JEWISH groups worldwide hope to learn soon the extent of papal collaboration with Hitler during the Holocaust, when the Vatican archives – sealed since the time of Pope Pius XII – are opened.
Pius has been branded “Hitler’s Pope”, who did not do enough to try to save the doomed Jews of Europe.
After the war “rat lines” assisting top Nazi war criminals to escape to South America were set up in Rome by Bishop Hudal, a German who critics say acted with papal approval.
Now current Pope Francis has reiterated his position on opening secret Vatican archives to researchers.
In an extensive interview with the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronot, Francis said there was “an agreement between the Vatican and Italy from 1929 that prevents us from opening the archives to researchers at this point in time. But because of the time that has passed since World War Two, I see no problem with opening the archives the moment we sort out the legal and bureaucratic matters”.
The pope expressed worries that the current debate about Pius XII was unfair. “One thing worries me – the image of Pope Pius XII. Pope Pius XII has been accused of all sorts of things, including having been aware of the extermination of the Jews and doing nothing. I’m not saying he didn’t make mistakes. He made a few. I get things wrong often too.
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“During the Holocaust, Pius gave refuge to many Jews in monasteries in Italy. In the pope’s bed at Castel Gandolfo, 42 children were born to couples who found refuge there from the Nazis. These are things that people don’t know.
“When Pius XII died, [former Israeli premier] Golda Meir sent a letter that read: ‘We share in the pain of humanity. When the Holocaust befell our people, the pope spoke out for the victims.’”
Francis claims a 1963 play that portrayed Pius as a Nazi sympathiser was to blame for his woes. He went on: “When you interpret history, you need to do so from the way of thinking of the time in question. I can’t judge historical events in modern-day terms. It doesn’t work. I’ll never get to the truth like that.
“Did Pius XII remain silent in the face of the extermination of the Jews? Did he say all he should have said? We will have to open the archives to know exactly what happened. But to judge the actions, we will also need to understand the circumstances under which he was acting.
“Perhaps it was better for him to remain silent because had he spoken, more Jews would have been murdered? Or maybe the other way around? I don’t want to sound petty, but it really gets my goat when I see that everyone is against the Church, against Pius XII – all those detractors.
“And what about the Allies during the war? After all, they were well aware of what was going on in the death camps and they were very familiar with the railroad tracks that led Jews to Auschwitz. They had aerial photographs. And they didn’t bomb those tracks. I’ll leave that question hanging in the air, and say only that one needs to be very fair in these things.”
For much of the war, Pius maintained a public front of indifference and remained silent while German atrocities were committed in Russia and occupied Poland. He refused pleas for help on the grounds of neutrality, while making statements condemning injustices in general. Privately, he sheltered a small number of Jews and spoke to a few select officials, encouraging them to help the Jews.
Academics say by the end of 1942, the Vatican was among the best-informed institutions in Europe concerning the Holocaust. While Pope Francis believes an opening of the archives will exonerate the Church, the risk of the Catholic Church’s reputation falling further after revelations of mass cover-ups of child abuse by priests worries papal advisers.
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