National Catholic Reporter ®

February 14, 2003
Vol. 2, No.25

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Vatican anti-war activity increases with visit to Iraq; Signs that Ratzinger is winding down activity at CDF

 “Very little has been done to further justice. .  . . And you cannot have a peaceful world simply throwing bombs. You have to cure the world.”

Cardinal Lubomyr Husar of Ukraine

Once again, the big story in Rome this week is the Vatican’s full-court press to try to stop a war in Iraq.

     The Vatican announced Feb. 9 that the pope had dispatched Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, 80, to Baghdad as his special emissary. Though the wording of the announcement was vague, it’s clear that Etchegaray’s mission is to plead with Hussein to cooperate with the weapons inspectors and United Nations resolutions in an attempt to stave off armed conflict.

     Etchegaray, a Frenchman of Basque origins, is a veteran papal troubleshooter, having represented John Paul in such hotspots as Vietnam, Burundi, China, East Timor, and the Middle East. These assignments earned Etchegaray the title of the pope’s “mission impossible” man. He has been to Iraq twice before, once in 1986, when he visited prisoner-of-war camps on both sides of the Iran/Iraq war, and in 1999, in a vain attempt to pave the way for a papal visit in 2000. 

     Etchegaray, the former head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, was the architect of John Paul’s 1986 summit of world religious leaders in Assisi, and is a close collaborator of the Community of Sant’Egidio. Some accused Etchegaray of injecting “ideology” at the Council for Justice and Peace, steering it too close towards the outlook of the secular European political left, but others credited him with bringing vision and passion to the job.

     Accompanying Etchegaray on the trip is Msgr. Franco Coppola of the Secretariat of State, one of the Vatican’s experts on the Middle East. Coppola was at Etchegaray’s side when the pope sent him last year to try to negotiate a settlement to the standoff between Israeli troops and Palestinian militants in Bethlehem. 

     Meanwhile, Tarik Aziz, the number two figure in the Iraqi power structure, will be in Rome on Friday, Feb. 14, for a meeting with John Paul II. Hussein’s top deputy will meet with Italian politicians on Thursday, and is then expected to go to Assisi, the birthplace of St. Francis, to pray for peace on Saturday. Aziz is a Chaldean Catholic whose family is reportedly devout, and his Assisi stop will be a major media event.

     Given the coincidence of Etchegaray’s mission to Baghdad, the visit of Aziz takes on special significance, as observers will be waiting to see if he carries some kind of response to the papal overture. If so, and if it is rendered public, it could change the diplomatic calculus surrounding a war.

     (This eleventh-hour papal diplomacy beckons memories of John XXIII and the Cuban missile crisis of October 1962, when the pope’s personal appeals to both Kennedy and Khrushchev were later credited with helping to turn the tide towards compromise. Khrushchev is reported to have later said, “The pope’s message was the only gleam of hope,” while Kennedy posthumously awarded John XXIII the Presidential Medal of Freedom).

     Though neither the Vatican nor the United Nations has officially confirmed the appointment, it is also expected that next week Kofi Anan will come to the Vatican for a meeting with John Paul II, another indication of the pope’s commitment to involving himself in the search for peace.

     Rome is full of trial balloons about other papal initiatives. The Iraqi ambassador to the Vatican, Amir Alanbari, told the Reuters news agency on Feb. 10 that a papal visit to Iraq would be welcome, and that Aziz may even invite the pope to make such a visit.

     “For the pope to visit a country that is really about to be victimized by a super-power, to be destroyed I would say... would be viewed by the rest of the world as expressing sympathy even if he does not say a word,” Alanbari said.

     Most observers regard such a trip as improbable, for four reasons: the pope’s physical condition; the problem of security; the fact that popes simply do not travel at the last minute; and the pressure that would come from the Americans to avoid handing Hussein a public relations coup.

     Meanwhile, Rome’s daily Il Messagero hypothesized on Feb. 10 that the pope might also send an emissary to President George Bush, and tipped retired Cardinal Pio Laghi for the role. Laghi, 80, served as apostolic nuncio in the United States from 1980 to 1990.

     Laghi, however, told NCR Feb. 10 that he “knows nothing” of such a possibility, and doesn’t “see the conditions for it.”

     In dismissing the rumors, Laghi gave me one of the best summaries of much Vatican journalism I’ve ever heard: “Many times journalists print guesses,” he said. “If they come true, they can claim to have discovered the truth; if not, well, they figure they haven’t done any harm.”

     As the Vatican intensifies its effort to avert a war in Iraq, conservative American Catholic intellectual Michael Novak came to Rome Feb. 7-11 to try to make the case that a war may eventually be necessary. Such a war, Novak argued, would be justified from the point of view of Catholic “just war” doctrine.

