Vatican to Open Secret Archives on Hitler’s Pope in 2020
The Vatican is opening files on ‘Hitler’s Pope’ almost a decade ahead of schedule.
Pope Francis has decided to open secret Vatican archives on May 2, 2020, to reveal details about the papacy of World War II era pope Pius XII. Archives of this nature are typically not released until 70 years after a pope’s death, but Francis has decided to release them about a decade early.
During WWII, thousands of Roman Jews were ripped from their homes and taken to concentration camps under the shadow of the Vatican.
As MSN News wrote, “a poignant plaque on the Via Lungara, just a stone’s throw from the gates of Vatican City, still commemorates one of the most horrific incidents: ‘On 16 October 1943 entire Jewish Roman families were ripped from their homes and brought to this place and then deported to concentration camps. Of more than 2,000 people, only 16 survived.’”
Who is Hitler’s pope?
Hitler’s pope is a controversial figure in Catholic history. While some Catholics are still enraged by his wartime actions, others say that Pius XII may have actually saved Jewish lives by never publicly condemning Hitler’s actions.
Is Pope Francis trying to send a message? According to MSN, people who know him best say that he is more concerned with the truth than with what the archives might reveal. The current pope realizes that Pius may not be cast in a favorable light, but says that the Catholic Church is not afraid of its history. Francis said that opening the archives is important so the world can see what really happened.
One of the Pope’s longtime friends, Rabbi Abraham Skorka, an Argentine rabbi and professor at the St. Joseph’s University Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations in Philadelphia told the Daily Beast, “He said he’d do it. It is that simple. This is further evidence of the commitment Bergoglio has with the truth itself, more than with the results that may emerge from any investigation of the material.”
German Pope Benedict XVI has been a steadfast supporter of Pius, even endorsing him for the church’s path to sainthood. Pius was the pope when Benedict was a boy, and Benedict has long-maintained Pius’ innocence during World War II. Benedict has staunchly supported Pius as someone who worked behind the scenes to protect Jews in Hitler’s Germany. If this proves true, the path to sainthood would likely accelerate.
The path to sainthood?
According to the Daily Beast, those close to Benedict say that his secret desire is to be alive when Pius is beatified into sainthood. Many believe that Francis is opening the archives early as a special favor to the aging and ailing Benedict, who resigned as pope in 2013. The archives must be opened before Pius can progress to sainthood.
After making the announcement, Francis met with a group from the American Jewish Committee. The pope described recent acts of anti-Semitism as a wicked form of depraved hatred. While many Catholics praise Pius’ secret diplomacy, many Jews view Pius quite differently. Jewish groups have lobbied the Vatican for over 30 years to open the archives. Francis stated that the Vatican and Jewish groups around the world have the “greatest respect for each other” despite their differing opinions about Pius. A team composed of both Vatican and Jewish experts are cataloging the documents.
What is already known about Pius?
He knew about the Holocaust as early as the summer of 1942. He was an outspoken supporter of Germany, but not necessarily to Hitler. Pius saw Germans as fighting against communism.
Without access to the secret Vatican archives, scholars have never had the full picture, and therefore have long argued about Pius’ true intentions and actions. Many say the Vatican stood by and did nothing to stop Hitler’s reign of terror. The Jews’ view is that Pius made the best tactical decision that was in the interest of the Catholic Church, despite the atrocities in the concentration camps.
During WWII, numerous countries maintained diplomatic relations with the Vatican; those countries have already made their documents available. Many of the notes of the time had a common theme: the Vatican was not doing enough to combat Hitler. Now scholars want to fill in the missing pieces.
Jews are hoping that the details provided in the secret archives will fill in some gaps in Pius’ story. Among the details many are hoping will be revealed are instructions from the Vatican during this time. How was Pius directly involved? What actions did the pope take? Who did Pius confide in?
Since the pope’s announcement, many have spoken out about Pius’ legacy. Author of The Pope and Mussolini, David Kertzer described stark similarities between the WWII scandal and the present-day sex abuse scandal wreaking havoc on the church’s reputation. Kertzer said that no matter the situation, the Vatican has proved time and time again that its first priority is protecting the institution that is the Catholic Church. Everything else comes second.
Kertzer believes that Pius was worried that the Nazis would work against the Vatican, so Pius likely worked to minimize Nazi power, but seemingly never considered the innocent Jews caught up in the whole business.
Italian Corriere della Sera journalist X Cremonesi was even more outspoken, saying that Pius believed the only good Jew was one who converted to Catholicism. Cremonesi is certain the Vatican will hide many things about Pius. The Vatican disagrees with Cremonesi; because the documents are already indexed, the Vatican librarian stated that it is impossible to cover anything up. Cremonesi has already visited the Vatican to find publicly available information on Pius during Hitler’s regime. He says there is absolutely no public reference – not even acknowledgement of classified documents.
While Pius may remain a cloudy figure, Francis’ intent is very real. The pope spoke openly about Pius’ moments of grave difficulty and tormented decisions but stated that the world must learn from history to move ahead. People close to Francis say he is not afraid to take on any challenge.
Francis is the church’s first non-European pope; as a boy in Argentina, Francis grew up amidst the nation’s Jewish population. Francis has always described the Holocaust as “an attempt to destroy God on earth” because it set about to eliminate all Jews, who were God’s creation. Many remain firm in their belief that the pope’s decision to open the archives early is an attempt to restore God for humanity.
Was Pius an unwavering diplomat who tried to save as many Jews as possible, or did he turn a blind eye to Hitler’s Holocaust? We may find out on May 20 of next year.