VATICAN CITY — The Vatican, trying to counter charges that the papacy was silent in the face of the Holocaust, confirmed Tuesday that it will open up secret archives from the years leading up to World War II.
The archives include documents from 1922 to 1939. Eugenio Pacelli was Vatican ambassador in Berlin during part of this period before becoming Pope Pius XII. Also to be made available are letters to the Vatican from people looking for prisoners of war and others who disappeared between 1940 and '46.
Cardinal Jorge Maria Mejia, the Vatican's librarian, said the archival material will be available through the Holy See's Web site in January.
"Of course, the archives are of great interest to the media," Mejia said at a news conference.
Critics of Pius XII argue that he failed to raise his voice and use his position to head off the extermination of European Jews by the Nazis. Defenders insist that he made every effort possible to help Jews and others.
The Vatican's position is that Pius did not speak out more forcefully for fear of worsening the fate of Roman Catholics, as well as Jews, in Germany and Nazi-occupied countries.
"There's no doubt that opening up these archives is an important decision; the problem is that they don't even refer to the most important period, which is during the war itself," said Amos Luzzatto, head of the Union of Italian-Jewish Communities.
Scholars and Jewish groups around the world have asked the Vatican to open the archives relating to Pius before and during his pontificate, which ended with his death in 1958.