What to Expect from the Unsealing of the Vatican Archives

Today the Vatican Apostolic Archives, along with other archives on the pontificate of Pope Pius XII, have been opened and made accessible to scholars and researchers. Pius XII’s pontificate lasted from 1939-1958, and he faced criticism for his perceived silence in the face of the Nazi regime during World War II, with some even going so far as to call him ‘Hitler’s Pope.’

The Vatican archives and Pius XII are both the subjects of several conspiracy theories, so there is an air of intrigue surrounding the opening of the archives and the opportunity to delve into the life and work of Pius XII. But what should we really expect from the unsealing of the Vatican archives? Dr. Matthew Bunson, a regular Morning Air® contributor, offered his insights into what will likely come from this historic event.

“The first question is will the opening of these Vatican archives exonerate him?” Dr. Bunson said. “The argument actually is that, in fact, he already has been largely exonerated. I say that because over the last 20-plus years we have seen dedicated researchers even going back further into his pontificate. I think of Pierre Blet, who was a great Jesuit scholar, Sister Margherita Marchione, Ron Rychlak, who have dedicated their lives to really proving conclusively the authentic record of Pius XII.”

The Vatican Apostolic Archives were previously called the Vatican Secret Archives, which led to misunderstandings and conspiracy theories about what was in them. They were called secret not because they contain mysterious secrets, but because they contain personal documents and information about bishops, cardinals, and popes from throughout the archive’s history. As caretakers of these documents, the Church must balance the need for privacy and care in the personal documents of popes who have died against the greater good that could come from scholars having access to information about historic religious figures.

Dr. Bunson explained that although scholars will not be able to access the entirety of the Vatican archives, there is still a large amount of history that is being made accessible.

“They’re opening everything up from March of 1939, to the very passing of Pius XII in 1968,” he said. “Now, we’re talking about millions and millions of documents that are going to be of great interest, not just to the scholars looking into his record during World War II, but into a pontificate of a man who very well likely is, in fact, a saint.”

On whether he was concerned about something coming out about Pius XII that could cause scandal, Dr. Bunson said, “Pius XII played a very significant role in the history of not just the Church in the 20th century, but in human history, given his pivotal role during World War II. So the more that we can learn about Pius XII, about the era, the the more the truth comes out, I think the better for all of us.”

“And I’m personally not overly concerned about documents or people who will spin them or who will try to use them against Pius XII, against the Church,” he said. “In the end, as we have seen in this history of Pius XII, the truth eventually does come out.”

Listen to the full conversation below:

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Stephanie Foley serves as a Digital Media Producer at Relevant Radio®. She is a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville, where she studied journalism, and she has worked in Catholic radio for 12 years. Stephanie is a wife, a mother of three boys, and in her free time she enjoys reading, running, and really good coffee. You can find more of Stephanie’s writing at relevantradio.com and on the free Relevant Radio mobile app.