By Sergio Centofanti
At an audience with managers and staff of the Vatican Archives, Pope Francis announced the opening of the area of the archive relating to the pontificate of Pope Pius XII, on 2 March 2020. The opening of this section of the archives means that qualified researchers will be able to view a large volume of documents collected in the Vatican during the period from 2 March 1939 to 9 October 1958. The date of the opening in 2020 coincides with the anniversary of the election of Eugenio Pacelli as Pope Pius XII.
Article in “L’Osservatore Romano”
Bishop Sergio Pagano, Prefect of the Vatican Secret Archives, provides details of the initiative in an article, published in the Monday edition of the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, and anticipated by the Press Office of the Holy See. In the article, Bishop Pagano describes the long period of preparation that led to this moment: “Archivists of the Vatican Secret Archives and their colleagues from other Vatican archives carried out patient work of sorting, annotating and inventorying the many fonds and documents", he writes.
The Prefect recalls that, in 2004, Pope Saint John Paul II made the extensive collection of the Vatican Office of Information for Prisoners of War (1939-1947) available to researchers. This is composed of “2,349 archival units, divided into 556 envelopes, 108 registers and 1,685 boxes of documentation, with an alphabetical file, which amounts to about 2 million and 100,000 records, relating to military and civilian prisoners, missing or interned, of whom information was being sought. A fund immediately investigated and still very much in demand today by private scholars or relatives of the deceased prisoners", writes Bishop Pagano.
When the archive relating to the pontificate of Pope Pius XI (1922-1939) was opened in 2006, at the request of Pope Benedict XVI, continues the Prefect, "work was already underway for the progressive preparation of the documentary material of Pius XII, which many scholars demanded with ever greater insistence".
Pope Francis has decided to open "the Vatican Secret Archives, the Historical Archives of the Section for Relations with States of the Secretariat of State, and the Historical Archives of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith", up to October 1958, explains the Prefect. Also, the Historical Archives of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, the Historical Archives of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches, the Archives of the “Fabbrica” of St Peter’s and, according to different modalities and forms of access, other Historical Archives of Congregations, Dicasteries, Offices, and Tribunals, all “at the discretion of their superiors”, says Bishop Pagano.
Each of these archives has its own rules, reservation systems, indexes and inventories relating to their documentation, which will now be open for study.
New sources available
Describing the new sources of the Secret Archives that will be available to scholars, Bishop Pagano cites about 151,000 positions (each of which consists of dozens of sheets) of the Secretariat of State. Detailed computer descriptions of this documentation have been prepared and are available in paper format (68 volumes of indexes). Then there are the so-called "separate envelopes", which contain documentation regarding individual topics or institutions, under the organization of the Secretariat of State, totaling “538 envelopes, of which there will be a precise descriptive list", says the Prefect.
From the same source come the “76 units now called the Pius XII Papers, which contain manuscripts by Eugenio Pacelli before and during his pontificate, as well as typescripts of his many speeches, sometimes with handwritten corrections". There are also three other substantial "special" archival collections. The first is that of the Relief Commission, the second is simply called Pontifical Charity, and the third is that of the Migration Office, set up to deal with the problem of the repatriation of prisoners and refugees, as well as the growing issue of migration, caused by the poverty experienced in certain European countries.
The documents of the pontifical representations will also be available: "For each pontifical representation an accurate Inventory has been prepared, indispensable guides for researchers (about 81 Indexes for a total of more than 5,100 envelopes). These inventories can also be consulted on the Intranet of the Vatican Archives for the convenience of scholars and to facilitate their research in various fields", writes Bishop Pagano.
In order to face the challenge of cataloguing, "twenty officials from the Vatican Archives dedicated themselves constantly and exclusively. Where possible, they were assisted by qualified graduates from the School of Palaeography, Diplomacy and Archiving within the Archive itself". The same goes for the other historical archives of the Roman Curia that are now open for the pontificate of Pope Pius XII. “It was certainly a struggle", writes Bishop Pagano, but "a struggle sustained by a certain enthusiasm, both because we were aware that we were working for future historical research in relation to a crucial period for the Church and for the world, and because the papers were everything but uninspiring. They spoke, and I hope they will speak, to researchers and historians of an almost superhuman work of Christian "humanism" that was active in the stormy disorder of those events that in the mid-twentieth century seemed determined to annihilate the very notion of human civilization".
The figure of Pope Pius XII has often been “too superficially judged and criticized for some aspects of his pontificate”, concludes Bishop Pagan. Now, thanks to the openness asked for by Pope Francis, historians will be able to research the pontificate of Pope Pius XII “without prejudice, but with the help of new documents, in all the realistic scope and richness" of that pontificate.
Instructions for conducting research in the Vatican Secret Archives, are available on the website (http://asv.vatican.va/content/archiviosegretovaticano/en/consultazione/accesso-e-consultazione.html). Research in the Archivio Segreto Vaticano is free of charge and open to qualified scholars conducting scientific studies. All researchers must have a university degree (five-year course) or an equivalent university diploma.
Clergymen must possess a licentiate degree or PhD.
A letter of request must be addressed to the Prefect, indicating the reasons for the research. This must be accompanied by a presentation letter from a recognized institute of scientific and historical research or a person qualified in the field of historical research (tenured university professors).