Vatican to open secret archives of wartime Pope Pius XII

Vatican to open secret archives of wartime Pope Pius XII

Vatican to open secret archives of wartime Pope Pius XII

Pope Francis has said the Roman Catholic Church will open up its archives on Pius XII, who was Pope during World War Two.

Francis expressed confidence it was the right move.

Francis told employees of the Vatican Secret Archives that documents spanning the 1939 to 1958 pontificate would be open to researchers from March 2 next year.

Giovanni Ciarlo / ASSOCIATED PRESS The storehouse of the Vatican Secret Archives, in a photo distributed by the Vatican on February 29, 2012.

In 2012, the centre changed the caption on Pius XII in its museum, saying his reaction during the Holocaust continues to be a "matter of controversy among scholars".

Francis acknowledged that there had been "moments of grave difficulty and tormented decisions" for Pius, saying he had been treated by posterity with "some prejudice and exaggeration". Instead, he 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". During World War II, the Vatican tried to remain neutral and did not officially denounce Nazism, The Washington Post reports.

He added that Pope Pius XII has been "too superficially judged and criticized for some aspects of his pontificate". Archival work "cultivates memory", he said. Pius died on October 9, 1958, at the Vatican summer residence at Castel Gandolfo, near Rome.

Francis' announcement means Pius' archives will be opened about eight years ahead of schedule.

Pope Pius XII, who was highly praised during his lifetime, fell under a pall of suspicion following the release of a 1963 propaganda play by Rolf Hochhuth titled The Deputy, "which bitterly caricatured Pius as silent and indifferent during the Holocaust".

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In 2014, Francis said "I don't want to say that Pius XII did not make any mistakes - I myself make many - but one needs to see his role in the context of the time ... for example, was it better for him not to speak so that more Jews would not be killed or for him to speak".

Pius' actions will be scrutinized as part of efforts to decide if he should be a saint.

Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust memorial centre, commended Pope Francis for the decision on Monday, as did the Israeli foreign ministry and Naomi Di Segni, the head of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities.

Keystone via Getty Images A Spanish soldier kissing Pius' ring on Jun 13, 1939, during a special audience with 3,200 Spanish troops visiting Italy.

In New York, Rabbi Rosen, the worldwide director for inter-religious affairs at the American Jewish Committee called Francis' decision "enormously important to Catholic-Jewish relations".

It noted that it had for years called for the opening of the archives, saying that 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".

Pagano said the painstaking work of archiving "a crucial period for the Church and for the world" will allow historians to discover a "superhuman work of Christian humanism".

It's possible that the questions about Pius' legacy have slowed down his canonization process, The Washington Post reports.

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