While recently released documentation written by Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli in the 1930's does little to dispel the "black legend" of Pope Pius XII, it does provide insight into his character. During the 10 years he served as secretary of state to Pope Pius XI, Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, the future Pius XII, took detailed notes of the Pontiff's every audience.
L'Osservatore Romano (LOR) welcomed the release of what are called the "audience pages" in an extensive spread in their Sunday edition. The "pages" were the notes taken by Pope Pius XI's secretary of state, Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, during private daily audiences between himself and the Pope as well as those the Pontiff had with diplomats, Church officials and others.
Cardinal Pacelli, who later became Pope Pius XII, documented 1,956 such audiences over the course of the decade he served as secretary of state, from 1930-39. He left 2,627 pages of notes which have been collected, edited and now published by representatives from the Vatican's Secret Archives.
LOR's director, Gian Vian, called the entries an "until now unknown source of extraordinary interest for contemporary history." The collection, he said, "with precision and immediacy, takes account of numerous questions, illuminating the routine work procedure in the heart of the Holy See. Through this emerges the wise energy of government of Pius XI, alongside the intelligence and absolute loyalty of Pacelli."
Current Vatican secretary of state Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone wrote in the publication's preface that the documentation bears witness to the "thousands and thousands of issues (which) occupied the time and thought of Pius XI and Cardinal Pacelli over so many years … "
The subjects, he explained, range "from the most minute requests for subsidies ... to the relevant ecclesiastical and political questions, so much more complicated as the years advanced that separated the wounds of the First World War from those of the Second."
Cardinal Bertone also pointed out that with the passage of time, through documentation such as this, the future Pope Pius XII's "human and Christian stature, as a diplomat, secretary of state and Pontiff, beyond preconceived and distorted 'colorings,' is ever better delineated."
Many people impatiently await the release of documents from the Vatican archives, which they hope will shed light on Pius XII's actions during the Second World War. He has been labeled 'the silent Pope" or "Hitler's Pope" by critics for allegedly remaining "quiet" as the Holocaust took so many lives, including those of more than 1,000 Roman Jews who were deported to Auschwitz in Oct. 1943.
But many other scholars, led by Pope Benedict XVI, continue to staunchly defend the war-time Pope for having done what was within his power to provide aid, assistance and protection to all civilians, including Jews, often in secrecy.
The lack of open access to the Vatican archives concerning Pius XII's pontificate has left many questions in the air, but answers appear to be on the horizon as the Holy See is working to organize and release the extensive war-time documentation in the coming years.
Few answers, however, will be found in this regard in this most recent publication, as the prefect of the Archives, Archbishop Sergio Pagano, explained in an additional LOR article. The point of the notes, he said, was to document issues dealing principally with the correspondence between the secretariat of state and a variety of ecclesiastic, government and civil offices and individuals.
He explained that while "it's obvious to think that subjects of politics or government of the Church, (and) obviously even more relevant (issues), were the subject of the attention of the Pope and his secretary of state ... at least as far as we can say today, Pacelli did not take notes (of these conversations), or at the most he limited himself to writing some annotations on the very documents that were the object of discussion."
Concluding, Archbishop Pagano noted the diligence of the future Pope during his meetings with Pope Pius XI, saying that "no one" at that time in the secretariat of state documented "with equal systematic method, continuity and precision as did the secretary of state Pacelli."