Freddy Gray reports on Pope's attempt to clear Church's name 'THE VATICAN has decided to open its archives covering the years leading up to the Second World War for the first time.
The move is expected to help debunk the widely held theory that the Vatican was complicit in the persecution ofJews during the holocaust.
Jewish historians have often accused the Catholic Church of failing to speak out against and even co-operating with the brutal slaughter of Jews by Nazis in concentration camps. They portray the Vatican's refusal to open its files from the period as an admission of guilt.
The same arguments were repeated last month as Pope Benedict XVI visited the former Nazi death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau.
But in a clear attempt to counter such claims, and therefore improve relations between Jews and Catholics, the Pontiff has ordered that "all documentary sources", from 1922 until February 1939, be made available for historical research.
Most Jewish spokesmen welcomed the Vatican's decision, but some insisted that the Church must also open all its files from the World War Two years, 1939-1945.
"We urge the Vatican to do more," said Rabbi Marvien Hier, dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Los Angeles. He added that it was the pontificate of Pius XII, who was elected Pope in March 1939, that most interested historians. "We are 65 years from the events of the Nazi period and there is no reason to withhold those documents from researchers and the public."
But other Jewish commentators were less insistent on seeing the Vatican's wartime files immediately. '"Let's take it one step at a time," said Jermi Frazer, a senior writer for the Jewish Chronicle. "If the Vatican can see that the opening of the archives goes well , I don't see why the new Pope cannot open up the next tranche of files."
Ms Frazer added: We believe that the opening of the archives will help cement relations between the Catholic Church and worldwide Jewish communities."
Despite complaints that the 1922-1939 files will not cover the papacy of Pius XII, the documents are expected to shed light on how the Pope — then Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, the Vatican's Secretary of State — handled the Church's diplomatic relations with Nazi Germany in the build-up to the war.
As Secretary of State, Cardinal Pacelli was responsible for international affairs, including, in 1933, the signing of the Reichslconkordat, the controversial agreement between the Nazi regime and the Church.
Historians are deeply divided over Pius X11. His harshest critics call him "Hitler's Pope" and accuse him of a profound anti-Semitism. Other historians are less severe, portrayiftg the wartime Pope as a good man who misunderstood the true character of Nazism.
His apologists, meanwhile, point out that, both as a cardinal and a Pope, Pius XII was one of the harshest critics of Hitler's regime. Between 1933 and 1939 Cardinal Pacelli issued 55 protests about Germany's abuse of the Reichskonkordat. He also condemned Hitler and Mussolini's racism and statism. Of the 44 speeches he made between 1917 and 1929, 40 denounced the emerging Nazi ideology. When Mussolini banned Jews from teaching posts, Pius XII promptly appointed several Jewish scholars to posts in the Vatican library.
Catholic historians also argue that, far from being culpable for the horrors of the holocaust, Pius XII actually tried to save thousands of Jews from the slaughter.
When Pius XII died in 1958 he was mourned by Jews. Golda Meir, then Israel's foreign minister, wrote to the Vatican to say: "When fearful martyrdom came to our people during in the decade of Nazi terror, the voice of the Pope was raised for the victims."
In 2000 Pope John Paul H elevated Pius XII's cause for canonisation to Venerable status.