Monday, January 27, 2014

Skorka and the Vatican archives on Pius XII

Pius XII in the Vatican Radio officesThe issue of opening the Vatican’s secret archives providing access to the enormous amount of documentation on Pope Pius XII has been a cause for debate for decades. 

The Argentinean Rabbi Abraham Skorka, director of the Rabbinical Seminary in Buenos Aires, re-addressed this in an interview with The Sunday Times

The rabbi is a friend of Francis’ and the two spent a long while exchanging ideas on current issues. Skorka believes that given the delicacy of the situation and the need to continue examining it, the Pope will eventually open the archives. 

He said Francis wants to open them before proceeding with Pius XII’s canonization process.

The director of the Vatican Press Office, Fr. Federico Lombardi, reminded Skorka that the Holy See has been planning the gradual opening of the Vatican archives and the various dossiers on Pius XII’s pontificate for decades now and that it has made this clear on more than one occasion. 

He added that the process of opening the archives has been on the agenda for years but that there is a certain preparation procedure that needs to be followed before the documents can be consulted. So the archives should be opened once these procedures are complete and the content is ready for examination.

It is worth remembering that Paul VI made a significant quantity of documents relating to the war-time period available to scholars and the content published in an eleven-volume collection titled “Actes et Documents du Saint Siège relatifs à la Seconde Guerre Mondial” or ADSS. The documents were selected by a team of Jesuit historians, composed of Frs. Pierre Blet, Angelo Martini, Burkhart Schneider and Robert A. Graham. 

The various volumes in the collection, which are often ignored by polemicists, were published by the Vatican publishing House in the period spanning 1965 to 1981.As Substitute for the Secretary of State, Paul VI experienced the devastation of the war alongside Pacelli (Pius XII) and as Pope he publicly defended him on his pilgrimage to the Holy Land 50 years ago.  

All recent Popes have been eager for the archives to be opened. In June 2009, the Prefect of the Vatican Secret Archives, Bishop Sergio Pagano, announced that it would take five or six more years before access could be given to the documentation regarding Pacceli’s pontificate: this comprises 16 million texts dated between 1939 to 1958. Before scholars are given access to the archives, all documents need to be carefully catalogued according to scientific criteria, a process which requires time and money. 

Once the archives are opened, they are often abandoned because the individuals that insist on gaining access to them are not always prepared to devote the necessary amount of time - and it does take time - to consult all the documentation.

Regarding Pius XII’s beatification, it should be remembered that in May 2007 the cardinals and bishops of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints expressed themselves in favour of the decree recognising Pacelli’s heroic virtues. 

But Benedict XVI did not promulgate the decree immediately but ordered an additional historical inquiry into the documents held by the Vatican Archives. This process took over two years and the conclusions reached were positive for the former Pope’s cause. In a surprise move, Benedict XVI promulgated the decree on Pacelli in December 2009, bringing the process to a close. Before Pius XII can be beatified confirmation needs to be given of a miracle based on his intercession.

In July 2013, which marked the 70th anniversary of the bombardment of Rome’s San Lorenzo quarter, Pope Francis sent a letter to the Cardinal Vicar of Rome mentioning Pius XII and recalling how on that occasion his predecessor “showed himself to be a caring Pastor among his flock, especially in the hour of need, willing to share in the suffering of his people.”

During the visit representatives of Rome’s Jewish community paid to the Vatican last 11 October to commemorate the deportation of Jews from the ghetto in 1943, Francis called for anti-Semitism to “be banished from the heart and life of each man and each woman.” He also recalled the help Christians and clergy offered the Jews with Pius XII’s blessing. 

“This anniversary will also allow us to remember how, in this hour of darkness, the Christian community of this city reached out to its brothers and sisters in trouble. We know how many religious institutions, monasteries and Papal Basilicas, interpreting the will of the Pope, opened their doors in a brotherly welcome, and how many ordinary Christians offered what help they could give, however big or small,” Francis said.

Studies are still being carried out to establish precise numbers, but this has proved difficult given that those who took in the persecuted rarely kept records on how many they helped. Nevertheless, the research carried out by historian Grazia Loparco, reveals that in Italy alone, 500 male and female religious residences hid Jews in more than 100 cities and 102 villages. 

In Rome, religious men and women risked their lives hiding 4500 Jews. This would only have been possible with the Pope’s tacit agreement and blessing. Many Jews were in fact hidden in cloistered convents and monasteries and the rules of cloister could only be violated by special order of the Pope.

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