Pope Francis appears to have taken another bold decision in favour of inter-religious harmony and transparency in the affairs of the Roman Catholic Church. It has been reported that he has decided to throw open the Vatican’s archives on the Holocaust and the role played by Pope Pius XII during Hitler’s Third Reich when an estimated six million Jews were exterminated. Pope Pius has often been accused of not doing enough to save Jewish lives and it has been alleged that the Church helped Nazis like the Frenchman Paul Thouvier by sheltering him in cloistered monasteries.

However, the Vatican has still to confirm that Pope Francis has in fact decided to open the archives.

Jewish organisations have reacted positively to reports that the present Pope has decided to open the Vatican archives to examine the role of Pius XII before the process to canonise him as a saint is finalised. The proposed beatification of Pope Pius XII had aroused anger in the Jewish community, which claims that the wartime Pope did not speak up or do enough to prevent or minimise the extent of the Holocaust.

News that Pope Francis was contemplating opening the Vatican archives pertaining to this troubled period first appeared in The Sunday Times newspaper, which quoted Abraham Skorka, a Rabbi from the Pope’s native Argentina and a close friend of the Pontiff, as saying that Francis would keep his promise to examine the archives. The pope had expressed his position in a book he co-authored with the Rabbi before he was elected to head the Roman Catholic Church.

The Pope, who was known as Cardinal Bergoglio before his election, wrote in his 2010 book entitled On Heaven and Earth : “Opening the archives of the Shoah seems reasonable. Let them be opened up and let everything be cleared up. Let it be seen if they could have done something and until what point they could have helped. If they made a mistake in any aspect of this, we would have to say: ‘We have erred.’ We don’t have to be scared of this — the truth has to be the goal.”

The Jerusalem Post newspaper quoted Menachem Rosensaft, general counsel for the World Jewish Congress as saying: “This is something that we have been asking for and hoping for decades. It is yet another proof that Pope Francis is an exceptional individual who repeatedly demonstrates great sensitivity and integrity.

Pope Francis has very close personal friends from his days as cardinal who are rabbis, who are leaders in the Jewish community. The dialogue and the relationship have been unprecedented in terms of warmth and closeness.”

The President of the World Jewish Congress Ronald Lauder said that if the report was correct it was extremely encouraging.

“It is important to open the archives once and for all to clarify the historical record. It would be yet another sign of Pope Francis’ tremendous personal integrity.”