Archives on controversial war-time Pope Pius XII set to open

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Pope Pius XII remains a controversial figure

Vatican City (AFP) - The Vatican's archives on Pope Pius XII are poised to be unsealed, with historians hoping to uncover previously hidden details about one of  the most controversial popes in history.

The papacy of Pius XII lasted from 1939 to 1958, tumultuous years that covered World War II, including the Holocaust. Pius XII remains a controversial figure as he never publicly condemned the Nazi regime.  

"The opening of the archives is decisive for the contemporary history of the church and the world," Cardinal Jose Tolentino Calaca de Mendonca, the church's archivist and librarian, told reporters on Thursday. 

When the archives are unsealed on March 2, researchers will be able to delve into a wide variety of topics.

"From religious history to political history, from the government of the church to the relations of the Holy See with states and the international community," said the cardinal.

The controversy over Pius XII hinges on whether the head of the Catholic Church, a former diplomat of the Holy See in Germany, remained too silent during the Holocaust, never publicly condemning the Nazis. 

Critics of the late pope argue that with his considerable moral authority, speaking out against the Nazis could have influenced German catholics away from the regime.

Supporters counter that any criticisms uttered by him could have endangered catholics throughout Europe.

The controversy has given rise to dozens of books, including bestsellers like 1999's "Hitler's Pope," by John Cornwell.

One hundred and fifty researchers from around the world have already requested access to the archives, said Bishop Sergio Pagano, who heads the Vatican's central "apostolic archives."

First to be served will be those from the American Holocaust Memorial Museum and representatives of the Jewish community in Rome, he said. Researchers will compete all year long for about 20 places available in the central archives.