(photo credit: Matthew Wagner)
A prominent evangelical Christian leader in Israel on Monday called on the Vatican to open its archives if they have any evidence that Pope Pius XII did not remain silent during the mass murder of six million Jews during the Holocaust.
The remarks come a day after the Vatican ambassador to the Holy Land, Monsignor Antonio Franco, reversed an earlier decision not to attend the annual state ceremony at Yad Vashem marking Holocaust Remembrance Day due to a photo caption at the Holocaust museum referring to the silence of the pope during World War II.
"This is not Yad Vashem's narrative but a generally accepted historical narrative," said Rev. Malcolm Hedding, the executive director of the International Christian Embassy, a Jerusalem-based evangelical organization.
"If the papal nuncio wants to protest then he must prove his case and show us otherwise by opening the Vatican archives," he added.
Yad Vashem and Jewish groups have long urged the Vatican to open its wartime archives but to no avail.
Franco said Monday that he changed his mind about going to the ceremony after determining that there was room for dialogue with Yad Vashem on the issue.
"What I was looking for was attention to the problem, which has now been received," Franco told The Jerusalem Post in a telephone interview Monday.
"I went to the ceremony because I felt that there is a basis on which to continue to work together towards clarification of the issue," he added.
Yad Vashem has repeatedly said they would readily reexamine Pius XII's conduct during the Holocaust if the Vatican opened its World War II-era archives to the museum's research staff or if any new documentation came to light on the issue.
The unusual open diplomatic wrangling, which threatened to upset already delicate relations between Israel and the Vatican, came as the Vatican presses ahead with its plans to beatify the wartime pope over the objection of the State of Israel and Jewish groups around the world.
In the interview, Franco brushed off suggestions that their archives be opened, and suggested that most of the material on the issue was already out in the open.
"The materials of the archives have been examined and considered, and there is already great documentation made public," he said.
The role of the Holocaust-era pope, who reined from 1939 until his death in 1958, has long been controversial, and the Vatican has struggled to defend him over his silence during the mass murder of six million Jews.
Franco said he was not looking for "tensions, polemics or controversy" in his threatened boycott of the event, but was stressing a point of "capital importance" to Catholics that he said was not against the Holocaust itself.
But the evangelical leader said the papal nuncio's threatened boycott of Israel's official state ceremony marking Holocaust Remembrance Day was "totally unacceptable" behavior that bespoke a lack of understanding of the enormity of the Holocaust.
"The papal nuncio's blurring of a historical debate with the respect and memory of Holocaust martyrs was deeply irresponsible and disrespectful to the memory of the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust," Hedding concluded.