Amid claims that the characterization of World War II-era Pope Pius XII as “Hitler’s pope” is slanderous, Pope Francis has ordered the opening of secret archives.
Francis said Monday the church “isn’t afraid of history” and will make the archives available to researchers beginning March 2, 2020,
the Times of Israel reported.
Historians and Jewish groups have accused Pius of failing to speak out against Hitler’s Holocaust and failing to use the churches authority and resources to save Jews.
But more recently, researchers such as Rabbi David G. Dalin and Professor Ronald Rychlak have presented evidence that Pius courageously stood up to Nazi Germany, saved countless Jewish lives and deserves to be called a “righteous gentile.”
In his book “The Myth of Hitler’s Pope: Pope Pius XII And His Secret War Against Nazi Germany,” Dalin contends the cleric in league with Hitler was the Muslim grand mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin al-Husseini. And he argues, citing testimony of Holocaust survivors and others, that the Catholic Church did more than any other religious body to save Jews.
Rychlak, Dalin and others contributed to an anthology called “The Pius War.” It notes, among many other points, that in the German press of the 1930s, when Pius was Vatican secretary of state, he was called the “Jew-loving” cardinal because of 55 protests he sent to Germany. The New York Times wrote in 1944, after the liberation of Rome, “Under the pope’s direction, the Holy See did an exemplary job of sheltering and championing the victims of the Nazi-Fascist regime.”
Rychlak also is the co-author with former Soviet East bloc spy chief Mihai Pacepa of the book “Disinformation.” It presents first-hand evidence that Pius, through Soviet disinformation, was transformed from a church leader who saved countless Jewish lives to a Nazi sympathizer.
After the liberation of Rome, Winston Churchill described Pius as “the greatest man of our time.” Albert Einstein wrote that only the church had protested Hitler, and while he had no previous interest in it, “today I felt a great admiration for the Church, which alone has had the courage to struggle for spiritual truth and moral liberty.”
‘Church isn’t afraid of history’
Francis has supported the Vatican’s stance that Pius used behind-the-scenes diplomacy to save lives.
The Times of Israel reported the usual 70-year wait after a pontificate to open secret files was lifted due to pressure on the Vatican to make the material available while Holocaust survivors are still alive.
Pius XII died in 1958.
The scrutiny will be part of efforts to decide if he should be declared a saint.
Francis indicated the church was confident that the papacy would withstand the findings by historians studying the archives.
He said Pius was “criticized, one can say, with some prejudice and exaggeration.”
“The church isn’t afraid of history, on the contrary, it loves it, and would like to love it even more, like it loves God,” Francis told staff at the archive, according to the Times of Israel.
“Thus, with the same trust of my predecessors, I open, and entrust to researchers, this patrimony of documentation.”
Rabbi David Rosen of the American Jewish Committee said, according to Reuters, it is “particularly important that experts from the leading Holocaust memorial institutes in Israel and the U.S. objectively evaluate as best as possible the historical record of that most terrible of times, to acknowledge both the failures as well as the valiant efforts made during the period of the Shoah.”
Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and museum said it has been calling “for the opening of these archives, which will enable objective and open research as well as comprehensive discourse on issues related to the conduct of the Vatican in particular, and the Catholic Church in general, during the Holocaust.”