Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Vatican Opens Secret Archives for Years 1922-39

One of the many reasons why the Church keeps taking a beating from its enemies for 20th Century events is that it has not been able to use its own documents to defend itself. Servant of God Pope Pius XII who was Vatican Secretary of State prior to his becoming Pope in 1939 takes a particular beating.

Scholars are excited by the fact that the Vatican has now made its archives available to them for the reign of Pope Pius XI, 1922-1939. These are the years of the growth of Italian (Mussolii), Spanish (Franco) and German (Hitler) Fascism; the consolidation of the Bolshevik Revolutionary power (Stalin) in the Soviet Union; the re-making of the states of the Austro-Hungarian Empire as fledgling democracies; Poland's recreation after 125 years of occupation by Russia, Germany and Austria; Japanese expansionism in Asia; the recovery from the devastation of World War I; and the world-wide Great Depression of the 1930's.

The Roman Catholic Church was involved with all of that. And as bad as WWI was, these years culminated with World War II and the deaths of a further 100,000,000 people.

A well regarded Professor of History at the University of Minnesota, Harold C. Deutsch, who had been one of the officials at the Nuerenburg War Crimes Trials after WWII, taught a popular year long course on World War II in the 1950s and 60s. It was said that he never got beyond the year 1935.

While the Vatican this week has been dealing with the controversy surrounding Pope Benedict's comments on Islam, it also is bracing for another potentially divisive issue: Nazi's, Jews and the Catholic Church during World War II.

This week, the keepers of the secret archives, acting on orders from the late John Paul II, opened files covering a 17-year period preceding the war. It is a part of history that precedes one of the most pivotal and destructive events of modern times.

There is an inarguable truth about the archives that rests deep within the Vatican's walls. Whatever secrets they hold, they may never fully be revealed. They are, in fact, called, the "Secret Vatican Archives."

There are millions of documents in the secret archives, housed in shelves that stretch for 50 miles. The scale of the period boggles the mind, covering the life and times of the Catholic Church and its popes for the last 2,000 years. The Vatican guards its secrets closely. From time to time, though, the archives are opened -- not to the public, but to historians and scholars.

The years 1922-1939 saw the rise of four infamous dictators: Spain's Francisco Franco, Benito Mussolini in Italy, Russia's Joseph Stalin, and in Germany, Adolph Hitler.

Of great interest to historians are the files related to Nazi Germany.

They have waited years for this opportunity so there was a brisk shuffling of scholarly feet when the archive doors swung open the first day. [snip] ABC News

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