Vatican Opens Pope Pius XI Secret ArchivesBreaking News
A source said some 60 people had come to the archives on the first day asking to consult the mass of documents, which consist of some 30,000 files totalling millions of pages.
While the archives are for the papacy of Pius XI (born Achille Ratti), much of the attention by Jewish scholars will be concentrated on the figure of Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, who succeeded Pius XI in 1939 and took the name Pius XII.
Pacelli served as ambassador in Germany from 1917 to 1929 and later was Vatican secretary of state from 1930 to 1939, when he was elected Pontiff. He then reigned until 1958.
Critics say Pacelli, whose views as a Vatican official being groomed for the papacy would be reflected in the files, did too little in the war to save European Jews from the Holocaust.
In a long article in the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, Father Sergio Pagano, the head of the archives, said the material on the Vatican's view of Jews in the 17 years before the war would bring some surprises.
"In this regard, some unjust judgments expressed in a recent book will perhaps be overturned," Pagano wrote, without mentioning the name of the book.
The 1922-1939 archives are believed to include hitherto secret notes for internal policy sessions of the Secretariat of State, including what Pacelli said in strategy sessions about Jewish issues.
For example, Edith Stein, a German convert from Judaism who was killed in Auschwitz, wrote to Pacelli in April 1933 about anti-Jewish repression in the early days of Nazi Germany. He responded a week later saying he had passed it on to Pius XI.
The documents should also show Pacelli's private views on the 1933 Concordat with Nazi Germany, relations with Fascist Italy, the 1936-1939 Spanish Civil War, the Nazi annexation of Austria and Britain and France's attempt to appease Hitler with the Munich Agreement in 1938.
Pius XII toed a cautious line during the war to avoid reprisals against Catholics in Germany and Nazi-occupied countries. He was initially praised for speaking out as openly as he could and helping to save Jews in secret.
This view changed radically in 1963, when German playwright Rolf Hochhuth depicted him in "The Deputy" as a cynic who kept silent despite knowing about the Holocaust.
The two sides have feuded ever since with defenders saying he did everything possible to help Jews and critics presenting him as an anti-Semite and Germanophile whose views were formed while working in Germany before his election as pope.
The opening of the archives from 1922 to 1939 was decided by the late Pope John Paul and the date was set by his successor Benedict. It was first announced last June.
They will be open to qualified scholars who present the Vatican with a letter from a known research institute or university and a copy of their university degree.
Historian have also called on the Vatican to fully open archives for the papacy of Pius XII (1939-1958) but there is no indication when that will happen.
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