DECADES of doubt over the role played by "Hitler's Pope" under the Fascist regimes of Italy and Germany in the 1930s and 1940s may be put to rest after a close friend of Pope Francis suggested the Pontiff may open the Vatican archives.
Rabbi Abraham Skorka, who has known the Argentine Pope for 20 years, said he discussed the role of Pius XII – the man long known as "Hitler's Pope" – at length with the new pontiff.
The Rabbi, who recently co-authored 'On Heaven and Earth', a book of interviews with Pope Francis, said he had made clear that he thought Pius XII's legacy ought to be "investigated thoroughly".
"It's a terribly sensitive issue, but he says that it must be investigated thoroughly," he said. "I have no doubt that he will move to open the archives."
It follows decades of speculation about the extent to which Pius XII co-operated with the Fascist regime in Italy and Nazi Germany during his reign, which began in 1939.
Critics have accused him of remaining silent over the Holocaust – and suspicions have only been strengthened by the Vatican's refusal so far to give scholars access to the archives from his reign. But there is also evidence that Pius XII may have helped arrang the exodus of 200,000 Jews from Germany in the 1930s.
Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, as he was known before his election as Pope, is said to have written to archbishops around the world urging them to secure visas for "non-Aryan Catholics" and Jewish converts to Christianity to travel to their countries from Germany.
Moves towards canonising Pius XII have been under way in Rome for decades, but two years ago a group of prominent Roman Catholic scholars publicly urged Pope Benedict to halt the process until more was known.
Separately, Pope Francis, known for his frugal ways, has decided Vatican employees will not be getting the bonus that traditionally comes with the election of a new pope.
In the past, the Vatican's 4,500-plus workers, both religious and lay, would get an extra little something upon the death of one pope and another upon the election of his successor – reportedly €1,500 in total.
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said that given tough economic times: "It did not seem possible or appropriate to burden the Vatican's budget with a considerable, unforeseen extra expense". (© Daily Telegraph, London)