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Article posted Nov 01 2008, 3:36 PM Category: History Source: The Telegraph Print

Vatican stalling on secret files which could prove wartime Pope ignored Holocaust

The Vatican appears to be dragging its feet over releasing secret files which could solve once and for all the question of whether a wartime Pope turned a blind eye to the Holocaust.
By Nick Squires in Rome

German soldiers guard Pope Pius XII in Berlin. Photo: Getty

Documenting the archives will take at least another six or seven years, a Vatican spokesman said in response to a request from a senior Jewish leader.

Jewish groups and critics of Pope Pius XII, who was pontiff for the duration of the Second World War, have long called for the Vatican archives to be made available so that Pius's record on speaking out against Hitler and the Nazis can be examined.

In an audience with Pope Benedict XVI, Rabbi David Rosen of the International Jewish Committee on Inter-religious Consultations repeated the request.

"We reiterate our respectful call for full and transparent access of scholars to all archival material from that period, so that assessments regarding actions and policies during this tragic period may have the credibility they deserve," he said.

But he was told that the secret archives for 1939-1945 contain around 16 million documents and the Vatican lacks the specialised staff to categorise them quickly.

Although demands that the archives be made available were "understandable and justifiable", it would be unrealistic to expect the archives to be opened earlier than 2014.

"The prefect for the secret archive, Monsignor Sergio Pagano, recently stated that with the present workforce the estimated time frame is at least 6-7 years," said a Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi.

"Of course, once the filing work is completed, since the secret archive is the archive of the Pope, the final decision on opening the archives will be up to the Holy Father".

The rabbi and his committee also met with Monsignor Pagano. "He explained to us in a very detailed way the difficulties (involved)... there's a lot of work to be done, it's a technical issue," Rabbi Rosen said.

The rabbi said the pontiff was giving "serious consideration" to delaying the planned beatification of Pius until the archives could be thrown open to scholars. Beatification is the last formal step before sainthood.

Marking the 50th anniversary of Pius' death recently, Pope Benedict described him as a great pope who worked "secretly and silently" during World War Two to "avoid the worst and save the greatest number of Jews possible".

Earlier this month, the priest in charge of the case for Pius' sainthood, Father Peter Gumpel, said Pope Benedict was hesitating over approving the first step towards making his predecessor a saint out of concern for maintaining "good relations" with Jews.

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