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Pope Francis announces early opening of Pius XII papers
[ROME] Pope Francis announced Monday that he would open archives from the pontificate of Pius XII, possibly allowing historians to shed light on the actions of the pope during World War II, in particular his response to the Holocaust.
Some critics of Pius XII maintain that he was shamefully silent during the Nazi massacre of Jews during the war, while others claim he saved thousands of lives by tasking the Roman Catholic Church with assisting victims of persecution.
Pope Francis said the archives would open March 2, 2020, the 81st anniversary of Pius' election to pope.
He added that he was allowing access to Pope Pius' private papers "with a serene and confident mind" and that serious scholarship would be able to evaluate "in the correct light" the highs and lows of a pontificate that spanned nearly two decades, from 1939 to 1958.
The Vatican usually opens its archives 70 years after the end of a pontificate. Calls for the early release of Pius' papers intensified when the Vatican put him on the path to sainthood.
"The church is not afraid of history," Francis told officials and staff members of the Archivio Segreto Vaticano, the papal repository that, according to its website, contains some 12 centuries of documents.
Pope Francis said that Pius' pontificate had included "moments of serious difficulties, of tormented decisions, of human and Christian prudence."
Rabbi David Rosen, an official with the American Jewish Committee, said Francis' decision to make the materials fully available would be "enormously important to Catholic-Jewish relations." The committee has pressed the Vatican for more than three decades to make the wartime papers public.
In a statement, Rabbi Rosen said scholars would now be able to evaluate 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 systematic murder of 6 million Jews."