Enigma: Vatican Archives

Enigma: Vatican Archives

One of the topics that garnered much interest towards this institution in the last couple of years is the existence of the highly secretive Vatican Apostolic Archives. The Archives were off-limits to everyone but the Pope, that is until 1981 when it opened to select scholars, who were chosen after a thorough screening process. In March  of 2020 however, the Archives opened to a wider audience as long as they could document their qualifications and research needs. The Vatican Apostolic Archives, which contain many historical documents relating to the church, also contain records that include the correspondence in each Pope’s era since its conception.

The Vatican Apostolic Archives known famously as the Vatican Secret Archives is the central repository that houses all documents related to the Vatican City and the “Holy See”. “Holy See” is the name of the Bishop of Rome, meaning the Pope – the leader of the Catholic Church. Due to this, the Archives are only accessible by the Pope himself, or was so until very recently. The name ‘Secret Archives’ actually came about from an inaccurate translation of its Latin name, Archivum Secretum Apostolicum Vaticanum. This means “Private Vatican Apostolic Archive” as it was essentially the Pope’s library, with only a handful of people other than the Pope having access to the collection, hence the name. Because of this limited access to a limitless body of knowledge, it does maintain its mysticism which in turn leads to controversial rumors as to what might actually be hidden in these shelves.

The Catholic Church is no stranger to controversy. Due to its unparralled influence, they have been linked to many wars, human rights violations and child abuse controversies unlike any other religious institute. Despite being an institution with a 2000 year-old history, the Catholic church has remained relevant and powerful despite the many political and social reforms since its inception. As the largest religious organization in the world, over the course of its history, the Catholic Church, has maintained an innate mysticism that has made the institute resilient to this day.

The ongoing controversies against the institution in the past 5 to 6 decades have led to much negative attention being drawn by the Church. A staggering number of child abuse accusations that had taken place in Catholic establishments around the world raised public alarm and drew scrutiny to the institution. In consequence many blamed the Pope and the Catholic Church for actively concealing these crimes. This eventually became one of the main criticisms  against Pope Benedict XVI, one that allegedly  contributed to his decision to retire.

Regarding the accusations, the public believe that studying the contents in the Vatican Archives will help to uncover the mystery around the institution. The Catholic Church faced much criticism for its course of action during the time of Pope Pius XI and XII. Pope Pius XI is accused of maintaining close relations with Benito Mussolini, who declared the Vatican as a sovereign state in the Lateran Treaty (1929). Since Mussolini along with Italy was the main ally of Hitler, he has come under much scrutiny, especially after the publication of “The Pope and Mussolini.” Published in 2014 by David Kertzer, who had analysed the documentary evidence found in the Vatican Archives, the book is based on the correspondences that happened between Pope Pius XI and Benito Mussolini.

Pope Pius XII on the other hand, was elected as Pope in 1939 at the beginning of WW2, and he infamously had remained passive during the entire course of the war. As a leader of the largest religious organization in the world, and as an advocate for tolerance and kindness, these actions came under heavy criticism of the public. There are also defenders of Pope Pius XII, stating that he maintained a policy of neutrality in order to protect the Vatican, as it would have been extremely vulnerable and not strong enough as a potential threat to the Nazis. They also argue that he had kept Vatican as neutral grounds in order to keep the Vatican city safe for the eventual victims of war, be it either Jew or Nazi. The allegations against the Vatican bank that started operating during WW2, after the Vatican gained sovereignty during 1929, about conspiring with the Nazis for financial gain have definitely not improved the cases for the two leaders of the Church. The bank is said to have provided family insurance to Jewish families, which could mean that the Church directly benefitted from the death of Jews in the Holocaust.

The Church’s recent decision to open the Archives for researchers is said to be to help combat these rumours and to get to the bottom of these allegations. Many people believe now that the Archives have opened to a wider audience that the truth behind these tales will finally come out. The catch is finding relevant documents regarding specific issues from 50 miles of shelves, with books collected over 12 centuries.

An ancient library which is around 12 centuries old, with around 50 miles of shelves of books containing information from even 20 centuries ago? Such is the collection hidden in the Vatican City and it sure sounds like a nerd’s paradise. Dark secrets, modern scandals and ancient mysteries all are hidden in this amazing collection, and whether they be true or turn out to be merely rumours, I would still like the privilege to spend some time browsing this history of knowledge.

– Rtr Yeshani Fernando

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