15 February 2003
The Vatican is taking the extraordinary step of opening up part of its secret archives in an effort to counter charges that it did too little to stop the Nazi persecution of Jews. International scholars will have access to millions of documents on the Vatican's relations with pre-war Germany.
The documents being made available to scholars starting Saturday will include the period from 1922 to 1939, when Eugenio Pacelli, who later became the wartime pope, Pius XII, was Vatican ambassador in Berlin.
There will also be Vatican files kept by the secretary of state on its relations with states. But missing are documents from 1931-1934 from the papal nuncio's palace in Berlin, which were almost entirely destroyed by allied bombing in 1945.
The Vatican's decision to give access to scholars follows criticism that Pope Pius, who served as pontiff from 1939-58, did too little to stop the persecution of Jews.
Pius XII has often been portrayed as an anti-Semite who failed to use his power to speak out against the extermination of Jews. But Pope John Paul II would like to beatify Pius, and the Vatican's position is that the wartime pope did all he could to save the lives of Jews.
The Vatican says Pius did not take more public actions for fear of further endangering Jews and Catholics in Nazi-occupied countries.
Jewish leaders say they are pleased at the move to make these documents available, but they have urged the Vatican to open wartime files as well. The chief archivist of the Holy See says he doesn't expect any "shocking revelations" to emerge from the documents.
Catholic and Jewish scholars say they could answer some outstanding questions about the policies that shaped Pius's papacy and what the Vatican knew about anti-Semitism in Europe before the war.
Also being opened to researchers starting Saturday are archives from the Vatican's Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. These could shed light on the ideological climate in Europe at the time. They are documents on the Vatican's views on racism, fascism and Nazism.