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Culture

Vatican Opens Files From Start of Nazi Period

In an effort to address critics who say the church didn't do enough to stop the horrors of the Holocaust, the Vatican is opening its archives from 1922 to 1939.

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Later records won't be released for several years

Pope John Paul II wants the Catholic church to be like a house of glass, "where everyone can see what happens." Taking up on that motto of transparency, the Vatican in Rome is now openings its archives from 1922 to 1939 so people can at least see what happened in the pre-World War II period.

The archives -- as of Saturday open to scholars who make a formal request to see them -- cover the period when Eugenio Pacelli, later Pope Pius XII, was the Vatican's ambassador to Berlin.

With this "unusual gesture," the Vatican is responding to pressure from critics who have accused the church of not doing enough to stop the persecution of Jews and others during the Holocaust, said Walter Brandmüller, chairman of the Vatican's historical commission.

Attempt to clear its name

Historian Wolfgang Schieder, who has for years called for the Vatican to open its archives, said that doing so is the only way for the church to clear its name.

Criticism of the church came as soon after the war as 1963, with Rolf Hochhuth's play "The Deputy." Last year, Daniel Goldhagen's book "A Moral Reckoning: The Role of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust and Its Unfulfilled Duty of Repair," urged the church to "tell the truth."

The archives that are now open do not cover the wartime period and the Vatican has said that documents from 1931 to 1934 were destroyed by fires and bombing in World War II.

80,000 meters of papers

In citing reasons for delays in opening the archives, the Vatican has cited the pure mass of the materials. The Vatican has just 35 employees for 80,000 shelf-meters of archived material. That's true, said Schieder. But he pointed out that the Vatican itself decides how to staff the archives.

Vatican documents relating to Pope Pius XII's tenure from 1939 to 1958 will not be released until sometime after 2005.

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