Three of the four popes who followed Pope Pius XII have since been named saints. The effort to attach the same designation to Pius has stalled, but a big move by Pope Francis could soon change that. Saying "the church is not afraid of history," the pope on Monday announced that the secret archives on Pius' papacy would be opened March 2, 2020, something Jewish groups have spent more than three decades clamoring for. That's because his papacy ran from 1939 to 1958, a period that spanned World War II. The Washington Post reports the Vatican stayed neutral during the war and didn't publicly condemn Nazism. What remains unclear, however, was whether Pius quietly tried to help the Jews or ignored their plight.
The head of the Holy See's archives division suggested in a Vatican newspaper article on Monday that it could be the former, saying the archives tell of "an almost superhuman work of Christian 'humanism' that was active in the stormy disorder of those events that ... seemed determined to annihilate the very notion of human civilization." Francis, for his part, described Pius as "criticized, one can say, with some prejudice and exaggeration." The move has the potential to speed or stymie Pius' path to sainthood. Reuters reports that after Pius was declared "venerable" in 2009, Catholic scholars implored Pope Benedict to take no further steps until Pius' Holocaust actions were thoroughly understood. The AP reports the Vatican typically opens a pope's archives 70 years after his papacy ends, which in Pius' case would be 2028. (A 2013 book described alleged secret efforts on Pius' part to aid the Jews.)