     Novak was received courteously by Vatican officials, and his visit attracted strong media interest in Rome, but there was little immediate sign he had changed any minds. 

     Novak met the morning of Saturday, Feb. 8, with officials in the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and in the Secretariat of State. At State, Novak was received by the pope’s “foreign minister,” Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, but Archbishop Renato Martino, president of Justice and Peace, delegated the session with Novak to his staff. 

     Novak gave an interview to Vatican Radio after his meetings. On Sunday, Feb. 9, Novak and U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See James Nicholson, who organized Novak’s visit, attended the 10:30 am Mass at Santa Susanna, the American parish in Rome. Novak met with Italian political figures on Monday, Feb. 10, then conducted a press conference and lectured before an invitation-only crowd at Rome’s Center of American Studies before returning to the United States on Feb. 11.

     There was a bit of controversy surrounding Novak’s visit, with a group of 62 lay and religious leaders in the American Catholic Church writing a letter to protest the “appointment of a theologian” to represent the Bush administration’s point of view. In presenting Novak, U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See James Nicholson emphasized that Novak spoke neither for the American government nor for the Catholic Church.

     Novak also went out of his way to avoid any impression of disagreement with John Paul II, stressing that he has publicly termed this pope “John Paul the Great.”

     In his Rome presentations, Novak argued forcefully that Saddam Hussein presents a clear and present danger to the security of the United States, especially in a post-9/11 world in which non-state terrorist groups have the means to inflict serious damage. Even if a clear connection between Hussein and the Al Qaeda network cannot presently be established, Novak argued, “only an imprudent, foolhardy statesman would trust that these two forces will stay apart forever.” 

     In addition to Iraq, Novak nominated Yemen, Iran and Sudan as states that have links with international terrorism.

     In fact, Novak insisted, it is a terminological mistake to refer to a strike in Iraq as a “preventive war.” The truth, he said, is that we are already involved in two wars. One is the 1991 Gulf War, which never really ended because Iraq has refused for 12 years to honor the cease-fire terms, and the other is the war against non-state terrorist groups declared with the 9/11 attacks. In that sense, Novak said, a war in Iraq would fall under the traditional standards of self-defense, not some speculative new category of “preventive war.”

     Under the right circumstances, Novak said, it is not just possible to go to war, but morally obligatory.

     “For the public authorities to fail to conduct such a war would be to put their trust imprudently in the sanity and good will of Saddam Hussein,” Novak said.

     Novak also underscored that according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, it is the “public authorities” — in this case, the Bush administration — that has the right and duty to decide whether to use force.

     In his interview on Vatican Radio, Novak lamented some of the anti-war rhetoric coming from the Vatican in recent weeks, especially given the way the sex abuse scandals of the past year have already traumatized the American Catholic community.

     “Some of the comments that have come from some Vatican sources have been a bit emotionally anti-American,” Novak said. “I just wish people would mind their rhetoric a little bit more.”

     “Among friends of mine, some in Washington, some just around the country, there’s some pain about that, especially if they are Catholic,” Novak said. “Catholics are the largest single religious group in the country, but still there’s a tradition of anti-Catholicism. Unfortunately the scandals of the last year about the conduct of a few clergymen evoke the most lurid images of the polemical literature of the 19th century that pictured Catholic priests as engaging in deplorable moral behavior. So in this tide of anti-Catholicism, it isn’t as easy as it was two years ago to just slough off criticism. 

     “Americans are used to criticism, everybody criticizes us, it seems to be the favorite pastime of the world. But it’s a little painful coming right now, because people, or at least a lot of the people I know, really do want to meet the test of a just war and have the highest admiration for John Paul II particularly.”

     Novak singled out the Jesuit-edited journal La Civilità Cattolica, reviewed by the Vatican’s Secretariat of State prior to publication, which asserted Jan. 18 that the real motive for U.S. interest in Iraq is oil, and warned of a misplaced American “messianic vocation” to spread democracy.

     Novak argued that if the United States really wanted Iraq’s oil, they would have grabbed it in 1991, when the “road to Baghdad and to the oil fields” was wide open at the end of the Gulf War.

     Finally, Novak was asked how he squares his position on the war with that of the American bishops. Their Nov. 13 statement said, “Based on the facts that are known to us, we continue to find it difficult to justify the resort to war against Iraq, lacking clear and adequate evidence of an imminent attack of a grave nature.”

