Weeks before Nazi troops abandoned Rome, Adolf Hitler personally ordered the SS to kidnap the Pope Pius XII so he could be brought back to Germany and locked in a castle, according to previously unpublished testimony made available at the weekend.
The newspaper Avvenire, which is owned by the Catholic church in Italy, suggested the kidnap plot was part of a wider plan to "abolish" Christianity and replace it with a religion in which Hitler would be worshipped as the savior of humankind.
It said that, instead of carrying out the Fuhrer's orders, the head of the SS in Italy, General Karl Wolff, went to the Vatican to warn the Pope of the danger he was in.
Wolff was quoted by Avvenire as saying: "I received from Hitler in person the order to kidnap Pope Pius XII."
Avvenire said Wolff had revealed details of the affair in a written statement to Vatican officials who are weighing the case for setting Pope Pius on the road to sainthood.
Like other papers relating to the intensely controversial issue of Pope Pius's possible beatification, it had been kept secret until now.
But criticism of the late pontiff's attitude towards the Jews flared up again last month, and Italian commentators said the extracts from the document seemed to have been published at the instigation of his supporters to reaffirm his credentials as an enemy of the Nazis.