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Alex Constantine - April 29, 2009

Jesuits deny reports on pope expert collection

(ANSA) - Vatican, April 24 - The Jesuit order on Friday officially denied media reports that it had approved the opening of files on controversial wartime pope Pius XII.

The order said the authorisation to open a Pius XII expert's collection ''was never given''.

Up to his death in 1997, Jesuit Father Robert Graham was considered one of the world's top experts on the pope whose silence on the Holocaust is a contentious issue as he heads towards sainthood. The order said there had only been discussion of approving the classification and digitalisation of Father Graham's archives in view of possible publication.

It said this could only happen when the Vatican opens its archives on Pius, expected to happen in 2013.

Top Jewish bodies say the Pius question may only be satisfactorily resolved when the full Vatican archives are available.

Pius has been accused of not speaking out openly against the Holocaust, a charge the Vatican denies while stressing his efforts to save Jews.

Thursday reports on the Father Graham move, from various Catholic sources, was hailed by the inter-faith Pave the Way Foundation which will classify the files.

''I'm very, very enthusiastic (about the project),'' foundation president Gary Krupp, a Jew, told the Catholic News Service.

One of the researchers who will start digitally scanning the documents this summer said the collection included ''very promising'' material.

The Vatican has been building evidence of how Pius helped Jews in Italy but many Jewish organisations will not accept the argument that he kept silent on the Shoah for fear of unleashing even greater savagery from the Nazis.

Last month Father Peter Gumpel, the so-called 'postulator' of Pius's cause for beatification, presented a newly discovered document urging Rome nuns to shelter whoever was being ''persecuted''.

Gumpel said the document - together with a similar one sent to then bishop of Assisi, Monsignor Giuseppe Nicolini - proved that Pius did all he could to help Jews during the Nazi occupation of Italy.

The accusations by critics that he did nothing to prevent the infamous round-up of 1,022 Jews in the Rome Ghetto on October 16,1943 was ''an absolute falsehood,'' Gumpel said.


Referring to the beatification process - the final step towards sainthood - Gumpel said the paperwork was completed and was awaiting Pope Benedict XVI's signature.

Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone said recently that moves to make Pius a saint were the Vatican's business.

''The representation of Pius XII as indifferent towards the victims of the Nazis...or even as 'Hitler's Pope' (the title of a recent book) is outrageous and historically unsustainable,'' Bertone told a conference marking the recent 50th anniversary of Pius's death.

Bertone said the polemics - revived last October when a Jewish minister called plans to put Pius one step from sainthood ''unacceptable'' - were ''biased and ever less comprehensible''.

Pius was the victim of ''a defamatory legend,'' Bertone said, reiterating a view expressed by Pius's supporters.

Jewish groups say the only way to settle the issue of Pius's wartime role is to open the Vatican's archives on the war years.

But officials have said it would take ''at least six to seven years'' to collate the thousands of files.

The International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations met with Pope Benedict XVI in November to ask him to put off Pius's beatification until after the archives are available for study.

Benedict replied that he was ''seriously considering'' it, the Jewish group said.

Vatican sources later stressed the pope was answering a private question and not taking an official stance.

Benedict praised Pius at a Mass on the 50th anniversary of his death on October 9.

He reiterated that Pius saved the ''largest possible number of Jews'' by acting in silence to ''avert the worst''.

He told the mass that Pius's action had been recognised after the war by Jewish leaders including Golda Meir.

Benedict said he was ''praying'' that the beatification process would continue but gave no indication of when he would sign a key decree.

Pius XII, who was pope from 1939 to 1958, took a crucial step towards sainthood last year when a panel of top Catholic prelates voted in favour of recognising Pius's ''heroic virtues''.

This is the key requirement for beatification, but the relevant decree has yet to be signed by Benedict.

The lag has been taken by some observers as indicating the pope believes more reflection on the case is needed.

The Pius question, and a Holocaust museum in Jerusalem where he is accused of remaining silent, was widely considered to have been a hurdle to Benedict's trip to the Holy Land next month, despite denials on both sides.

After vain Catholic calls for the anti-Pius exhibit to be removed, it was eventually decided that Benedict will visit the Yad Vashem Memorial, but not the museum itself.


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