Archbishop Gallagher: Vatican archives will show greatness of Pius XII

The Holy See’s Secretary for Relations with States, Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, says the opening of the Vatican Archives between the years 1939 and 1958 will show the great works of Pope Pius XII, as well as his efforts to communicate with the Soviet Union.

By Vatican News

On 2 March, the Vatican Apostolic Library opens the Holy See’s archives on the pontificate of Pope Pius XII.

Scholars and researchers can dig into a wealth of material that spans the years 1939 to 1958, including dispatches sent during World War II.

Ahead of the opening, Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States, sat down with Andrea Tornielli, the Editorial Director of the Dicastery for Communication.

While highlighting the importance of the historical archive of the Secretary of State, Archbishop Gallagher shares his special insight into the part of the archive relating to the Section for Relations with States, which he says, “is important, above all, because of the insights in terms of historical continuity that if offers.” 

He explains this particular archive has its origins in 1814 and it brings together the various archives of Councils and offices that eventually became the Section for Relations with States as it is today, with a continuity of documents that go back from the beginning of the 19th century, to the present day. 

Unique insight

Gallagher notes that normally, these archives would be open up until 1939 - to the death of Pope Pius XI – but says that Pope Francis decided to open them up as quickly as possible, effectively making them accessible until the end of the pontificate of Pope Pius XII in 1958.

“1939 to 1948 is completely ready and will be made available on 2 March,” he says, whilst for the years that go from ’48 to ’58, the work is well advanced but is not yet complete and therefore is not yet available.

He says the material will give people a unique insight into the politics and the diplomacy of the Holy See throughout that entire period.

In particular, Archbishop Gallagher says, regarding the pontificate of Pius XII, the archives offer, “as never before, a comprehensive understanding of what was going on, the type of person he was, the type of policies that Pius XII was issuing in those very terrible years, especially during the Second World War, and of the period immediately afterwards.”

Size and content

In terms of size, Gallagher says the archive is pretty big: “About 2 million documents! And if you put it all together – and it is together – it measures 323 linear meters of documents in boxes, cases, etc.”

He says the documents cover a vast area of activity: the actions of the Holy See during WW2, its diplomacy, Concordats negotiated, the humanitarian work of the Church, reports on particular religious and political issues, educational reports, and documents concerning Vatican City State. 

Gallagher notes the material also highlights the work of some of those who emerged as protagonists during that era, including Monsignor Montini, the future Pope Paul VI.

The Church and the Pope during WWII and the Cold War

Of course, many of the documents contained in the archives relate to the activities of the Pope and of the Holy See during the years of the Second World War.

The Archbishop says Pope Pius XII “emerges as a great champion of humanity, a man deeply concerned about the fate of humankind during those terrible years, somebody who was very sensitive and concerned about those who were being persecuted, somebody who was also the object of the hatred of Nazis and fascism.”

They also make quite clear how those attacks were directed not just at the Pope but at the Church in general, he says.

Another particularly interesting section of the archives shines a new light on the initial period of the ‘Cold War’.

Gallagher reveals that they document the role of Pope Pacelli and that of Cardinal Casaroli in those years after the war, and of the work of religious and priests “who were trying to make contact with local Soviet authorities in order to try and work out some difficult but necessary modus vivendi for the Church to create a space.

This, he says, is exactly what Casaroli went on to do later in Eastern Europe “to try and create a degree of understanding and a space in which the Church could operate.”


Archbishop Gallagher concludes explaining the advantages of having digitalized the Archives:

“One advantage is the possibility to preserve, to conserve the documents because through digitalization people are granted access but you don’t have to take the documents out of the place where they are being stored, they don’t have to be touched and exposed to the atmosphere,” he notes.

The second principle advantage, he says, is the facility with which they can be accessed because they include inventories and catalogues that make consultation easy.

Finally, he notes, “It also means that people can work on the same document at the same time, which is a great advantage for historians and students alike!

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01 March 2020, 08:30