Pope Francis has said the Roman Catholic Church will open up its archives on Pius XII, who was Pope during World War Two.
Pius, who was Pope from 1939 to 1958, has been accused of tolerating the rise of Nazi Germany and of not doing enough to protect Jews during the Holocaust.
Pope Francis said the archives would be opened in March next year, adding that Pius’s legacy had been treated with “some prejudice and exaggeration”.
He said it included “moments of grave difficulties, tormented decisions of human and Christian prudence, that to some could appear as reticence”.
The prefect of the Vatican’s Secret Archive said the opening would allow a more profound evaluation of a figure who had been subject to what he called “superficial criticism”.
“The Church is not afraid of history,” the Pope told a meeting of Vatican researchers.
Preparing the archives for scrutiny has been a lengthy process. For the past 13 years, 20 members of the Vatican’s archives department have worked to organise Pius XII’s files, including his official correspondence.
Researchers will now have the chance to sift through an estimated 16 million pages of documents.
The Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial commended the decision and expressed expectation that “researchers will be granted full access to all the documents stored in the archives”.
Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli was pontiff from 1939 to 1958 and although the Vatican has begun his beatification process, he has not been canonised.
His actions will be scrutinised as part of current efforts to decide whether he should be declared a saint.
He has been criticised by Jewish groups for not speaking out against the Nazis.
He did not sign an Allied declaration in December 1942 condemning the Nazi extermination of Jews and did not protest publicly at the deportations from Rome to Auschwitz.
Pius XII’s reaction to the Holocaust “is a matter of controversy among scholars”, it said, and until all material was made available, the topic would remain open to further inquiry.