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 Sunday, 29 December, 2002, 05:57 GMT
Vatican to release Nazi files
Jews in a Nazi concentration camp
The Church's role in the Holocaust has long been questioned
The Vatican is to open up its archives documenting relations with Nazi Germany, potentially lifting the lid on a controversial and secretive era in the Church's history.

Announcing plans to declassify the archives, officials said they hoped the move would end speculation that the Roman Catholic Church failed to speak out against the Holocaust.

Pope Pius XII
Pope Pius XII's role in the Holocaust has proved controversial
The archive contains documents relating to the years leading up to World War II. During that period, the Vatican's ambassador to Berlin was the man who later went on to be pope during the war.

Pope Pius XII, who led the Church from 1939 to 1958, has long been accused by Jewish groups of turning a blind eye as many Jews were marched off to concentration camps.

Missing material

The archive will be open from 15 February next year but only to scholars by special appointment.

The Vatican has admitted, however, that files dating from 1931 to 1934 were "nearly completely destroyed or dispersed" during the bombing of Berlin and by a fire, Reuters news agency reported.

Pope John Paul II
Pope John Paul apologised - but not directly for the Holocaust
Documents relating to Pope Pius' tenure have still not been given a release date, despite calls from scholars and Jewish organisations for the Church to clarify its role in the Holocaust.

In 2001, Catholic and Jewish scholars investigating the Vatican's relations with Nazi Germany suspended their research in protest at the huge amount of material kept secret.

Jewish groups at the time also called on the Vatican to delay the beatification of Pius XII.

'Works of charity'

The Vatican has long countered criticism by saying Pope Pius XII did not speak out for fear of worsening the situation for Catholics as well as Jews in occupied territories during the war.

It says the documents to be released will prove "the great works of charity and assistance" undertaken by Pius XII on behalf of prisoners and others persecuted by the Nazis.

The Catholic Church has been criticised for not revealing the extent of its possible involvement or complicity in the Holocaust, in which six million Jews and hundreds of thousands of other ethnic minorities, gypsies and homosexuals were killed.

In March 2000, the current Pope, John Paul II, asked for forgiveness for wrongs inflicted by the Catholic Church on Jews, minorities and women, but angered Jewish groups for stopping short of mentioning specifically the Holocaust or the possible role of Pope Pius XII.

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