(JTA) – The Vatican secret archive relating to controversial Holocaust-era Pope Pius XII will be opened next year.
Pope Francis made the announcement at an audience with managers and staff of the Vatican Archives.
In a decision made public Monday, he said the archives would be opened on March 2, 2020. “The Church is not afraid of history,” Francis said.
Pius was pope from March 2, 1939 to Oct. 9, 1958, and his role during the Holocaust has been a bone of contention for years. Critics accuse him of having turned a blind eye to Jewish suffering. The Vatican maintains that he worked behind the scenes to save Jews.
Jewish and other scholars have long called on the Vatican to open its secret archives to clarify the issue.
The Vatican said “qualified researchers” will be able to consult the documents, which cover the entirely to Pius’s reign.
In an article Monday in the official Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, Bishop Sergio Pagano, Prefect of the Vatican Secret Archives, said Vatican archivists had begun preparing the hundreds of thousands of pages of Pius XII material in 2006. This has included preparing indexes, catalogs and computer descriptions of documents.
Yad Vashem, the Holocaust remembrance centre in Jerusalem, in a statement commended the Vatican for its decision “which will enable objective and open research as well as comprehensive discourse on issues related to the conduct of the Vatican in particular, and the Catholic Church in general, during the Holocaust.”
The American Jewish Committee (AJC) has been calling on the Vatican for the last 30 years to open the archive. “Pope Francis’s decision to make these materials now fully open and available for international scholarly research is enormously important to Catholic-Jewish relations,” said Rabbi David Rosen, AJC International Director of Interreligious Affairs.
An AJC leadership delegation is scheduled to visit the Vatican and meet with Francis this week.