Vatican opens secret archives on years leading to World War II
VATICAN CITY – The Vatican opened part of its secret archives Monday to let historians review millions of diplomatic letters, private correspondence and other church documents to gain insight into how the Holy See dealt with the growing persecution of Jews before World War II.
Researchers said it could take months or years to study the contents of some 30,000 bundles of documents from the 1922-39 papacy of Pius XI, a span when the rise of Nazism, Fascism and Soviet-bloc communism gripped Europe.
The opening is part of the Vatican’s efforts to defend Pius’ successor, the wartime Pope Pius XII, against claims he did not do enough to save Jews from the Holocaust during the wars.
The Vatican insists Pius XII, who earlier served as a church diplomat in Germany and later Vatican secretary of state under Pius XI, used discreet diplomacy that saved thousands of Jews.
Archives officials said at midday that some 50 researchers had shown credentials to gain admittance, although some of the scholars came to consult material on earlier papacies.
“There was a bit of chaos,” said Alessandro Visani, a researcher in contemporary history at Rome’s La Sapienza university who, like many others, was hoping for an initial idea of what was in the files.
“I wanted to look at something but someone was already consulting it,” said Visani, whose research includes the attitudes of church hierarchy toward the 1938 anti-Jewish laws of Benito Mussolini, Italy’s Fascist dictator.
He hopes the files will reveal the frank views that Roman Catholic prelates privately held about Mussolini’s racial laws affecting Italy’s tiny Jewish community.
One tantalizing question revolves around an encyclical that Pius XI commissioned to denounce racism and the violent nationalism of Germany. But he died before releasing it, and it has never been made public.
The encyclical was never published “in part because of his death and in part because it was judged to be inopportune politically,” Visani said.
A La Sapienza colleague, Emma Fattorini, told The Associated Press by telephone after looking at the material that there were few mentions of the unpublished encyclical.
Pentagon defends its detention of an AP photographer
The Pentagon defended on Monday its months-long detention of an Associated Press photographer in Iraq, asserting that it has authority to imprison him indefinitely without charges because it believes he had improper ties to insurgents.
But journalism organizations said that covering all sides in the Iraq war sometimes requires contacts with insurgents. They called on the Pentagon to either bring charges against photographer Bilal Hussein so he can defend himself, or release him.
Hussein, an Iraqi photographer employed by the AP, was captured in Ramadi on April 12 of this year. AP executives, who worked on his case behind the scenes for five months, on Sunday made a public call for the military to transfer him to Iraq’s criminal justice system or release him.
Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, said on Monday that the military has not changed its position.
“All indications that I have received are that Hussein’s detainment indicates that he has strong ties with known insurgents and that he was doing things, involved in activities, that were well outside the scope of what you would expect a journalist to be doing,” said Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman. He refused to provide any details.
But AP Associate General Counsel Dave Tomlin said Whitman failed to address the main argument made by the AP, that Hussein get his day in court.
“Mr. Whitman says it would be `up to the central criminal court of Iraq’ to charge Bilal with any wrongdoing. But the Iraqi court can’t do that until the U.S. military hands over Bilal and whatever evidence they have against him to Iraqi authorities,” Tomlin said.
“This is exactly what AP and Bilal are asking for,” he said. “If the evidence isn’t strong enough to support charges, however, Bilal should be released.”