VATICAN CITY, FEB. 15, 2002 ( As an "exceptional" gesture and to put an end to "unjust and disagreeable speculations," John Paul II has decided to open the Vatican secret archives on Germany for the period 1922-1939.

In an official statement today, the Vatican Press Office likewise revealed that, once all the archives of those years -- corresponding to Pius XI´s pontificate -- can be technically opened to researchers, John Paul II will give priority to the opening of Vatican-German documents relating to Pius XII´s pontificate (1939-1958).

The document reveals that John Paul II is "very interested" in taking this further step, because "the Second World War took place during Pius XII´s pontificate, as did the deportation of Jews and the Holocaust tragedy."

The Vatican archives are opened by pontificates to researchers after a prudent period of time has passed following the death of the Pontiff. To date, all Vatican documents up to 1922, when Pope Benedict XV died, are open for consultation. Many Vatican documents contain consultations that are private in nature, including matters of conscience.

This morning´s Vatican press statement explains that the cataloguing of millions of Vatican documents is an enormous undertaking, which can only be done by competent, specialized individuals.

The documents, which researchers will be able to consult beginning next year, are in the archive of the Section for Relations with States of the Vatican State Secretariat, and in the Vatican Secret Archive.

The statement explains that the Holy Father´s decision is in response to numerous requests from researchers and also to put an end to "unjust and disagreeable speculations."

The World Jewish Congress announced last August that it was withdrawing its support for a Commission of Jewish and Catholic historians created in 1999 to study Pius XII´s role during World War II. Some of the Jewish historians insisted that the archives be opened if they were to continue their task.

In response, the Vatican stated that all documents of historical interest on that period had already been published (between 1965 and 1982) at the request of Paul VI, in 12 volumes entitled "Acts and Documents of the Holy See Relating to the Second World War" ("Actes et documents du Saint-Siège relatifs à la Seconde Guerre mondiale").