In a surprising move, Pope Francis announced today that the Vatican, after decades of silence, will open its secret archives to allow access to files pertaining to Second World War-era Pope Pius XII. Jewish groups have long accused Pius of remaining silent in the face of his alleged knowledge of the Holocaust.
The documents will only become available on March 2, 2020 and will include documents spanning from Pius’s election in 1939 to his death in 1958 will be available to researchers.
“The Church is not afraid of history,” Francis said, adding that Pius’ legacy had been treated with “some prejudice and exaggeration.”
The Vatican usually enforces a 70-year moratorium from the end of a pontificate until it opens its archives to researchers. However, the Holy See has come under increasing pressure to publicize documents pertaining to Pius XII sooner, while Holocaust survivors are still alive.
Pius XII is a hugely controversial figure, with Jews charging that he was aware of Nazi attempt to annihilate European Jewry – and that he did not do enough to combat it. Many Jews have criticized him for not speaking out forcefully enough against the Nazi atrocities. However, a more nuanced view has taken shape over the last two decades or so, with the late British Jewish historian Sir Martin Gilbert being one of the proponents of the argument that he did much behind the scenes to try and hide Jews in Church properties in Rome and Italy.
Pius’s disputed legacy will be scrutinized as part of a process to decide whether or not he should be canonized as a saint.