Podcast: How will historians judge Pope Pius XII’s decisions during World War II?

Books are pictured in a cabinet in the Vatican Secret Archives. After decades of anticipation, the Vatican is opening its archives on the World War II pontificate of Pope Pius XII. (CNS photo/Vatican Secret Archives)

Just before Covid-19 paused public life in Italy, the entire “secret archives” of Pope Pius XII (1939-58) opened to researchers for the first time. The opening, which had long been asked for by historians and was announced under Pope Benedict XVI, would make available a treasure trove of documents from Pius’ pontificate, spanning the Second World War and into the Cold War.

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Some documents from the archive had been released from the 1960s to the 1980s to counter the popular narrative that Pius had been complicit or even cooperated with the Nazi regime. While historians agree the new documents will not likely reveal a “smoking gun” that indicts or exonerates Pius, they expect the archives to shed light on the rationale behind Pius’ decision not to publicly condemn Hitler and the Nazis, instead operating through private channels to stop the deportations of Jews from Italy.

In this special edition of Inside the Vatican, host Colleen Dulle interviews historians Robert Ventresca and Massimo Faggioli about the opening of the archives, what we know about Pius’ wartime decisions, and what researchers expect to find. The three discuss, too, the impact these findings may have on Jewish-Catholic relations and on Pius’ ongoing canonization cause.

Links from the show:

[Read this next: A deep dive into the secret archives of Pope Pius XII]

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