Society That Thinks Pope Pius XII Rules

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Vatican files to cast new light on Pius XII, Jews

By Tom Heneghan, Religion Editor

PARIS (Reuters) - Wartime Pope Pius XII's views on the Jews, one of the sorest points in Catholic-Jewish relations, could be in for an important reappraisal when archives from his years as Vatican prime minister are opened in Rome in September.

The Vatican said on Friday it would open all files from the Pius XI papacy which ran from 1922 until just before the 1939 outbreak of World War Two. Critics say successor Pius XII, whose views as a Vatican official would be reflected in the files, did too little in the war to save European Jews from the Holocaust.

Supporters and critics of Pius XII are miles apart. The late Pope John Paul wanted to make him a saint but many critics, including Jewish groups, call him "Hitler's Pope".

The archives contain internal documents showing how Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, who later became Pius XII, worked as Secretary of State from 1930 to 1939 dealing with major political issues.

"That will put research into Pacelli into a new league," said Professor Hubert Wolf, an historian at Muenster University in Germany and a leading expert on the Vatican Secret Archives.

"We will have nine years of him dealing with church affairs around the world," Wolf told Reuters. The files will show his discussions inside the Vatican bureaucracy and policy instructions to papal nuncios (ambassadors).

"We'll see his comments in the margins of a report. We'll have his tiny, shaky handwriting as he passes judgment on issues. You cannot get any closer to Pacelli," he said.

Wolf, a Catholic priest, could not say how the late pope would seen after the files are opened: "I'm an historian, not a prophet. The documents have to answer that question."


Pius XII toed a cautious line during the war to avoid reprisals against Catholics in Germany and Nazi-occupied countries. He was initially praised for speaking out as openly as he could and helping to save Jews in secret.

This view changed radically in 1963, when German playwright Rolf Hochhuth depicted him in "The Deputy" as a cynic who kept silent despite knowing about the Holocaust.

The two sides have feuded ever since, with defenders -- including some Jewish historians -- citing private anti-Hitler comments and critics presenting him as an anti-Semite.

The 1922-1939 archives will include hitherto secret notes for internal policy sessions of the Secretariat of State, including what Pacelli -- the Vatican's "political brain," in Wolf's words -- said in strategy sessions about Jewish issues.

For example, Edith Stein, a German convert from Judaism who was killed in Auschwitz, wrote to Pacelli in April 1933 about anti-Jewish repression in the early days of Nazi Germany. He responded a week later saying he had passed it on to Pius XI.

"Something happened in Rome between those two letters," Wolf said. "Now we can ask what effect Stein's letter had in the Curia. Who dealt with it? Did Pacelli ask anyone for advice?"


The new documents should also show Pacelli's private views on the 1933 Concordat with Nazi Germany, relations with Fascist Italy, the 1936-1939 Spanish Civil War and the Nazi annexation of Austria and the Munich Agreement in 1938.

Wolf said he was sure the Vatican would not hold back embarrassing documents and would apologize if grave errors came to light

"Pope Benedict...says it makes no sense to continue to fuel speculation by being secretive," said Wolf, who discussed the archives with the German-born pontiff in March.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, welcomed the news of the opening of the Pius XI files but urged the Vatican to hurry up with the really crucial ones -- those from the 1939-1958 Pius XII papacy itself.