Catholic Church Reveals World War II Secrets

ByABC News
September 19, 2006, 12:07 PM

ROME, Sept. 19, 2006 — -- While the Vatican this week has been dealing with the controversy surrounding Pope Benedict's comments on Islam, it also is bracing for another potentially divisive issue: Nazi's, Jews and the Catholic Church during World War II.

This week, the keepers of the secret archives, acting on orders from the late John Paul II, opened files covering a 17-year period preceding the war.

It is a part of history that precedes one of the most pivotal and destructive events of modern times.

There is an inarguable truth about the archives that rests deep within the Vatican's walls.

Whatever secrets they hold, they may never fully be revealed.

They are, in fact, called, the "Secret Vatican Archives."

There are millions of documents in the secret archives, housed in shelves that stretch for 50 miles.

The scale of the period boggles the mind, covering the life and times of the Catholic Church and its popes for the last 2,000 years.

The Vatican guards its secrets closely. From time to time, though, the archives are opened -- not to the public, but to historians and scholars.

The years 1922-1939 saw the rise of four infamous dictators: Spain's Francisco Franco, Benito Mussolini in Italy, Russia's Joseph Stalin, and in Germany, Adolph Hitler.

Of great interest to historians are the files related to Nazi Germany.

They have waited years for this opportunity so there was a brisk shuffling of scholarly feet when the archive doors swung open the first day.