     In response, Novak told a story related to the U.S. bishops’ 1983 pastoral letter on the threat of nuclear war, called The Challenge of Peace. In 1981 and 1982, Novak said, there was alarm in some circles about early drafts of that letter, which seemed to some conservative critics to lean too strongly towards disarmament. He said leading conservative Catholic laypersons such as Zbigniew Brzezinski, Henry Hyde, and Clare Boothe Luce approached him with similar concerns, and together they drafted their own letter.

     Novak said the main difference between the two documents is that the bishops focused on weapons systems, while Novak’s group centered on communism. Weapons don’t kill, they argued, ideologies do, and if they could change attitudes in the Soviet Union, disarmament would follow. Twenty years later, Novak argued, his group’s letter holds up better than that of the bishops.

     “This is the lay role in the church,” Novak said, “to argue about matters of prudence rather than doctrine.” 

* * *

     For English-speaking Catholics, the head of the English desk in the First Section of the Secretariat of State is an important post. The office is responsible for crafting the pope’s speeches and documents in English. Everything going into the pope and back out in the English language runs through this office, which at full strength numbers some seven priests.

     There’s a history of heads of the English section moving on to higher office. Archbishop Justin Rigali of St. Louis once held the job, as did Bishop James Harvey, the American who now serves as prefect of the Papal Household. More recently, Bishop Brian Farrell was given the post of secretary of the Council for Promoting Christianity Unity after heading the English desk. 

     Thus it’s worth noting the man John Paul has tapped as Farrell’s successor: Monsignor James Patrick Green, an American priest from the Philadelphia archdiocese. Green is a member of the papal diplomatic corps, whose most recent post was as charge d’affaires in Taiwan. Before that, he served in Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, South Korea, the Netherlands, Spain, and Scandanavia.

     Ordained in 1976, Green served as secretary for the late Cardinal John Krol, and was also an assistant master of ceremonies for the 1979 visit of Pope John Paul II to Philadelphia.

     I caught up with Green in Taiwan to ask for a quick reaction to his new appointment.

     “It will certainly be a special privilege as well as challenge to assist the superiors in the Secretariat of State in their close collaboration with the Holy Father and his care for the universal Church,” Green said. “I shall be ‘new’ to the Vatican scene and know that I have much to learn. I pray that the tasks which lie ahead of me will not be too daunting and that those with whom I shall be working will be patient.”

     I asked if Green felt a special challenge, knowing the big shoes he will have to fill.

     “I am particularly blessed to have both Bishop James Harvey and Bishop Brian Farrell as good friends,” Green said. “In addition, they are both in Rome. I am certain they will be an invaluable source of assistance to me and I count on their counsel and experience. I have seen how hard they have worked over the years in the English section of the Secretariat of State, and certainly hope I am able to maintain the high standards they have set.”

     Since Green hails from Philadelphia, I called Archbishop John Foley, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications and a fellow Philadelphian, to see if he had a read on the new man. As it happens, Foley taught Green at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia and renewed his friendship when Green was in Rome in the 1980s doing graduate studies. Foley said Green wrote a dissertation in canon law on bishops’ conferences that at the time was seen as the “definitive work” on the subject.

     “He is hard-working, intelligent, and efficient,” Foley said, “an outstanding person.”

     Green leaves Taipei on Friday, Feb. 14, and arrives in Rome the following morning. He’s expected to report to work the following week.

* * *

     When the closest aides to a senior Vatican heavyweight begin moving on to higher posts, it’s usually a sign that things are winding down. The VIP wants to be sure his subordinates are taken care of before the curtain comes down. Thus it was for the famous “Benelli’s widows,” Vatican personnel under the patronage of the late Cardinal Giovanni Benelli, the right-hand man of Paul VI. The “widows” all received career-launching appointments when Benelli moved on: Giovanni Battista Re, Rigali, Agostino Cacciavillan, and Edoardo Rovida.

     Vatican observers are reading the exit of key personnel from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s entourage these days in the same way. Recently his long-time secretary, Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone, was named the new archbishop of Genoa. On Feb. 12 came news of an even more telling transfer. Josef Clemens, Ratzinger’s long-time private secretary, has been named the new under-secretary at the Congregation for Religious. Clemens is to Ratzinger what Stanislaw Dziwisz is to John Paul II; a long-time alter ego, whose loss will be keenly felt.

     Clemens has been at Ratzinger’s side for all the battles of these past 20 years. When Ratzinger needed someone to pick up Leonardo Boff at Fiumicino airport and bring him in for his Sept. 7, 1984, interrogation, at the peak of the struggles over liberation theology, it was Clemens who was dispatched. 

