Pope Weighs Opening Vatican's Holocaust-era Secret Archives

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Pope Francis wants to open the Vatican's secret archives on Pius XII, the controversial World War II-era pontiff, to determine if he should be considered for sainthood, the Sunday Times reported.

The report elicited praise from Jewish groups, who have long urged for Pius’ road to sainthood to be blocked until the archives have been reviewed.

In an interview with the Times, Argentine Rabbi Abraham Skorka, a friend of the pope's, did not divulge the details of a recent conversation the two held, but said, “What we said to each other was between us, I believe that, yes, he will open the archives…. The issue is a very sensitive one and we must continue analyzing it.”

Pius became pontiff in 1939, the year World War II broke out, and remained pope until 1958.

His actions during the Holocaust remain controversial, with Jewish groups accusing the man some have called "Hitler's pope" of failing to publicly condemn the genocide of Jews, or doing enough to help them escape persecution.

The Vatican, however, has maintained that Pius did work to save Jews, sheltering some of them in Catholic institutions and advocating for them privately with wartime officials.

Jewish groups on Sunday reacted positively to the report. Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust memorial and museum, which has long been critical of Pope Pius and has repeatedly refused to name him a Righteous Among the Nations, reportedly said that opening the archives would “would allow researchers to gain a clearer picture of the Vatican and the pope’s behavior during the Holocaust.”

The issue of whether the Church under Pius did all it could to help Jews has long plagued Catholic-Jewish relations.

Pope Francis, who recently hosted a delegation of Jewish leaders from Argentina at the Vatican and plans to visit Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan in May, has worked to improve interfaith relations.

“Francis wants to open a window for peace," Rabbi Skorka said, according to the Algemeiner. "Our dream is to pray at the Western Wall and Bethlehem, to prove that people of both faiths can pray together and talk to each other.”

Skorka and the pope also co-authored a book called "On Heaven and Earth" when Pope Francis was still Jorge Mario Bergoglio.

Even then, the future pope wrote, “Opening the archives of the Shoah [Holocaust] seems reasonable. Let them be opened up and let everything be cleared up. Let it be seen if they could have done something [to help] and until what point they could have helped. If they made a mistake in any aspect of this we would have to say: ‘We have erred.’ We don’t have to be scared of this - the truth has to be the goal.”

Pope Francis answers reporters questions during a news conference aboard the papal flight on the journey back from Brazil, July 29, 2013.Credit: AP
Argentinean Rabbi Abraham Skorka is good friends with Pope Francis.Credit: AP/ Tina Fineberg

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