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Tuesday, October 19, 1999 Published at 15:22 GMT 16:22 UK

World: Europe

Vatican wartime files opened

The Vatican will only opened published archives to scrutiny

The Vatican has agreed to open its World War II archives to further scrutiny amid continuing controversy about the role of the wartime Pope, Pius XII.

It has announced that a panel of Catholic and Jewish scholars will review published material from Church archives.

BBC correspondent Orla Guerin: 'It may be an attempt by the Vatican to appear more open'
The review may shed more light on the role of Pope Pius, who critics say failed to raise his voice against the Nazis, but who is defended by the Vatican.

Three Catholic and three Jewish scholars will examine the 11 volumes that relate to the church's role during the war.

The controversy over whether the Vatican could have done more to stop the holocaust was recently re-ignited by the publication of a book - Hitler's Pope, by John Cornwell - which portrays Pius XII as an anti-Semite.

[ image: The Vatican claims Pius XII secretly saved Jews]
The Vatican claims Pius XII secretly saved Jews
Critics of Pius regard the decision to review the archives only as a partial victory.

The volumes have already been published, and questions are being asked as to how much the scholars - yet to be named - will gain.

Mr Cornwell said the exercise made no sense.

The author said the crucial archives related to the 1920s and 1930s when the church made a pact with the Nazis - the Concordat - which he said had immense consequences in the years that followed.

The Vatican jealously guards its vast archives. Jewish organisations, including the World Jewish Congress, have long lobbied for access to the war-time files.

Many documents remain locked in vaults and the Vatican's efforts to keep them there have angered and frustrated Jewish groups seeking to examine a traumatic period in Jewish history.

[ image: The current Pope is one of Pius's staunchest defenders]
The current Pope is one of Pius's staunchest defenders
The period remains an ambiguous one for the Catholic Church. Libraries are full of works attacking or defending claims that the church failed to protect the Jews.

Despite the controversy, Pius is being considered for sainthood and a new Vatican-sanctioned book, Pius XII and the Second World War, defends his record.

It insists that his public silence over the Holocaust was a cover for secret activity to save Jews from concentration camps.

Cardinal Edward Cassidy, head of the Vatican's Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, said he hoped that differences could now be resolved through the joint review approach.

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