Pope de­clares Vat­i­can’s Se­cret Ar­chive not so se­cret any­more

The Peterborough Examiner - - CANADA & WORLD - NI­COLE WIN­FIELD

VAT­I­CAN CITY — Pope Fran­cis has de­clared that the Vat­i­can Se­cret Ar­chive isn’t so se­cret af­ter all.

Fran­cis on Mon­day of­fi­cially changed the name of the Holy See ar­chive to re­move what he said were the “neg­a­tive” con­no­ta­tions of hav­ing “se­cret” in its name.

From now on, the vast trove of doc­u­ments, manuscript­s and pa­pyrus of popes past will be of­fi­cially known as the “Vat­i­can Apos­tolic Ar­chive.”

In a new law, Fran­cis noted that the ar­chive has long been open to schol­ars and that he him­self has de­creed that the ar­chives of Sec­ond World War­era Pope Pius XII, ac­cused by some of not speak­ing out enough about the Holo­caust, would open to schol­ars ahead of sched­ule on March 2, 2020.

He said the name change bet­ter re­flects the ar­chive’s re­al­ity and “its ser­vice to the church and the world of cul­ture.”

The ar­chive con­tains the doc­u­men­ta­tion on the life of the univer­sal Catholic Church dat­ing from the 8th cen­tury to the present. It con­tains 600 col­lec­tions that are or­ga­nized across 85 kilo­me­tres of shelv­ing.

Lo­cated inside the Apos­tolic Palace, the ar­chive con­tains a se­ries of read­ing rooms and a two-story “bunker” of re­in­forced ce­ment.

The most pre­cious doc­u­ments, in­clud­ing an­cient gold­plated manuscript­s and the acts of the In­qui­si­tion trial against Galileo Galilei — are held in se­cure, cli­ma­tized rooms where hu­mid­ity is con­trolled.

It was Pope Leo VIII who in 1881 opened the ar­chive’s doors to re­searchers, and cur­rently an es­ti­mated 1,500 a year are al­lowed inside.

Cur­rently the most re­cent pa­pacy avail­able to schol­ars is that of Pope Pius XI, who died in 1939. The usual prac­tice of the Holy See has been to wait 70 years un­til af­ter the con­clu­sion of a pa­pacy to open up that pon­tif­i­cate’s ar­chives.

That would have meant the ar­chives of Pius XII, who reigned from 1939-1958, wouldn’t have been avail­able to schol­ars un­til 2028 at the ear­li­est.

The Holy See has been un­der pres­sure to or­ga­nize and cat­a­logue the Pius XII col­lec­tion faster to make it avail­able to re­searchers while Holo­caust sur­vivors are still alive.

Fran­cis cited the Pius XIII open­ing in ex­plain­ing his ra­tio­nale for the name change, while lament­ing how the orig­i­nal Latin name “Archivium Se­cre­tum” — meant solely to mean that the ar­chive was private and sep­a­rate — had taken on al­most sin­is­ter im­pli­ca­tions that the Holy See had se­crets to hide.

“Thanks to a cer­tain cul­tural em­phases in some places, the word ‘se­cre­tum’ hav­ing lost its true mean­ing and in­stinc­tively be­ing as­so­ci­ated with the mod­ern con­cept of the word ‘se­cret,’ as­sumed the prej­u­di­cial ac­cep­tance of be­ing hid­den, not re­vealed and re­served for a few,” he wrote.

“That is com­pletely con­trary to what the Vat­i­can Se­cret Ar­chive al­ways was and in­tended to be,” he said.

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