Pius XII documents will be available to scholars

Pope Francis has announced the archives of Pius XII, the controversial pope who headed the Vatican during World War II, would be accessible to scholars. For the Holy See, this decision was not an easy one. The Vatican has given in after more than 50 years of pressure.

The announcement was made on the 81st anniversary of Eugenio Pacelli’s ascension of the Catholic Church’s ranks to be Pius XII. Pius XII became a controversial figure, with his critics lambasting his tenure for his acute failings to condemn Nazi atrocities against European Jews. Catholic conservatives, on the other hand, could not wait for the Vatican to canonize the former pope to a saint.

It was a longstanding demand for scholars that the Vatican open its archives on records of the years preceding, during, and following the immediate aftermath of the Second World War. The first demand was heard in 1963 after a play named The Deputy debuted in Germany. Written by Rolf Hochhuth, it portrayed Pius XII as a coldhearted person who declined to condemn the Holocaust and busied himself to protect the church’s institutional interests.

The Vatican responded by appointing four Jesuits to comb through the rich archives. The result gleaned from 16 years of hard work that started in 1965, was in the form of 12 volumes full of thousands of documents. Even though the Vatican’s skeptics believed the Jesuit editors removed information deemed unflattering to the church, these volumes are a treasure trove of previously unknown knowledge. One example is how Pius XII sent a Jesuit emissary to the new Italian justice minister after the Mussolini regime was overthrown. The Vatican told the minister in 1943 that although the previous fascist government has enacted anti-Semitic laws, which the Holy See supports, the present government should not subject baptized Jews to follow their draconian provisions. According to those who support Pius XII, the then pontiff rescued thousands of Jews.

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