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The unsealing of the archives of wartime Pope Pius XII for scholars to review can improve Catholic-Jewish relations.
The unsealing of the archives of wartime Pope Pius XII for scholars to review can improve Catholic-Jewish relations. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons by author, F l a n k e r.

Vatican's Opening of Holocaust-Era Papal Archives Could Better Catholic-Jewish Relations

A week before (COVID-19) dominated every headline, the Vatican announced it would open up the papal archives of the controversial Holocaust-era Pope Pius XII. 

Over 150 scholars of "all faiths and nationalities" applied for review of these secret documents covering Pius XII's papacy from 1939 to his death in 1958. Historians have been particularly interested in studying the documents from the World War II period.

While the Vatican was officially neutral during the war, there has long been public criticism that Pope Pius XII remained silent over the fate of the Jews and did not do enough to save them during the Holocaust.

Pope Francis announced the unsealing of the archives last year with the archives set to open March 2, 2020.

"We believe that opening the wartime archives will assist scholars and researchers who seek the truth as they study this very dark era in human history, and it will also be another positive step forward in Catholic-Jewish relations," said Director of Communications, Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport Brian Wallace. 

Over 400,000 Catholics live in the Fairfield County diocese where there are 83 parishes.

These documents are being unsealed eight years early. Papal documents typically are not opened for 70 years from the end of a pontificate.

Critics have accused Pius XII of public silence while Nazis persecuted Jews; supporters say he helped rescue Jews.

The Vatican's chief librarian, Cardinal José Tolentino Calaça de Mendonça, on Feb. 20, reportedly invited researchers "regardless of nationality, faith and ideology" to review the archives, according to NPR.

Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York and Co-Chair of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops ( USCCB), speaking for all of the Catholic bishops around the country in a dialogue with the National Council of Synagogues, praised the measure by Pope Francis.

“I am grateful to His Holiness for taking this welcome step and allowing scholars to examine the records of Pope Pius XII’s pontificate during the Second World War. Along with our Jewish partners and colleagues," he said.

“I echo Pope Francis’ sentiment that sincere historical research will present an opportunity to grow in public understanding. I pray it will bring about a new era in which Catholic and Jewish scholars, who have deepened their trust and friendship, can continue working together to examine this important new material," Dolan added.

"As a U.S. leader in Catholic-Jewish relations, Cardinal Dolan has actively called for the release of these documents since becoming Archbishop of New York in 2009," Wallace noted.

"As someone who recognizes the importance of interfaith collaboration and fellowship, I appreciate this action," said Rabbi Laurie Gold, of Temple Beth El of Danbury. "Openness and honesty are key factors in bringing people together."