A bit of history was made this morning with the great news from Pope Francis about opening the Vatican Secret Archives of the Pius XII pontificate next year. I have visited the Archives several times over the years, especially when I worked for the Vatican. I had two great thrills: One was to see documents relative to the Lewis family, in particular to my great Uncle Frank James Lewis, and the second was what I know to be a rare and privileged visit to what you will see described below as the Bunker of the Archives! Breathtaking is the least descriptive word I can think of!
For so many decades, Pope Pius XII has been misunderstood and criticized from different sides regarding what he did – or what many say he did not do – to help Jews under nazism. The Archives are expected to give the whole picture.
Below you will see a brief piece from the Archives web page.
To understand some of the background to this story – and the importance of Pope Francis offering to open the archives in 2010 – I offer a March 1 article from Italy’s Corriere della Sera newspaper.
You have probably been aware over the years, if you have seen Gary Krupp of Pave the Way Foundation on EWTN programs, including Raymond Arroyo and heard him on some radio interviews we’ve done together, that PTWF has done remarkable work in recognizing all that Pius XII did for Jews (Gary is Jewish) and obtaining permission from the Vatican Archives to post some documents on its website.
VATICAN ARCHIVES FOR PIUS XII TO OPEN MARCH 2, 2020
The Holy Father’s address today to the staff and directors of the Vatican Secret Archives:
Dear brothers and sisters,
I welcome you, and am pleased to receive you. I thank Msgr. José Tolentino de Mendonça for the kind words of greeting he addressed to me on behalf of you all. I greet Msgr. Sergio Pagano, Professor Paolo Vian, the new vice-prefect, and you archivists, writers, assistants and employees of the Vatican Secret Archive, as well as the professors of the Vatican School of Paleography, Diplomatics and Archives.
The occasion of this visit – so shortly after my meeting with you and with the Apostolic Library, on 4 December last – is the happy anniversary, just the day before yesterday, of the eighty years that have passed since the election as Supreme Pontiff, on 2 March 1939, of the Servant of God Pius XII, of venerated memory.
The figure of that Pontiff, who found himself guiding the Barque of Peter at one of the saddest and darkest moments of the twentieth century, agitated and lacerated by the last world war, with the consequent period of reorganization of the nations and post-war reconstruction, has already been investigated and studied in many aspects, sometimes discussed and even criticized (it could be said with some prejudice or exaggeration). Today he has been appropriately re-evaluated and indeed placed in the correct light for his many qualities: pastoral, above all, but also theological, ascetic, and diplomatic.
At the behest of Pope Benedict XVI, since 2006 you Superiors and Officials of the Vatican Secret Archive, as well as of the Historical Archives of the Holy See and of the Vatican City State, have been working on a common project for the cataloguing and preparation of the substantial documentation produced during the pontificate of Pius XII, part of which was already rendered consultable by my venerable Predecessors Saint Paul VI and Saint John Paul II.
I therefore thank you, and through you also the other Vatican archivists, for the patient and scrupulous work you have done over the past twelve years, and which you are still partly carrying out, to complete this aforementioned preparation.
Yours is a job that takes place in silence and far from clamour; it cultivates memory and in a sense it seems to me that it can be compared to the cultivation of a majestic tree, whose branches reach towards the sky but whose roots are solidly anchored in the earth. If we compare this tree to the Church, we see that it is reaching our towards Heaven, our homeland and final horizon, but the roots sink into the soil of the same Incarnation of the Word, in history, over time. You archivists, with your patient effort, work on these roots and help keep them alive, so that even the greenest and youngest branches can receive good sap for their future growth.
This constant and significant effort, on your part and on that of your colleagues, enables me today, in memory of that significant anniversary, to announce my decision to open to researchers the archival documentation related to the pontificate of Pius XII, up to his death at Castel Gandolfo on 9 October 1958.
I have decided that the opening of the Vatican Archives for the Pontificate of Pius XII will take place on 2 March 2020, exactly one year after the eightieth anniversary of the election to the See of Peter of Eugenio Pacelli.
I have assumed this decision after hearing the opinion of my closest collaborators, with a serene and confident mind, sure that serious and objective historical research will be able to evaluate, in the proper light and with appropriate criticism, the praiseworthy moments of the Pontiff and, without any doubt, also moments of serious difficulties, of tormented decisions, of human and Christian prudence, which to some might have seemed to be reticence, and which instead were attempts, humanly also very hard-fought, to keep the flame of humanitarian initiatives lit during periods of more intense darkness and cruelty, of hidden but active diplomacy, of hope in possible good openings of hearts.
The Church is not afraid of history; rather, she loves it, and would like to love it more and better, as God does! So, with the same trust of my predecessors, I open and entrust to researchers this documentary heritage.
While I thank you again for the work accomplished, I wish you continued efforts to provide assistance to researchers – scientific and material assistance – and also in the publication of the Pacellian sources that will be considered important, as you have been doing for some years.
With these sentiments, I warmly impart my Apostolic Blessing to you and ask you, please, to pray for me.
VATICAN SECRET ARCHIVES: 53 MILES OF CHURCH, PAPAL HISTORY
The Archivio Segreto Vaticano pursues it specific activity aimed at preserving and enhancing the deeds and documents related to the government of the Universal Church. It primarily serves the Roman Pontiff and the Holy See and secondly offers its services to scholars of all faiths from all nations.
The current name, the “Archivio Segreto Vaticano” has been documented as from the mid-17th century when, like today, it was given to the pope’s private (secretum) archives over which he exercised supreme and sole jurisdiction.
