Source: Religion News Service
A. James Rudin | Feb 27, 2014 | 1 Comment
(RNS) It’s almost a year since Pope Francis was chosen as Benedict XVI’s successor. The Argentinian-born pontiff has quickly achieved global fame for his numerous statements indicating that significant changes may be coming to the Roman Catholic Church.
One possible change emerged last month when London’s Sunday Times reported that Francis wants to make public the Vatican’s archives of Pius XII’s pontificate. Eugenio Pacelli became pope in 1939 and served as pontiff during the period of World War II and the Holocaust until his death in 1958.
According to the British newspaper, Francis wants to release the Pius XII papers for study before determining whether to consider his controversial predecessor for sainthood. Francis has already “fast-tracked” the path to sainthood for John XXIII and John Paul II, but not Pius XII.
The wartime pope’s actions and inactions regarding the endangered Jews of Europe remains an often-bitter divisive issue in today’s relationship between the church and the Jewish people. Catholic and Jewish historians have both criticized and defended Pius XII’s record.
His critics charge Pius XII failed to publicly denounce the mass murder of Jews or to provide sufficient assistance to protect them from the Nazis. The pope’s defenders maintain that his actions, some still unknown to the public, included hiding Jews in Catholic institutions, including convents and monasteries, as well as working behind the scenes to save Jewish lives.
The Vatican has released some classified documents but has still kept secret thousands of pages of archival material pertaining to World War II. In 2006, Benedict XVI opened the files on Pacelli’s predecessor, Pius XI, who was pope between 1922 and 1939. Within these are documents relating to the career of Pacelli when he served as the papal nuncio or ambassador to Germany between 1917 and 1929, and when he was Vatican secretary of state in the decade before his election to the papacy just six months before the outbreak of the war in September 1939.
Pope Francis is not the first Catholic leader to focus on Pius XII’s actions and his “paper trail.”