Most attention has focused on what they might reveal about the Pope’s actions and attitudes toward the Jews during World War II, but a Vatican conference ahead of today’s opening highlighted other areas of interest.
VATICAN CITY — The Vatican today opened archives relating to Pope Pius XII’s pontificate, and as historians and researchers begin to scour some 2 million documents for information, most attention will be paid to what they reveal about Pius’ actions and attitudes toward the Jews and the Nazis during the Second World War.
But it is what is disclosed about other historical matters that might ultimately be more significant.
Historians and commentators on both sides of the so-called “Pius Wars” debate have long wished for the archives to be opened to know what really happened during those tumultuous years and whether or not Pius did enough to oppose the Nazis and help the Jews.
But a good deal of the documentation during that time has already been released to the public that — according to those who unearthed it, such as Gary Krupp, founder of the Pave the Way Foundation — is sufficient to quash speculation over Pius XII’s war record and just needs to be consulted.
Equally if not more interesting, therefore, will be what new information the documents reveal about other events of a pontificate that stretched from 1939 to 1958 — a “complex and dramatic” period, the Vatican said on Saturday, in which “disputes and turmoil were born in the Church and society that would develop in the following years.”
A Feb. 21 Vatican conference for archivists on the opening of the collections gave some clues to what these documents contain, and one of the most interesting is related to the collections belonging to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), then known as the Holy Office.
In a general overview, Msgr. Alejandro Cifres, director of the CDF’s archives, began by noting that “the great themes” confronted by the Second Vatican Council, which became “central to the life of the Church” in the post-conciliar period up until today, “had in large part been anticipated during the Pacelli pontificate.”
“The topics in some cases are very modern,” he continued, adding that “this consideration alone explains why the opening of the pontificate’s archives has great importance for contemporary historiography.”
Responses to Dubia
Of particular interest were dubia (doubts) submitted to the Holy Office during the Nazi era for clarification relating to gravely immoral practices now legalized, or becoming legalized, in the West.
These included euthanasia in Nazi Germany (1940) as well as abortion in occupied France (1942), artificial insemination in Nazi Germany (1944) and forced sterilization during the Nazi regime (1940). Msgr. Cifres said there was even a dubium submitted on the Church’s position on “sex-change operations,” but he later clarified that this occurred after the Nazi era.
The submission of dubia is an ancient procedure, asking the Vatican for simple Yes or No responses to issues relating to Church doctrine. Msgr. Cifres did not say how the Holy Office ruled on these questions, but given the Church has always considered them gravely immoral, it can be supposed the response was always negative.
Msgr. Cifres said other dubia concerned relations of the Church and clergy to Christian denominations and other religions and noted that “attention to Freemasonry naturally remained constant.”
Other recurring dubia regarded how to deal with “schismatic clergy,” including married clergy who wished to be welcomed or return to the Catholic Church, as well as “intercommunion” — to what extent Catholic priests and laity could assist and participate in non-Catholic ceremonies and vice versa.
Msgr. Cifres, who did not say how the Holy Office ruled on these cases, mentioned one in particular: a request made by King Umberto II, the last king of Italy, to attend the “wedding of his Protestant niece, who was baptized Catholic but educated in the schism.”
Other dubia related to questions during the war about whether Catholic churches in occupied France, Italy and other war-affected countries were allowed to be used for Protestant worship and whether priests could provide spiritual assistance to Protestant internees or prisoners. After the war he said “particular concern” was raised “about racist ideas that had survived among the German-speaking minorities in Brazil.