Apr 15, 2019
In his exhaustive history The Papacy in the Age of Totalitarianism, 1914 to 1958, Cambridge University historian John Pollard expresses doubt whether the argument over Pope Pius XII's response to the Holocaust is "a genuine historiographical controversy" – that is, whether it concerns matters of demonstrable historical fact--and concludes instead that it is "a highly political dispute." Coming from Pollard, no great fan of Pius, that is a telling comment.
It would be unrealistic, then, to suppose next year's opening of the Vatican archives for the pontificate of Pius XII will finally settle the argument about Pius XII and the Jews. Too many people have too much reputation invested in criticizing the Pope for that to happen.
But the news that the "secret" archives for 1939 to 1958 will finally be available to scholars is welcome just the same. This will move the dispute from the realm of "What if…" and "Suppose that…" at least partly toward matters of documented fact: what was actually said and done.
In announcing the forthcoming opening of the archives last month on the 80th anniversary of Pius XII's election, Pope Francis undoubtedly got it right when he said the mass of documentation would provide grounds for praising Pius together with evidence of "tormented decisions…human and Christian prudence, which to some could look like reticence."