Pope Francis will release the private letters of late Pope Pius XII — the candidate for sainthood who for years has been accused of remaining silent on the Holocaust — saying Monday that the church “isn’t afraid of history.”
The records from the Vatican’s Secret Archive — a collection of all popes’ documents and letters comparable to a Presidential Library — will be available to researchers on March 2, 2020, 60 years after the death of Pius XII and nearly a decade sooner than the Roman Catholic Church usually waits to release a pontiff’s papers.
The early delivery comes amid pressure to make the papers public while Holocaust survivors are still alive.
Pius’s papacy began in March 1939, six months before World War II began in Europe. He has been criticized by Jews for refusing to denounce the Nazis in public at the time – something they felt could have saved lives.
Critics point to the fact that in 1942, he didn’t sign an Allied declaration stating there would be retribution for those who carried out the murders of Jews. They’re also upset he didn’t speak out against Jewish deportations from Rome to Auschwitz.
But the Vatican has staunchly defended Pius XII, saying he used behind-the-scenes diplomacy during the war to keep Jews safe.
Pope Francis appears to support Pius’s actions, saying the late pope was criticized “with some prejudice and exaggeration.”
The push to release the documents has been lengthy. In 2006, Vatican archivists started preparing them for consultation at the behest of Francis’s German-born predecessor, Benedict XVI.
Representatives of the Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem cheered Francis’s decision to release them early — but noted that they had demanded the opening of the archives for years.
The records 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,” they said in a statement.
Israel’s foreign ministry, meanwhile, said it hopes there will be “free access to all relevant archives.”
In 2014, Francis called Pius XII “a great defender of Jews” who ordered the church to hide Jews in Italy, as well as at the Vatican summer residence at Castel Gandolfo, according to BBC News.
“One needs to see his role in the context of the time,” he said then. “For example, was it better for him not to speak so that more Jews would not be killed or for him to speak?”
Pius XII, who died Oct. 9, 1958, achieved the first step toward canonization in 1990, when he was named a “Servant of God” by Pope John Paul II. In 2009, he was proclaimed “Venerable” by Benedict XVI, the second step on the three-step road to sainthood.
With Post Wires