"There's a big question around whether Pius XII gave orders to have Roman Jews hidden. Many Jews were hidden including on Vatican grounds," she said. "Did he order that? Did he know about it and say, okay, 'this is not a good idea because it puts Vatican property in danger'? Did he say, 'yes, please do this and save who you can'?"
"We know that Jews were rescued by Catholic families in Italy and in France," said Brown-Fleming. She told CNA that she was hopeful her time in the archives will reveal the motivations behind why these families chose to risk their lives to save people: "Was it because of messaging from the pope or was it spontaneous?"
Another question Brown-Fleming wants the archives to answer is what Pius XII knew in the post-war era, when a Vatican "ratline" enabled many former Nazis to escape to South America.
"In the Cold War period, many Nazis escaped to South America with the help of the Vatican--lower level officials," she said. "But how much did the Pope know about this? That's a very big question." She is also hoping to find information about Pius XII's personal attitude towards the Jewish people, which is "something that's very hard to discern in public messaging."
Once she is granted permission to travel to Italy and examine the archives, Brown-Fleming intends on starting her research in the Vatican Apostolic Archive. She explained that there are four reading rooms in the archive, and that the first room is dedicated to indices. She says the plan is to look for certain keywords in the indices.
Once those keywords are found, Brown-Fleming will request the entire folder. She hopes that, similar to the 2003 opening of Pius XI's archives, the United States Holocaust Museum would be given permission to reproduce the some of the contents of the archives and keep them in Washington.
Regardless of what is found, Brown-Fleming said she is glad that there will finally be answers about the legacy of Pius XII, and she is confident that whatever is uncovered will be a positive move for the Church.
The archives will "kind of settle those questions" regarding Pius XII and the actions of the Church during World War II, "even if the answers aren't always good. And I don't think they always will be, because we're talking about human beings and even a pope makes mistakes."
"We're going to find a mixed record, but at least we know what it is," she said. "And then once we know what it is, we can really wrestle with that."
Christine Rousselle is a former DC Correspondent for Catholic News Agency. Prior to working at CNA, she was the managing web editor of Townhall.com; she has a BA in political science from Providence College.