Pius XII barred Jewish children returning home

The bitter, long-running controversy over the attitude of Pope Pius XII to the Holocaust has taken a new turn with the publication of diaries that prove he opposed the return of Jewish children to their parents after the Nazis' defeat.

The diaries were kept by Angelo Roncalli, the future Pope John XXIII, from 1945 to 1948 when Pius XII was on the Vatican throne and Cardinal Roncalli was papal nuncio to Paris.

The diaries document the efforts by Cardinal Roncalli to reunite Jewish families torn apart by the war and whose children had been taken under the wing of the Catholic Church. The future pope's role in helping Jews escape from Nazi persecution has long been acknowledged. But the diaries show Pius XII was hostile to such efforts.

In 1946, Rabbi Herzog of Istanbul came to see Roncalli in Paris to ask that Jewish children rescued during the war and taken care of in Catholic convents should be returned to the Jewish community. Cardinal Roncalli was happy to oblige: he wrote authorising him "to use his authority with the relevant institutions, so ... these children may be returned to their original environment."

But Pius XII, who has frequently been accused of anti-semitism, sent a message via the Vatican's Holy Office ordering that Jewish children who had been baptised as Christians after being separated from their parents should not be returned unless they could be guaranteed a Christian upbringing. Children "who no longer have parents" were not to be handed over. If the parents eventually showed up, only those children who had not been baptised should be restored, the Pope proclaimed.

Alberto Melloni, an authority on Cardinal Roncalli, said in Corriere della Sera newspaper, that the future pope often managed to defy the orders, though his diaries do not give details. Mr Melloni believes that this was one of the things that induced Roncalli, when he became Pope in 1960, to include a repudiation of anti-semitism in the agenda of the Second Vatican Council.