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Pope Francis: Vatican's archives will no longer be 'secret'

October 28, 2019

The pope said the Vatican's Secret Archive would be renamed to remove any negative connotations surrounding secrecy. Much, but not all, of the archive's contents has been available to scholars for some time.

Shelves with archived documents at the Vatican Apostolic Archive.
The archive occupies 85 kilometers of shelving, including some in an underground bunkerImage: Imago Images

Pope Francis announced on Monday the Vatican officially changed the name of its famous "Secret Archive"  so that they would no longer be tarnished with negative connotations. 

The extensive set of archives documenting the Vatican's popes through the centuries will now be known to world as the "Vatican Apostolic Archive." The Pope said he hopes the name change, made via a decree known as Motu Proprio, will stop people thinking of the archives in a negative or secretive light.

The Pope said the term "secret" was in fact misleading from the start, because it stemmed from a misinterpretation of the original Latin denomination. The original Latin is "archivum secretum," and "secretum" can mean hidden, private, secret, remote, or separate. However, there's a very real sense in the Latin name that the archive is not for everybody.

Pope Paul V created the archives as far back as the early 17th Century. The shelves holding the information have a combined length of 85 kilometers (52.8 miles); some are in an underground bunker.

Templer Tempelritter Vatikan Geheimarchiv
Known before as the "Vatican Secret Archive," the documents have now become the "Vatican Apostolic Archive"Image: Imago Images

Read more: After Cardinal Pell verdict, Catholic Church must reform 

With some of the documents accessible to scholars since 1881, the archive contains materials related to the Vatican's government from the 8th to the 20th Century. Scholars can only access the documents up to February 1939, before the onset of World War II. 

A book from the Vatican archives
On March 2, 2020, material from Pope Pius XII's controversial 1939-1958 will become available for assessmentImage: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Brambatti

On March 2, 2020, material from World War II-era Pope Pius XII's controversial 1939-1958 papacy will also become available for public scrutiny.

Pope Francis said he hopes the change would help clear Pius XII's name from accusations that he failed to confront Nazi Germany and other fascist regimes, including Italy's, during the conflict. The Vatican was nominally neutral during World War II; individual German clerics spoke out but Germany's Catholic and Protestant Churches did not do so as institutions.

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mvb/msh (AP, dpa)