“The Church loves history”: Pius XII archives to be made available next year


Expected that historians will recognize the “superhuman work of Christian humanism”

The archives dating from the pontificate of Pope Pius XII (1939-1958) will be opened to researchers on March 2, 2020, on the occasion of the 81st anniversary of that pope’s election, announced Pope Francis on March 4. He made the announcement in a speech to the staff of the Vatican Secret Archives.

Peter’s Successor received the collaborators of the Vatican Secret Archives in an audience two days after the anniversary of the election of Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli to the See of Peter on March 2, 1939.

The aura that covers the Archivum Secretum Apostolicum Vaticanum — that’s the official full name of the Vatican Secret Archives — is due mostly to a mistranslation from the original Latin: “secretum,” instead of being translated as “secret,” could be better rendered as “personal.”

The delay in making this portion of the archives available for researches was simply practical. Back in 2008, the then-Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, noted that it would be several years before the 16 million documents from the 1939-1958 pontificate, with current resources, could be catalogued.

Darkest moments of the century

Pius XII, recalled Pope Francis, found himself leading the Catholic Church “in one of the saddest and darkest moments of the 20th century,” that is, during the Second World War.

After having heard the opinion of his closest collaborators, updating on the situation of the archives, the current bishop of Rome announced that they could now open the archival documentation of the pontificate of Pius XII (from 1939 to 1958) “to investigation by researchers.”

The Sovereign Pontiff announced that the opening of this “documentary heritage” will take place March 2, 2020—that is to say, for the 81st anniversary of Cardinal Pacelli’s election to the pontificate.

“The Church is not afraid of history,” said Pope Francis, adding that he “has a serene and confident spirit” regarding this subject and is convinced that “serious and objective historical” research will be able to to evaluate the history of this pontificate “in its true light with a critical approach.” Indeed, the Church “loves history and would like to love it more and better” again, “as God loves it,” he stressed.

Starting in the 1960s, voices were raised to accuse Pius XII of being too passive in the face of the deportation and the extermination of the Jews during the Second World War. Other historians have, on the contrary, made a defense of this pontiff. The opening of the archives should shed light on the action of this Successor of Peter during the world conflict.

According to Bishop Sergio Pagano, prefect of the Vatican Secret Archives, the “great figure” of Pius XII was judged “too superficially,” but now that the archives are going to be opened, historians will be able to investigate “without prejudices.”

He said he believes that, in the light of the documents that will be available, historians will recognize the “superhuman work of Christian humanism” carried out in the midst of the “tempest” of events in the mid-20th century.

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