and the United States 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 systematic murder of six million Jews,” Rabbi Rosen said.
“The announcement comes just ahead of an AJC leadership delegation visit to the Vatican and audience with the Pope this week,” the organization added in its statement.
Yad Vashem praises decision
“Yad Vashem commends the Vatican’s decision to open the Pius XII Archives, covering the years 1939-1958,” the international Holocaust memorial center said in a statement.
“For years, Yad Vashem has called for the opening of these archives, which will enable objective and open research as well as comprehensive discourse on issues related to the conduct of the Vatican in particular, and the Catholic Church in general, during the Holocaust.
“Yad Vashem expects that researchers will be granted full access to all documents stored in the archives, the statement concluded.