Vatican to Open Archives on Pius XII

Telegraph - Herald (Dubuque), March 5, 2019 | Go to article overview

Vatican to Open Archives on Pius XII


The Associated Press

VATICAN CITY - Declaring that the church "isn't afraid of history," Pope Francis said Monday 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 and not doing enough to save lives.

Describing that criticism as fruit of "some prejudice or exaggeration," Francis told officials and personnel of the Vatican Secret Archives that the documentation would be open to researchers starting March 2, 2020.

The move could speed up Pius' path to possible sainthood, a complex process that in Pius' case bore the weight of questions of what he knew and did about Nazi Germany's systematic killing of Europe's Jews.

Pius was elected pope on March 2, 1939, six months before World War II erupted in Europe. He died in 1958.

The Vatican usually waits 70 years after the end of a pontificate to open up the relevant archives. But the Holy See has been under pressure to make the Pius XII documentation available sooner and while Holocaust survivors are still alive.

"The church isn't afraid of history," Francis told the archive staff.

He said the Pius papacy included "moments of grave difficulties, tormented decisions of human and Christian prudence, that to some could appear as reticence."

Instead, Francis said, they could be seen as attempts "to keep lit, in the darkest and cruelest periods, the flame of humanitarian initiatives, of hidden but active diplomacy" aimed at possibly "opening hearts."

Francis words appeared to echo the long-held Vatican defense of Pius which maintains that the Italian pontiff used behind-the-scenes diplomacy to try to save lives.

Eugenio Pacelli, the future Pius XII, gained diplomatic experience in the period following World War I, serving the Holy See in postings in Munich and Berlin in Germany.

In Jerusalem, the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial commended Francis' decision, expressing the expectation that "researchers will be granted full access to all the documents stored in the archives."

Those hailing the decision to open the archives also saw usefulness in dealing with present challenges of anti-Semitism and religious persecution and not just deepening understanding of the past.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin called opening the Vatican archives "particularly important in these days of ongoing anti-Semitic attacks, the rewriting of history and attempts to deny the Holocaust."

Rabbi Arthur Schneier, a Holocaust survivor who has led a New York synagogue in New York since 1992 and received a papal knighthood four years ago for his activism promoting religious freedom, said "the archives will reveal what was done and what could have been done in the face of Nazi tyranny, particularly the persecution of the Jews that led to the Holocaust. …

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