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Tuesday, 24 July, 2001, 01:39 GMT 02:39 UK
Vatican accused over wartime archives
Jews in Nazi camp
Six million Jews died in World War Two
By Jane Standley in New York

The World Jewish Congress says that a joint panel of Jewish and Roman Catholic historians has suspended its investigation into the Vatican's role in the Holocaust.

The executive director of the Congress, Elan Steinberg, told the BBC at its headquarters in New York that the Vatican had refused to properly open up its archives to the scholars.

Without some positive response to our respectful case for material in the archives that has not been published, we could not maintain our credibility with the many voices, Catholic, Jewish and others, who have called for greater availability of archival material

Historians' letter to the Vatican
The Vatican has not yet commented on the suspension.

The panel of historians was established in 1999 by the Vatican and Jewish groups to examine one of the most contentious issues between them - the Holocaust - and the role of the wartime Pope, Pius the Twelfth.

The historians informed the Vatican in writing of their decision to suspend their work.

That letter has now been made public in New York by the World Jewish Congress.

A copy obtained by the BBC shows it signed by all three Jewish members of the panel and both Roman Catholics.

It says that the research panel could not maintain its credibility without some positive response to its request for material held in the Vatican's archives.

Controversial pope

When the panel was set up at the end of 1999, its historian members expressed confidence that the Vatican would open up its files of correspondence so as to investigate in particular the role of the controversial wartime Pope, Pius the Twelfth.

There have been allegations that he knew about the systematic slaughter of Jews during the second world war - an issue which is highly controversial between the two faiths.

Pope Pius XII
The panel was examining the role of Pope Pius XII during the war
But the historians argue that key documents have not been made available by the Vatican and that the indications are that they are not going to be any time soon.

This follows a letter from the Vatican to the panel saying that its archives were not accessible beyond 1923, for what it described as "technical reasons".

The World Jewish Congress has accused the Vatican of serious moral failings and it now remains to be seen how the investigation can be re-started.

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Pope apologises for church sins
25 Feb 00 | Middle East
Pope calls for religious freedom
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19 Oct 99 | Europe
Vatican wartime files opened
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