The Vatican today opened archives relating to Pope Pius XII’s pontificate, and as historians and researchers begin to scour some 2 million documents for information, most attention will be paid to what they reveal about Pius’ actions and attitudes toward the Jews and the Nazis during the Second World War.
But it is what is disclosed about other historical matters that might ultimately be more significant.
Historians and commentators on both sides of the so-called “Pius Wars” debate have long wished for the archives to be opened to know what really happened during those tumultuous years and whether or not Pius did enough to oppose the Nazis and help the Jews.
But a good deal of the documentation during that time has already been released to the public that — according to those who unearthed it, such as Gary Krupp, founder of the Pave the Way Foundation — is sufficient to quash speculation over Pius XII’s war record and just needs to be consulted.
Equally if not more interesting, therefore, will be what new information the documents reveal about other events of a pontificate that stretched from 1939 to 1958 — a “complex and dramatic” period, the Vatican said on Saturday, in which “disputes and turmoil were born in the Church and society that would develop in the following years.”
A Feb. 21 Vatican conference for archivists on the opening of the collections gave some clues to what these documents contain, and one of the most interesting is related to the collections belonging to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), then known as the Holy Office.
In a general overview, Msgr. Alejandro Cifres, director of the CDF’s archives, began by noting that “the great themes” confronted by the Second Vatican Council, which became “central to the life of the Church” in the post-conciliar period up until today, “had in large part been anticipated during the Pacelli pontificate.”
“The topics in some cases are very modern,” he continued, adding that “this consideration alone explains why the opening of the pontificate’s archives has great importance for contemporary historiography.”
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