Guardian of Vatican secrets: “Pius XII took his reason for Holocaust silence to the grave”

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Few know that the organization behind the 1922 conclave faced serious financial difficulties. Or that inside the Vatican there were cardinals who became Mussolini's spies. Or that Galileo— contrary to what many believe—was not tortured.

These are just some of the stories known to the Vatican archivist, Bishop Sergio Pagano. He has been organizing the thousands of documents in the Vatican Apostolic Archives for decades and knows the ins and outs of many controversial episodes.

Some of those stories have been captured in the book “Secretum,” where, for the first time, Pagano speaks at length about many aspects of Vatican history.

For example, Bishop Pagano came to the conclusion that Benedict XV, the pope of World War I, poorly chose his collaborators which led to financial problems.

Prefect, Vatican Apostolic Archives

He had weaknesses… in friendships. So when he died in 1922, his safe was empty. Money had to be borrowed from the United States to make the conclave possible.

Pope John Paul II asked Pagano to study in depth the material on the trial of Galileo. In the book, the archivist recalls how there was a cardinal who invited him to his home to tell him this:

“If you find among Galileo's documents anything that could harm the Church, destroy it."

By studying Vatican documents, Pagano has even developed his own idea on why Pope Pius XII did not condemn the Holocaust during the war.

Prefect, Vatican Apostolic Archives

The further we proceeded in our research, we discovered more letters even from German Catholics denouncing the extermination camps to the Pope. But at the same time, they told the Pope: don't talk. Don't reveal your sources because we risk our lives.
I believe that he did not want to say anything because of the terrible idea about Hitler's madness that he had when he was nuncio in Germany. It would have caused such a fire that would have devastated Europe even more and would have provoked an infinite massacre. This is what I believe, although whatever was the real reason for his silence, he took to his grave. He was well aware of what his silence implied.

Pagano acknowledges that the Vatican's history is troubled, but says he has seen more light than shadows in its archives.

"Now people want to make others believe that the Church is made up of pedophiles, of unbalanced, deluded people, but it is not true at all.”

Pagano insists that when interpreting history, it is very important not to lose sight of the context that the events took place.


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