For decades, the Vatican has slammed its doors shut to researchers into the Holocaust-era record of the pope at the time, Pope Pius XII. He said not one word against Hitler during the Holocaust, 1939-1945 (Pius became pope in 1939). A person who considered himself the moral voice of hundreds of millions of people uttered absolutely nothing about Auschwitz, ghettoes, deportations, mass shootings, Treblinka, cattle cars or any other reality and symbol of the murder of a Jewish civilization and the murder of six million Jews.
After Pope Pius XII, the Vatican maintained that Pope Pius XII intervened behind the scenes, and that for him to raise a moral voice against Hitler and his genocide would have undercut these behind-the-scenes efforts. Just one hitch: With the Vatican’s archives closed, there was no way to verify or refute this claim. Now, after decades of acrimony between the Jewish community and the Vatican over its denial of access to its archives, Pope Francis has announced that Vatican will open its Holocaust era-archives of Pope Pius XII.
On March 4, 2019, Pope Francis announced that the archives will be opened on March 2, 2020. “The Church is not afraid of history,” he said.
Pope Francis’ decision seems to be a breath of fresh air, since, indeed, the Church has been afraid of its history for 61 years (Pope Pius XII died in 1958). We only hope that the fine print — the archives will be opened only to “qualified research-ers” — does not close out from the back door what it purports to let in through the front.
JTA reports that in an article in the official Vatican newspaper, L’Observatore Romano, Bishop Sergio Pagann, prefect of the Vatican Secret Archives, said Vatican archivists had begun preparing the hundreds of thousands of pages of Pius XII material in 2006 — including indexes, catalogues and computer descriptions of documents.
Yad Vashem, the Holocaust remembrance center of the Israeli government in Jerusalem, said: This decision “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.”
We, along with countless other Jews and Catholics, look forward to the clarification of this most painful episode. Holocaust survivors have long observed that the indifference of the bystanders was almost as cruel as the actions of the perpetrators. Was Pope Pius XII one of these bystanders? We shall see.
Copyright © 2019 by the Intermountain Jewish News