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Vatican Opens Up Some Archives, but Wartime Reckoning Will Take Time

December 30, 2002
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The Vatican is about to open up secret archives that document its relations with Nazi Germany before World War II.

But it may be years before a full picture of the Vatican’s role in the Holocaust is known.

Responding to criticism that the wartime pope, Pius XII, did not do enough to oppose the Holocaust, the Vatican announced Saturday it would release on Feb. 15 diplomatic documents from the tenure of the previous pope, Pius XI, who reigned from 1922 to 1939.

During those years, the future Pope Pius XII served as Vatican ambassador in Berlin and Vatican secretary of state.

The documents to be released include material from the Vatican diplomatic missions in Berlin and Munich as well as a series of documents relating to the rise of Nazism and the “condemnation of racism,” papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said in a statement.

Of these documents, he said, the Berlin diplomatic archive dating from 1931 to 1934 was “nearly completely destroyed or dispersed” during the 1945 bombing of Berlin and a fire at the apostolic nuncio’s palace.

Brown University scholar David Kertzer, author of the recent book “The Popes Against the Jews,” welcomed the release of the material but said it will only provide part of the picture.

“What they are doing is opening certain parts of the material relating to Pius XI, just the archives dealing with the Holy See and Germany,” he told JTA.

“But a lot of what was going on in the rest of Europe we won’t know. Will they be opening the rest of the archives in stages or will we have to wait another two years to see anything more?” he said.

“It’s a good thing that they will be opened, but until all the rest of the documents relating to Pius XI are available, it will be hard to put them in context.”

The Vatican announced last February that it would begin opening archives relating to Pius XII, starting with the prewar years.

Documents relating to Vatican-German relations during Pius XII papacy itself will be made available only starting in 2005.

Pius XII became pope in 1939 and reigned until his death in 1958. Critics have long accused him of turning a blind eye to the Holocaust and allowing Jews to die because of his silence.

Scholars and particularly Jewish groups have long called for the secret archives to be opened to clarify the matter, particularly as a process to beatify Pius XII is under way.

The issue has clouded Jewish-Vatican relations.

A joint Catholic Jewish team of scholars set up to study already published wartime Vatican archives collapsed last year amid angry recriminations because it did not obtain access to all the archives.

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