Vatican to open secret archives on World War II-era and Pope Pius XII

INSIDE THE VATICAN MAGAZINE 

From the Letters of Dr Robert Moynihan

 

 

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Pius XII: Hitler's Pope — Or a Saintly and Heroic Pontiff?

The Vatican has decided to open its secret archives for the war years of World War II (1939-1945). The decision was announced yesterday by Pope Francis.

(Note: Actually, the archives for the entire pontificate of Pope Pius XII will be opened, from 1939 until 1958. But the years that are likely to be most interesting and controversial are those first years, when the Second World War was raging.)

(Note also: This will not happen immediately; the archives will only be open starting in one year, on March 2, 2020 — the 81st anniversary of the election of Pius XII in 1939.)

(Note also: The usual practice in Rome is to open the archives for an entire pontificate, and this is usually done 70 years after the end of the pontificate. In this case, if one calculates 70 years from 1958 — the year Pius XII died — the opening year would normally have been 2028, but the decision has been taken to open the archives about eight years early, in 2020.)

So scholars next March will be able to go into the Secret Archives and consult the material about the Vatican's actions during World War II.

Bishop Sergio Pagano, a scholar of ancient manuscripts who heads the Vatican Secret Archives (and my professor in a Vatican Archives course in paleography in 1985) says historians will discover a "superhuman work of Christian humanism." (link)

In other words, Pagano believes the archives will show that the Vatican and Pope Pius XII, far from assisting the German National Socialist regime of Adolph Hitler, took a firm stand against it, and saved many lives, especially in the Jewish community, whom Hitler and his regime were savagely persecuting.

 

(Note: British author, John Cornwell, in 1999 published a book entitled Hitler's Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII, arguing that Pius XII was sympathetic to and aided Hitler; the thesis was widely seconded by critics of Pius XII and the Church, and contributed to a modern blackening of Pius's image in world opinion; critics of Cornwell argue that his book is tendentious and unfair to Pius; these critics believe that the documents the Vatican will open to public scrutiny will prove this.)

(Note also: In the court of public opinion, the case of Pope Pius XII has become pivotal for public opinion about the Church itself, and about the Christian faith in general. For those who oppose the Christian message, the Catholic Church is a key obstacle to overcome; and to overcome the Catholic Church, the papacy, the reputation for holiness of the "Holy Father," is a key point to attack; and to attack the papacy, it is useful to expose, criticize and rebuke one or another Pope for immorality or evil actions; thus, the attack of many against Venerable Pius XII, accusing him of being "Hitler's Pope" and complicit in the persecutions of the German regime, is aimed at destroying the reputation for sanctity of Pius, which would then cast suspicion on all Popes, which would then blacken the reputation of the Catholic Church, which would then cast a shadow on Christianity and Christian belief in general. This is why the defense of a compassionate and humane pontiff like Pius XII against his accusers becomes a defense of all honorable Popes, a defense of the Catholic Church in general, and a defense of the Christian faith in general.)

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The Decision to Open the Archives Is "Welcome News"

Following Pope Francis’s decision to open the archives from Pope Pius XII’s pontificate (1939-1958), I asked long-time Inside the Vatican contributor William Doino Jr., well-known for his leading role in defending Pius XII in the anthology, The Pius War: Responses to the Critics of Pius XII, in public debates, and in many articles and reviews, for his comments. Below is his response:

“The announcement [Note: this link is to the Pope's official declaration that he would allow the archives to be opened, and is worth reading] that Pope Francis has decided to open the remaining archives of Pius XII’s pontificate next year is welcome news indeed.

“We should be very grateful to Francis for this decision.

“Why is it welcome? First and foremost, because it is the moral and just thing to do. For many years, researchers, historians, leaders of the Jewish and Catholic communities, and especially survivors of the Holocaust, have requested—and have a right to know—all the documentation the Vatican has available on Pope Pius XII’s record during World War II. To its credit, the Vatican did publish 11 volumes of primary source material on the Holy See’s wartime activities, in installments, from 1965-1981; and since then has released more documentation [Note: This too is interesting documentation] on the Vatican’s humanitarian efforts during the War. But now that the large volume of remaining documents from Pius XII’s pontificate will soon be officially catalogued and released, these heartfelt requests for a complete record of his pontificate will at last be fulfilled.

“Second, as Francis himself has said, no conscientious Catholic has anything to fear from the truth about Church history, but should welcome it. Indeed, if anyone is going to be surprised by the new Pius XII archives, it may well be Pius XII’s critics, because — as a long-time Pius XII researcher myself — I know that the Vatican is one of the few institutions on earth that is slow to release historical information favorable to its own cause! This happened, for example, when the Vatican finally released the full archives from Pius XI’s pontificate (1922-1939, during which Eugenio Pacelli, the future Pius XII, served as Pius XI’s Cardinal Secretary of State, from 1930-1939) — and it was revealed that the Vatican’s opposition to racism, anti-Semitism, fascism and Nazism at that time was far stronger than previously thought. (For evidence, note these commentaries here, and here).

“Finally, because there have been so many egregious misrepresentations of Pius XII’s life and legacy, the release of these remaining archives, as the Vatican’s chief archivist, Monsignor Sergio Pagano has said [Note: This also is interesting] will finally set the record straight on Pius XII’s impressive pontificate — which, with the abundance of testimonies and primary source material already available, we know was anything but indifferent to the persecution of Jews and others during the Holocaust, and did not, as certain polemicists have claimed, appease the Nazis: Pope Pius XII, in fact, tried to overthrow Hitler. [Note: This too is interesting.]

