Critics accuse Pope Pius XII of keeping quiet about the Holocaust. Documents soon to be released from the secret archives may provide insight on the Vatican behind the scenes, said church historian Hubert Wolf.
Pius XII was pope from 1939 to 1958
DW-WORLD.DE: The Vatican's Secret Archive is making documents from 1922 to 1939 available to the public for the first time. What new insights are you hoping for?
Hubert Wolf: For the first time, we will have a look into the curia's internal discussions and reports by 80 nunciatures (note: diplomatic representatives of the Vatican) from around the world. From that we will be able to see what stance the church took on issues that were significant at that time. For example, what was its relationship to fascism? Or to Franco in Spain? What position did the church take on the topic of violence? What was its relationship to National Socialism and what was the curia's opinion on anti-Semitism up until 1939?
Not only do we have the pope's official statements, but now we also have the internal discussions from the dicasteria -- the Vatican's "ministries." They reveal that very different positions on individual issues were represented in the curia and that there was definitely conflict and difference of opinion there.
Since October, a Jewish-Catholic historical commission has been examining of the question of to what extent the church knew about the mass murder of the Jews and what its position on the "final solution" was. Will there be answers to these questions?
Hubert Wolf has been recognized for communicating church history to the public
The files from Pius XII's papacy have not been released yet. But I'm fairly certain that the Vatican will make them available in the next few years so that the Jewish-Catholic historical commission's question can be answered. Then there would be an end to speculations.
I think that opening of the Inquisition archives in 1998, the early opening in 2003 of the files on German issues in the Vatican archives and now the complete opening of Pius XI's papacy from 1992 to 1939 are all steps that belong to the major confession of guilt that the pope made in 2000 for the mistakes that the Church had made. He asked the historians to clear these things up.
Numerous questions on the relationship between the Catholic Church and the conflicting political ideologies of the 20th century remain open. What was the curia's relationship to Spain under Franco and anti-clericalism in Mexico?
The topics of Mexico and the anti-clerical position of the Mexican government were slow-burners, as we've seen. The congregation had a lot of meetings for extra church issues, that is, from the political centers of the state office.
In the 1920s, Mexico was discussed many times, including the question of how to deal with violence and prosecution. Could there have been a Catholic counter-force? This shows that Mexico was in no way on the sidelines but played a central role in Rome in the 1920s. More central, in any case, than people thought from their narrow, Eurocentric perspective.
The files on Pius XII's papacy haven't been released yet. Before that, however, he had been a nuncio in Germany and the cardinal's state secretary in the Vatican under his civil name Eugen Pacelli. Do you expect to learn more about his position on the Holocaust, which is still unclear?
Once the documents are made accessible, it makes sense to wait until historians have assessed the documents on Pacelli in his role as nuncio in Germany and cardinal's state secretary to Pius XI. Then the speculations will finally stop. Then you will be able to say exactly what the cardinal's state secretary Pacelli thought about each topic, like Spain under Franco, and compare his position to that of the pope or the other cardinals.
In June Pope Benedict XVI authorized the opening lf the Pius XII files
Could the beatification process planned for Pius XII be put on hold due to the expected revelations?
Only the pope himself can decide if the beatification process will be put on hold. I think that after the sources on Pacelli have really been examined then the historical aspects of such a beatification process can be considered on a secure foundation -- not based on speculation or criticism but on hard facts. You can be sure that the 3,500 reports we have from Pacelli will bring us closer to him as a person, minister, or politician.
I think that these German influences make it easier to understand how he acted later on as pope. That's why we're not disappointed that we don't have the files from 1939 to 1945 yet. If I'd read the 3,500 nuncio reports from Pacelli already, I would presumable have a more nuanced impression of Eugenio Pacelli, who later became Pope Pius XII.
Hubert Wolf is professor of church history at the University of Münster and is a leading expert on the Vatican Secret Archives.