The Vatican has allowed historians access to secret archives of documents relating to Pope Pius XII, who has been accused of “turning a blind eye” to the Holocaust.
Pope Pius XII was leader of the Catholic Church from 1939 to 1958 and has been labelled as ‘Hitler’s Pope’ for failing to help those facing persecution from Nazi Germany.
The Holocaust saw six million Jewish people murdered during the Second World War.
For years the Vatican has been pressured to make clear it the stance it took during this time.
Pope Francis has now permitted historians and researchers access to the millions of pages of archived documents, giving them ‘opportunity to shed light on a dark period in world history’.
More than 150 researchers will sieve through the millions of pages of documents from six different archives. The public have been warned it will take years for the study to be complete.
Hubert Wolf is one of the selected historians that will be granted access to the archived material. He said: “There is no doubt that the pope was aware of the murder of Jews.”
Wolf hopes the documents will reveal “when he learned about it for the first time”.
However, the Church welcomes the study. Pope Francis said Pius’ legacy has been treated with “some prejudice and exaggeration”.
Cardinal Jose Tolentino Calaca de Mendonca, the Vatican’s chief librarian, said: “The church has no reason to fear history.”
Father Norbert Hofmann is a Vatican official in charge of religious relations with Jews. He said: “I don’t think you will find a smoking gun.
“Pius XII was a diplomat and he was a very shy character and a very, very cautious man. And under the circumstances of the occupation it would have been difficult to shout out loudly.”