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ARCHIVES-PIUSXI Sep-22-2006 (700 words) xxxi

Historian says archives erase claims church did not oppose Nazism

By Carol Glatz
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Documents now available from the Vatican Secret Archives will allow scholars to rewrite history and erase claims the church was not a staunch opponent of Nazism, fascism and other forms of totalitarianism, said a Jesuit historian.

Jesuit Father Giovanni Sale, historian of the Jesuit journal, La Civilta Cattolica, said documents relating to the 1922-1939 pontificate of Pope Pius XI will have an impact on political and religious history.

What emerges is an even clearer picture of the church as being "steadfast in the fight against totalitarianism, against fascism, against Nazism, but also against communism," he said in a Sept. 18 interview with Vatican Radio.

After years of preparation, the Vatican archive office Sept. 18 opened up to researchers all the documentation from Pope Pius' pre-World War II pontificate.

The documents were considered especially sensitive because they covered the period in which Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, the future Pope Pius XII, served as nuncio to Germany and then as Vatican secretary of state.

A 1999 book, "Hitler's Pope," accused Cardinal Pacelli of having pro-German feelings that colored his World War II policies as pope, while a 2001 book, "The Popes Against the Jews," claimed top church officials had a hand in fomenting anti-Semitism in the 20th century.

Vatican historians have repeatedly rejected such claims as false.

Father Sale said now that the pre-World War II documents are available scholars "will have the possibility to truly rewrite important pages of 20th-century history -- this time based on solid and documented foundations."

He said certain positions that were "often fruit of ideological prejudices" could now be corrected.

A Sept. 20 article in the Italian Catholic daily, Avvenire, detailed some of the contents found in the newly available archives by citing a full series of notes written by Cardinal Pacelli concerning the impending 1938 visit of Adolf Hitler in Rome to meet with Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.

The Vatican secretary of state wrote of his alarm that Mussolini planned to parade the German leader upon his arrival along the Via della Conciliazione leading to the Vatican.

He urged officials to tell Mussolini such a plan would "greatly disappoint" and "vex" the pope. The cardinal also asked whether such "glorification pushed to such excess of an avowed enemy" was in violation of the 1929 Italy-Vatican concordat that guaranteed Vatican sovereignty.

The cardinal also wrote to the Italian bishops, urging them to decline attending any ceremonies honoring Hitler's visit to Rome and saying "the Holy Father wishes (the bishops to) abstain from accepting" the invitations.

Cardinal Pacelli's notes also detail his criticism of Austrian bishops who announced they were in favor of the 1938 "Anschluss" -- Nazi Germany's annexation of Austria -- saying those bishops showed "a lack of faith and loyalty" to the church. In a different note he added that Hitler was "the greatest persecutor of the church."

Just before Hitler arrived in Rome in early May 1938, Pope Pius XI left the Vatican for Castel Gandolfo and, in an audience there, said "very sad things" were happening "far away and nearby" as a new cross was being planted in Rome, "and it's not the cross of Christ."

The current prefect of the Vatican Secret Archives, Father Sergio Pagano, said in a Sept. 17 article in the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, that the documents offered "a fascinating survey" of the Vatican's diplomatic dealings at such a crucial time in history.

The meticulous notes Cardinal Pacelli took in his almost daily meetings with the pope are so "very precious," he wrote, that the archives will also be publishing them in a 10-volume series starting next year.

Such richness in detail, wrote Father Pagano, will allow historians interested in the figure of Pope Pius XII "to draw, we believe, substantiated ideas and motives in (their) analyses of the character and efforts of the then-secretary of state and future pope."

An official at the Vatican archives told Catholic News Service that in the first week after the 1922-1939 archives were opened, between 55 and 60 scholars from all over the world were going through the documents each day.


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