Vatican to open archives on ‘Hitler’s pope’
Historians have long asked the Catholic church for access to the archives to examine if Pius, a staunch anti-communist, failed to use his moral authority to oppose the slaughter.
The 1999 book “Hitler’s Pope” by John Cornwell, a British academic, made the case for the former pope’s moral failure.
The Vatican usually keeps the archives secret until 70 years after the end of a papacy. Scholars have had only limited access and in 2009 Jewish activists protested against Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to recognise Pius’s “heroic virtues”, a first step towards sainthood, saying the move should wait until the files had been studied.
Francis said “the church is not afraid of history” and that the archive would be opened on March 2020 to mark the 81st anniversary of the election of Pius XII in March 1939. He held he role until his death in 1958.
The reforming Argentinian pontiff added that there had been “moments of grave difficulty and tormented decisions” for Pius, saying he had been treated with “some prejudice and exaggeration”.
Critics have said Pius was enthusiastic about Adolf Hitler’s rise to power and failed to protect priests who spoke out against the persecution of Jews and in many cases helped them and others escape from being sent to the death camps.
Rabbi David Rosen of the American Jewish Committee, which has campaigned for access for around 30 years, said access to the archive was vital to Catholic-Jewish relations. They would allow a real account of “both the failures as well as the valiant efforts made during the period of the systematic murder of 6 million Jews”.
Cornwell said: “It should be really interesting. It might show that he did fantastic things to help the Jews. Or it might shed light on whether he had anything to do with the Nazi rat-run, when some Catholics helped Nazis escape to South America at the end of the war.”
Before he became pope, Pius was the Vatican secretary of state who signed up the 1933 Reichskonkordat protecting the German Catholic church’s rights and helped give moral legitimacy to the Nazis
“He didn’t have much room for manoeuvre. He was very much a prisoner inside the Vatican, which was dependent for its light, gas and water on Mussolini’s Italy and then on the German regime. Although I still think he didn’t do enough when the Jews were being rounded up in Rome.”
Pope Pius XII. Picture credit: Wikimedia