“As regards what the release of the new archives will mean for the ongoing Cause of Venerable Pius XII, I think it will certainly benefit it, because it removes an oft-heard reason for so much hesitation about Pius XII — namely, that ‘we don’t yet know everything that is in the Vatican archives about Pius XII’s pontificate.’”

“It is not an unreasonable point raised by sincere seekers of the truth, as I wrote in the Times of London after Pope Benedict XVI declared Pius XII ‘Venerable’ in 2009. But we have every reason to believe that these additional archives will only enhance Pius XII’s stature. We also need to trust the Holy Spirit, who has His own timetable for the Church to formally recognize saints.

“Finally, it should be noted that Francis’s announcement on the Pius XII archives comes at a time when even many secular institutions and historians have begun to express more support for Pius XII, acknowledging the growing body of evidence in his favor. The forthcoming release of the additional Pius XII archives can only help foster this ongoing re-evaluation and appreciation.”

 

 

ISAAC GOMES adds from CNN Report dated 04 March 2019 by 

 

Rome (CNN)Pope Francis has announced that the Vatican next year will open its secret archives containing World War II-era documents from the controversial papacy of Pope Pius XII.

The archives cover the years 1939-1958 and consist of several hundred thousand letters, cables and speeches. Critics of Pius say he did not do enough to publicly combat the rise of fascism in Germany and Italy. Supporters say he worked diligently behind the scenes to save Jews from the Holocaust.

 

Francis, in announcing the opening of the archives, said that criticism of Pope Pius XII had sometimes been prejudiced or exaggerated.
"I am sure that the serious and objective historical research will know how to evaluate it in the right light," the Pope said.
 
"I take this decision having heard the advice of my closest collaborators, with a serene and trusting heart," he added. ""The Church is not afraid of history, on the contrary, it loves it."
 
The documents from the pontificate are not only kept in the Secret Archives, but also in archives of different Vatican offices such as the Secretariat of State and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, according to the Prefect of the Secret Archives, Bishop Sergio Pagano.
 
All Vatican offices will open their archives to qualified researchers on March 2, 2020.
Writing in l'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican's newspaper, Pagano said that it has taken 20 dedicated archive personnel more than 12 years to inventory and organize the paperwork, which includes:
 
  • 68 volumes of indexes
  • 538 "separate envelopes" — each envelope regarding an individual topic or institution
  • 76 units of speech manuscripts by Eugenio Pacelli, Pope Pius XII's birth name
  • 81 indexes of more than 5,100 envelopes of pontifical representations
 
The Pope defended Pius' presumed silence on the rise of Adolf Hitler in Germany and the Holocaust that ensued.
 
"Without doubt, even moments of great difficulty, of tormented decisions of Christian and human prudence, that to some could have seemed like reticence, were instead attempts, humanly very difficult, to keep the light of humanitarian initiatives, of hidden but active diplomacy lit, in periods of greatest darkness and cruelty, in the hope of a possible opening of hearts," Francis said.
 
In 2004, Pope John Paul II opened the archives for the Vatican Office of Information for Prisoners of War (1939-1947) containing more than 2,000 archival "units" and nearly as many boxes of documents, according to Pagano.
 
Together, those records provided information on thousands of wartime military and civilian prisoners, and may help clarify the legacy of Pope Pius XII, Pagano said.
 
"In the sad, no terrible, scenario before the war, during its tragic unfolding as well as afterward, the great figure of Pius XII stands out," Pagano said.
 
"He was superficially criticized and judged for some aspects of his pontificate and now, thanks to the opening faithfully desired by Pope Francis, I think historians who know how to investigate, without prejudice, but with the help of new documents, can find its richness and realistic importance."
 
Jewish groups immediately hailed the Vatican's announcement on Monday, saying they've been asking for access to the secret archives for decades.
 
"Pope Francis's decision to make these materials now fully open and available for international scholarly research is enormously important to Catholic-Jewish relations," said Rabbi David Rosen, the American Jewish Committee's international director of interreligious affairs.
 
The committee said Rosen has personally raised the issue with Pope Francis and his predecessors.
 
"It is particularly important that experts from the leading Holocaust memorial institutes in Israel and the United States objectively evaluate as best as possible the historical record of that most terrible of times — to acknowledge both the failures as well as the valiant efforts made during the period of the systematic murder of six million Jews," Rosen said.
 
Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni, the chief rabbi of Rome, said it's "better late than never."
But the rabbi also expressed some skepticism, recalling that a commission of Catholic and Jewish experts, set up in 1999 to examine the Pope Pius XII archives, was dissolved in 2001 "because members didn't have the effective guarantee of having access to all the documents."
 
"Will all the existing documents be made available?" Di Segni asked.
 
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, said it has enjoyed a "cooperative relationship" with the Vatican archivists for more than a decade, when John Paul II allowed researchers access to collections relating to the rise of Nazism in Germany. But those archives only go up to 1939, the museum said in a statement.
 
"Since the end of World War II, scholars, Holocaust survivors, and others have asked important questions about the role of the Vatican and Pope Pius XII during the Holocaust," said Holocaust museum director Sara J. Bloomfield.
"It is long overdue for speculation to be replaced by rigorous scholarship, which is only possible once scholars have full access to all of these records. This is important for the sake of historical truth, but there is moral urgency too: we owe this to the survivor generation, which is rapidly diminishing."
 
According to the Vatican, the archives will be open to qualified researchers who must submit a request t view documents. All researchers must have a university degree or an equivalent university diploma. Clergy must possess a licentiate degree or PhD, the Vatican said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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