     It’s been clear in recent months that Ratzinger has been pulling back somewhat from the details of the congregation’s work, and his undoubtedly reluctant willingness to let Clemens go is a further sign of withdrawal.

     Ratzinger came to work for John Paul II on Nov. 25, 1981, and has stayed in his post long beyond the normal five-year term of office for a curial prefect. Most believe the pope is hoping that Ratzinger will remain in charge of his congregation, at least in a titular sense, as long as humanly possible. But increasingly, we will see Ratzinger’s new subordinates taking a lead role, which makes the jobs of secretary (Italian Archbishop Angelo Amato) and under-secretary (American Fr. Gus Di Noia) even more important than usual.

* * *

     Despite general agreement in the Church that the liturgy should be a moment of unity, Catholics nevertheless manage to get themselves into knots fighting over even the tiniest details of their rites and prayers. It falls to the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments to settle these differences when, as the saying goes, somebody wants to make a federal case out of it.

     Thus it is that in the November/December issue of the congregation’s bulletin Notitiae, we find a letter from congregation officials on whether or not someone may be denied communion if they want to receive it in a kneeling position. Apparently, a priest had refused communion to someone who had insisted on kneeling, and reports of the incident reached Rome. The congregation said in its letter that similar complaints had also arrived from faithful who found themselves denied communion for the same reason in other places.

     As most readers will immediately recognize, the imbroglio over kneeling trips larger ideological wires because it symbolizes much post-conciliar angst over the direction of liturgical reform. Both progressives and restorationists on liturgical issues are likely to react to such disputes with a level of emotion that can seem disproportionate to what’s actually at stake.

     In the end, the congregation sided with kneeling. 
     In its letter, addressed to the bishop of the diocese from which the Vatican had received complaints, the congregation said that refusal to administer the sacrament to someone who chooses to kneel represents a “most grave violation of one of the most basic rights of the Christian faithful.” The letter cited canon 213 of the Code of Canon Law, which states: “Christ’s faithful have the right to be assisted by their pastors from the spiritual riches of the church, especially by the word of God and the sacraments.”

     (The letter was written in English, suggesting that the complaints came from an English-speaking diocese. It was dated July 1, 2002, and signed by Cardinal Jorge Medina Estévez, former prefect, along with Archbishop Francesco Pio Tamburrino, secretary).

     Citing canon 843, the letter says faithful may not be denied the sacraments who “opportunely ask for them, are properly disposed and are not prohibited by law from receiving them.”

     Further, the congregation said, it is never permitted to refuse communion to a Catholic who wants to receive it during Mass, except when it poses the danger of grave scandal to other believers. Examples would include persons who are in a condition of unrepented public sin, or who are publicly involved in a heresy or schism. 

     The letter strongly defends the option of kneeling.

     “In fact, as His Eminence, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger has recently emphasized, the practice of kneeling for Holy Communion has in its favor a centuries-old tradition, and it is a particularly expressive sign of adoration, completely appropriate in light of the true, real and substantial presence of Our Lord Jesus Christ under the consecrated species,” the letter said.

     “Priests should understand that the congregation will regard future complaints of this nature with great seriousness,” the letter said, “and if verified, it intends to see disciplinary action consonant with the gravity of the pastoral abuse.”

     Notitiae also published a second letter signed by Fr. Mario Marini, under-secretary of the congregation, apparently responding to one of those who had written to complain. This person must have expressed some reservations about taking the matter to the Vatican, because Marini assures the writer that doing so is the right of every Catholic.

     “In consideration of the nature of the problem and the relative likelihood that it might or might not be resolved on the local level, every member of the faithful has the right of recourse to the Roman pontiff either personally or by means of the dicasteries or tribunals of the Roman Curia,” Marini wrote.

     “Please be assured that the congregation takes this matter very seriously, and is making the necessary contacts in its regard,” Marini wrote. “At the same time, this dicastery continues to be ready to be of assistance if you should need to contact it again in the future.”

* * *

     Speaking of Catholic opposition to a war in Iraq, the latest prelate to speak out is Cardinal Lubomyr Husar of Ukraine. 

     Husar, the head of the Eastern-rite Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, began a tour of Canada Feb. 9 by urging people to campaign for peace. He spoke to hundreds of parishioners crowded into a Winnipeg church Sunday, telling people that faith, justice and love are more important than ever during dark times. 

     “Very little has been done to further justice,” the cardinal said in an interview later. “And you cannot have a peaceful world simply throwing bombs. You have to cure the world.”

     As I suppose most readers know by now, I am fond of Husar, even touting him as a papabile, or candidate to be the next pope. I’ve pointed to his intelligence, his deep understanding arising from his Eastern background of the proper ecclesiological relationship between unity and diversity, his humanity, and his spirituality. 

