Yad Vashem Moderates Text Regarding Pope Pius XII’s Actions with Nazis

JERUSALEM (CNS) — New text in an exhibit at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial offers a less-critical assessment of the actions of Pope Pius XII in dealing with the Nazi persecution of Jews during World War II.

While the new text still points to Pope Pius’ prominent role in the church’s negotiations with Nazi officials, it paints a more complex picture of the situation decades ago.

Still, the new text includes criticism of the Vatican for not opening its archives to allow historians to research the actions of the Holy See at the time, noting that until researchers have access to “all relevant” materials the topic will “remain open to further inquiry.”

Archbishop Antonio Franco, papal nuncio to Israel and the Palestinian territories, who in 2007 had threatened to not take part in Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony because of the exhibit’s text, told Catholic News Service the move was “a step forward.”

“It is an opening, very important in the sense of attention to the documents and a more accurate search to try to understand really from the inside what the behavior was of the Holy Father and the Catholic Church,” he said in a July 3 telephone interview.

The change demonstrated “an effort” in seeking the truth, he added. “It is very difficult to read … another perspective, another culture. This effort is being done in good faith in the search for the truth,” he said.

Archbishop Franco explained that the Vatican’s archives continue to be catalogued and will be open to the public once the work in finished. He offered no timeline for completion of the work.

While the old text noted the controversy surrounding Pope Pius XII’s actions during World War II, it maintained that the pope signed an agreement with the German regime to preserve the church’s rights in Germany, “even if this meant recognizing the Nazi racist regime.” The text also said that upon his election as pope in 1939, he shelved a letter against racism and anti-Semitism that his predecessor, Pope Pius XI, had written.

The new museum panel is titled “The Vatican” instead of “Pope Pius XII.” The new text reduces the role of Pope Pius XII in negotiating the agreement, explaining that it was reached under Pius XI. Pope Pius XII served as secretary of state under his predecessor. The new text reads in part that Pope Pius XII “did not publicly protest” when Jews were deported from Rome; the old text said he “did not intervene.”

In a July 1 statement regarding the text change, officials at Yad Vashem noted that exhibit texts were based on documents available in the first years of the 21st century. The update was undertaken following the recommendation of the Yad Vashem International Institute for Holocaust Research, the museum emphasized, and not as a result of Vatican pressure, as has been reported.

“This is an update to reflect research that has been done in the recent years, and presents a more complex picture than previously presented,” the statement said.

While new research based in part on the opening of archival collections including parts of the Pope Pius XI archive and other academic information has “clarified certain issues,” the Yad Vashem statement said many questions remain.

Yad Vashem said the new wall panel now presents the controversy over Pope Pius XII’s actions during WWII in more detail, helping visitors to better understand the context surrounding the issue.

In its statement the museum said it “looks forward to the day when the Vatican archives will be open to researchers so that a clearer understanding of the events can be arrived at.”

Though he is “satisfied” with the “step forward” Archbishop Franco said he would have liked to have seen the panel “written differently.”

“My vision is the vision I have been struggling for (in which) I am convinced that the behavior and activity (of Pope Pius XII) have been strong and positive in favor of the Jews during World War II,” he said.

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