The documentary heritage housed in its vast storerooms spans about twelve centuries (8th to 20th centuries). It consists of over 600 archival fonds and is stored on over 85 linear kilometres of shelving, some of which is in the Bunker, a two-storey underground vault below the Cortile della Pigna of the Vatican Museums.
After Pope Leo XIII opened the doors of the Archivio Segreto Vaticano to scholars back in 1881, it has become one of the most famous history research centres in the world.
In accordance with a practice established in 1924, the pope grants free access to the documents «grouped into pontificates» currently running up to the end of the papacy of Pope Pius XI (February 1939). Nevertheless, Paul VI departed from this practice and granted scholars access to the Archives of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) after the Council came to a close in 1965; Pope John Paul II granted access to the fond Ufficio Informazioni Vaticano, Prigionieri di Guerra (Prisoners of War) (1939-1947); lastly, the fonds Commissione Centrale per l’Arte Sacra in Italia (1924-1989) and Censimento degli Archivi Ecclesiastici d’Italia (1942) have been made accessible to the scholars.
(There are 85 linear kilometers – 53 miles – of shelves in the Archives, according to the official web site: You can learn how to visit or do research in the Archives by visiting its site: http://asv.vatican.va/content/archiviosegretovaticano/en.html)
POPE FRANCIS AND THE PIUS XII PAPERS
For some time work has been under way to open to scholars the material on the pontificate of Pacelli, discussed for the “silence” on the extermination of the Jews
by Gian Guido Vecchi
Eugenio Pacelli (1876-1958) was elected Pope in 1939 and assumed the name of Pius XII
On Saturday 2 March, 80 years have passed since the election of Eugenio Pacelli, who became Pope with the name of Pius XII on 2 March 1939, precisely on his birthday. And it is significant that two days later, on Monday 4 March, Pope Francis receives in audience the personnel of the Vatican Secret Archive. The expectation of historians from all over the world has been enormous for decades, and it is now expected that Bergoglio will give the green light to the publication of the archives of Pacelli’s pontificate, in particular the years relating to the Second World War and the Shoah. The Secret Archive proceeds in chronological order for pontificates.
The material on Pius XII is immense and has been catalogued for about ten years: twelve people, under the guidance of Monsignor Sergio Pagano, prefect of the Secret Archive, to order sixteen million sheets, more than fifteen thousand envelopes and two thousand five hundred files between Secretariat of State, Congregations of the Roman Curia and nunciatures. By now we have reached a good point, the work on the nunciature documents remains to be completed, the Archives say that to end the pontificate it could still take “a year”.
The issue is very delicate because it is linked to the historiographical controversy surrounding Pacelli’s behavior in the face of the Nazi persecution of the Jews. Scholars tend to divide, even in the Jewish world, between those who accuse him for “silences” and omissions – beginning with the raid of the Rome ghetto, October 16, 1943, 1022 people deported two days later to Auschwitz without in the meantime nothing happened: they returned in 16 – and those who speak of «black legend» and focus rather on the hidden rescue work.
When the “heroic virtues” of Pius XII were recognized at the end of 2009, a step towards beatification, polemics were also re-opened in Israel. Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem considered “deplorable” to have occurred before the publication of “all documents”. The Vatican scholars, however, do not believe that the publication will add much to the broad “synthesis” published in 1965 in twelve volumes: the Actes et documents du Saint Siège relatifs à la Second World Wars.
The final decision rests with the Pope, who has already said he is determined to make everything public. On 5 June 2017, in a homily at Santa Marta on “works of mercy”, Francis cited the example of Pius XII who had “risked”, he said, “to hide and save the Jews”. In 2014, interviewed by the Barcelona daily La Vanguardia, he recalled the rescue work “in the convents of Rome and other Italian cities, and also in the summer residence of Castel Gandolfo.”
On the other hand, in the book Heaven and Earth, written with his friend Rabbi Abraham Skorka, Bergoglio explained: “It is right that the archives are opened and everything is clarified. That we find out if something could be done and to what extent. And if we made a mistake in something we will have to say: “We were wrong in this”. So far, the arguments I have heard in favor of Pius XII seemed to me to be strong, but I must admit that not all the archives have been examined “.
ORLANDI FAMILY ASKS THAT A VATICAN TOMB BE OPENED
(ANSA) – Vatican City, March 4 – The family of Emanuela Orlandi, a Vatican City citizen who disappeared mysteriously at the age of 15 in June 1983, has asked the Vatican to reopen what it calls a “suspect” tomb in the Teutonic Cemetery in the Vatican.
“I can confirm that the letter from Emanuela Orlandi’s family has been received by (Secretary of State) Cardinal Pietro Parolin,” said interim Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti on Monday. He said their request to have the tomb reopened “will now be studied.”
A lawyer for the Orlandi family said, “seeing that the Pope has decided to open the Vatican Archives for the Pontificate of Pius XII in 2020, we make an appeal to the pontiff to give us access to the dossier that regards the investigation into the disappearance of Emanule Orlandi.”
CARNEVALE IN VENICE
I had hoped to go to Venice for a few days this year to relive the wonderful Mardi Gras – “Carnevale” – celebrations in what is known as the Lagoon City, but I was blessed on other ways last week and had to put that excursion on the back burner. I’ve been to Venice a number of times over the years for the pre-Lent festivities and am always amazed, in fact newly amazed, each time I go at the huge crowds – half are there to be seen in their stunning costumes and the other half are there to see the show.
On a lighter note today, here are a few photos of Carnevale past – I’ll post more tomorrow.