(March 4, 2019 / JNS) Pope Francis announced on Monday that the Vatican archive surrounding the Holocaust when Pope Pius XII, who has been criticized for doing little to save Jews and for being silent during the atrocities, led the Catholic Church.
Since becoming pope, Francis has promised to open the records.
Francis said on Monday that the archive would be open to researchers starting March 2, 2020—81 years after Pius became pope, which was six months prior to World War II. Pius died on Oct. 9, 1958.
Although the Holy See waits seven decades after the conclusion of a pontificate to open up the related archives, it has been under pressure from the Jewish world to make the documentation available.
In 2014, Francis condemned anti-Semitism, but appeared to defend Pius’s role during the Shoah.
“I don’t want to say that Pius XII did not make any mistakes—I myself make many—but he has to be seen in the context of that era,” he told the Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia. “For example, was it better for him not to speak out so that more Jews were not killed, or that he speak out?”
Acknowledge the failures and the efforts made
Nonetheless, Jewish groups applauded Francis’s announcement on Monday.
“Yad Vashem commends the Vatican’s decision to open the Pius XII Archives, covering the years 1939-1958,” said Israel’s Holocaust museum 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.”
Added the museum, “Yad Vashem expects that researchers will be granted full access to all documents stored in the archives.”
American Jewish Committee’s international director of interreligious affairs said “Pope Francis’s decision to make these materials now fully open and available for international scholarly research is enormously important to Catholic-Jewish relations.”
“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 6 million Jews,” he added.
“B’nai B’rith commends the decision of Pope Francis … to open the archives’ section covering the Holocaust-era papacy of Pius XII,” said the organization in a statement. “While some Catholics have maintained that Pius opposed the evils of Nazism and even seek his recognition as a saint, many Holocaust survivors and others say that the wartime pontiff failed to actively and unequivocally use the church’s moral authority to resist Hitler’s genocide and the deep anti-Semitism in which it was rooted.”
The organization also said, “Although the Jewish community never seeks to intervene in the internal processes of other faith groups, there must be no obfuscation of major leaders’ roles during the period of the Third Reich, particularly considering the heroism of those individuals who bravely did everything possible to stand against the most systematic and documented mass murder in history. The Catholic-Jewish friendship has made unprecedented strides in the decades since World War II, thanks in large part to the church’s efforts at introspection and outreach, and we are optimistic that a full acknowledgment even of difficult aspects of the past will further contribute to this blossoming in the future.”