Saturday, September 30, 2006

The Vatican Secret Archive Has Opened a New Mine for Historians

Sandro Magister, Italian professor and columnist for the magazine "L'Espresso" in his regular posting for "Chiesa" (Church), his regular weekly internet column features an interview with the head of the infamous Vatican Secret Archives:

[....snip] It must be remembered that the first world war, the dissolution of the three great empires (Austro-Hungarian, Russian, and Ottoman), [and the recreation of Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia after 150 years of occupation] the resurgence of nationalism, and the Holy See’s new politics of international relations, which began after 1870 and was developed by Benedict XV and Pius XI, led to the appointment of many pontifical representatives, with twenty-seven archives that have now been made available to researchers for the first time.

[....snip] The research can investigate many topics: Achille Ratti as a diplomat of the Holy See, and then a promoter of diplomatic initiatives; the 1922 conclave; mission work (the encyclical “Rerum Ecclesiae” is from 1926); relations with the East (“Rerum Orientalium” from 1928, and much more); the topic of the sciences (with the refounding, in 1936, of the pontifical academy of sciences); theological and biblical culture; the social question; Catholic Action; Pius XI and the Popular Party in Italy; the “Roman Question” and the Lateran Pacts between the Holy See and Italy; the international politics of the Holy See, beginning with the famous report on the various states presented to the new pope in 1922, taken up again recently by historians; Pius XI and fascism, especially after the Lateran Pacts; the racial question; Pius XI and the Jews (in this regard the unjust judgments expressed recently may be overturned); national socialism; communism; the war in Spain and the pope’s attitude toward Francoism; diplomatic relations with France; the situation of the Church in Mexico; pope Achille Ratti and democracy; religious life; the jubilees of 1925 and 1933-1934.

Against the background of such wide-ranging and profound pastoral and political activity there moves the great figure of cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, a most faithful interpreter and executor of the wishes of Pius XI and then his successor, perhaps secretly indicated as such by the sacred college to the pope when, in 1936, he exhorted him to undertake a journey to the United States on the “world stage,” a trip about which there is documentation. And the historians interested in the figure of Pius XII will be able to study the personality and work of the then-secretary of state.

Obviously, historians will compare and integrate the Vatican documentation with other sources, whether already known or yet to be explored. How not to think, for example, in the case of Germany, of the publications of the Kommission für Zeitgeschichte, almost forty volumes of correspondence, private notes, police reports and other material; but also of the Akten Deutscher Bischöfe über die Lage der Kirche, the documentation of which clarifies well the decisions of the Holy See and of the German bishops in the face of Nazism?

As for fascism in Italy, to the Vatican sources (which are themselves relevant) must be added the no less interesting sources of the private archives of the fascist leaders – the Bottai papers, for example, have already produced results – and of the inventories of the Italian ministers (in the central state archive) and of the state archives. I also would not exclude the diocesan archives, because among other things there is yet to be an investigation of the relationship between Pius XI and the bishops inclined toward fascism or against it. But before reaching well-founded evaluations of Pius XI’s pontificate, such a vast investigation will require years, if not decades. [....snip] Chiesa

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