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Catholic Church to Open Long-Secret Archives on Pope Pius XII

March 5, 2019 in History

By Erin Blakemore

Did Pope Pius XII do enough to protect Jews during the Holocaust? That question has raged since World War II. But since historians have no access to Roman Catholic files related to his reign, it has gone unanswered.

Until now. Pope Francis announced on March 4, 2019 that the Vatican will open its secret archives on Pius XII. During an event commemorating the 80th anniversary of Pius XII’s election to the papacy, Francis said he had given orders for the archive to be opened in March 2020. “The Church is not afraid of history,” he told the group.

The decision was hailed by historians, who have been agitating for more information on Pius XII’s activities during World War II for decades. Though some Catholic institutions rescued Jews during the Holocaust, Pius has been criticized for his silence during the war years and his failure to publicly condemn the Nazis.

Adolph Hitler and the Nazi regime set up networks of concentration camps before and during World War II to carry out a plan of genocide. Hitler’s “final solution” called for the eradication of Jewish people and other “undesirables,” including homosexuals, gypsies and people with disabilities. The Jewish children pictured here were held at the Auschwitz concentration camp in Nazi-occupied Poland.

View the 13 images of this gallery on the original article

READ MORE: Holocaust Photos Reveal Horrors of Nazi Concentration Camps

“Information received by the Vatican from 1942 onwards was not disseminated, nor was direction given to bishops and the Catholic faithful, with regard to the treatment of Jews,” notes Yad Vashem. But though Pius XII’s public silence is known, it’s unclear how he may have responded in private.

The decision represents a change of course for the Roman Catholic Church, which usually waits at least 70 years to release documents about popes. Since World War II, the Vatican has given historians outside the Catholic church minimal access to the files.

That lack of direct access has led to speculation on the part of historians and confusion about Pius’s role within history. In 2009, when the Catholic Church announced Pius XII was being considered for sainthood, the move was widely criticized despite Church insistence that he had quietly helped save Jews.

Though the archives are called “secret,” they are not actually hidden. The name was given to the Catholic Church’s official …read more


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