BY CHRISTINA WHITE
ARCHIVES which detail the Church's relations with Nazi Germany in the 1930s and during the Second World War are to be opened next month in an attempt to end the damaging allegation that the Vatican failed to denounce the Holocaust.
Church officials said they hoped the move to declassify the Vatican archives will end speculation that the Catholic Church had overwhelming evidence of Nazi atrocities but failed to speak out. Six million Jews and hundreds of thousands of ethnic minorities, gypsies and homosexuals were murdered in the Holocaust — Adolf Hitler's "Final Solution".
The Church's relationship with Nazi Germany and specifically the role of the ruling Pontiff at the time, Pope Pius XII, has been the subject of speculation for some time with both scholars and dramatists fuelling the case for and against the Church's alleged complicity.
In 1998 Pope John Paul II issued the papal letter, We Remember. in which he referred to the "Shoah" as an "indelible stain" on the history of the 20th century. Christians. he said, had a duty to remember the catastrophe which befell the Jewish people and to ensure that "never again will selfishness and hatred grow to the point of sowing such suffering and death".
But some Jewish groups insist
that Pope Pius XII, who led the Church from 1939 to 1958, was guilty of sanctioning the holocaust by his silence — an accusation repeated in the film, Amen, released in July last year.
The film. directed by Costa Gavras and based on a 1963 play by Rolf Hochhuth, asserted that Pius was guilty of the sin of omission by failing publicly to denounce Hitler's persecution of Jews. It was condemned by Vatican Radio in Berlin which accused the film makers of a blatant attempt to "criminalise" the wartime Pope, whose cause for sainthood is currently under investigation in Rome.
Church supporters argue that both Hochhuth and Gavras ignored evidence from eminent Jewish historians Jeno Levai, Livia Rotkirchen and most importantly Pinehas Lapide who concluded that Pius was in fact responsible for saving more than 860,000 Jewish lives.
Jews were sheltered in Church buildings and helped to escape from Nazi-occupied Europe. After the war the Chief Rabbi of Rome, Israel Zolli, converted to Catholicism, taking the name Eugenio, after Eugenio Pacelli, the baptismal name of Pius XII, as a mark of respect for the efforts of the Pontiff.
Catholic author Piers Paul Read said he welcomed the opening of the archives and accused a "growing antiCatholic faction" of using allegations against Pius to attack the present papacy.
"I would be surprised if there was anything damning against Pius XII," he said "It may turn up some fairly anti-semitic sentiments in some Croatian clergy but I think it's a case of wait and see.
'They are using Pius to get at the present Pope and to paint the Church as a corrupt institution. There is a wilful desire to see the events of the '30s and '40s in the rather simplistic terms of today and to make judgements based on hindsight "I hope that the documents will prove that what is being alleged is slander."
Irish priest Fr Michael O'Carroll, a founder member of the Pillar of Fire, a society of Christians and Jews, insisted that public resistance from the Vatican would have been met with "retaliation".
Writing in The Catholic Herald in March last year he said the Vatican was faced with speaking out or saving lives. He said: 'The Dutch paid the price. After their bishops' protest, Jews who had become Catholic were sent to Auschwitz, Edith Stein now St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, among them. Holland thus lost 79 per cent of its Jews; Belgium with Pius XII's policy, saved 73 per cent."
The archives will be open to scholars from February 15 by special appointment only. Officials have already confirmed that files dating from 1931 to 1934 were "nearly completely destroyed or dispersed" during the allied bombing of Berlin and by fire.