     In a reminder, however, that all politics is local, I received an e-mail from a Ukrainian Catholic in Canada telling me of efforts to organize a boycott of a banquet featuring Husar in Toronto on Feb. 23. The effort is being led by Ukrainian Catholics with roots in Poland, who feel Husar has defended the rights of Poles in Ukraine too much and the rights of Ukrainians in Poland not enough. 

     “There is hardly a Ukrainian family in Poland that has not been wronged by the Poles and the Polish government,” the reader asserts. “Thus, when [Husar] stands up for cemeteries of Polish soldiers in Ukraine, and does not stand up for the cemeteries of Ukrainian soldiers in Poland, then he is seen as not looking after his flock.”

     The reference is to a dispute over the Lychakivskyi Cemetery in Lviv, where Polish activists suggested that the words “To Unknown Polish Soldiers Who Died Heroically For Poland’s Independence” be inscribed on the Polish common “Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.” The Ukrainian side considers such an inscription intolerant, and insists that the words “heroically” and “independence” be omitted. 

     Husar issued a statement addressing the controversy in June.

     “The love of one’s people and the readiness to sacrifice one’s life for its ideals is a virtue that every nation cherishes and every church blesses,” Husar said. 

     “Quarrels over ways to venerate military burial places have produced so many various historical, political and psychological arguments that getting to the truth behind them becomes more and more difficult. As a result, clouds of mutual suspicion and offense have gathered over the mortal remains at the Lychakivskyi Cemetery and are gradually poisoning our souls,” the cardinal stated.

     “I call upon all the faithful of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church to bow their heads over the graves of the Ukrainian and Polish military at the Lychakivskyi Cemetery in a sincere Christian prayer.”

     It was Husar’s attempt to be gracious. Obviously, however, one person’s graciousness is another’s weakness.

* * *

     The Community of Sant’Egidio celebrated its 35th anniversary with a Mass at Saint Paul Outside the Walls on Feb. 7. (They couldn’t do it at their normal liturgical gathering point, the Church of Santa Maria in Trastevere, because it couldn’t hold the overflow crowd). The site was fitting, since it was near St. Paul’s in Febuary of 1968 that the first group of young Catholics met to dedicate themselves to the service of the poor, founding a group that would eventually become Sant’Egidio.

     The movement was named for “Sant’Egidio” because that’s the piazza in Trastevere where they eventually established their headquarters.

     Sant’Egidio was born in Rome out of the radical student energies of the late sixties, by a group of young leftists who wanted to work for social change without losing their commitment to the Catholic faith. Sant’Egidio works on issues ranging from abolition of the death penalty to inter-religious dialogue. They are also successful diplomats, having played a key role in negotiating the Mozambique peace accords in 1992. 

     In keeping with the Sant’Egidio spirit, a place of honor at their anniversary Mass went to an ecumenical delegation of visiting clergy from the Serbian Orthodox Church, in Rome for talks with the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

     I’ve written before that the Vatican does not see the “new movements” in the church the way some American Catholics do, i.e., as creatures of the Catholic right, in large measure because in Rome the most visible movement easily is Sant’Egidio, and it tends to skew toward the center-left.

     Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, 69, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, was on hand to celebrate the Mass. Re is seen as a moderate among the papabili, or candidates to be the next pope, and his embrace of Sant’Egidio will bolster that impression.

     In his homily, Re said Sant’Egidio has lived “an intense, complex 35 years,” saying they have managed “to live in the world, but anchored to the gospel.” Re praised the work of Sant’Egidio on behalf of peace, ecumenism, inter-religious dialogue, and the struggle against AIDS in Africa. Re also praised Sant’Egidio’s commitment to prayer and liturgy, noting the large crowds that throng to the regular evening prayer in Trastevere. 

     “We stand with Sant’Egidio in sympathy and friendship,” Re said, “and pray that God will make them ever more instruments of good in our contemporary world.”

     One footnote: During Re’s homily, a woman stood up in the crowd at St. Paul’s and began shouting. Only bits and pieces were comprehensible, but it was clear that she was homeless and wanted someone in the church to take note. A few Vatican security personnel were on hand, undoubtedly for Re and the other curial power-brokers in attendance, and they swooped in as soon as the disruption started. In typical Sant’Egidio fashion, however, several community members surrounded the woman, comforted her, calmed her down, and eventually she took her seat and stayed for the rest of the Mass. They showed patience and compassion, traits with which it is possible to do a remarkable amount of good.

* * *

     On Saturday Feb. 15, the Vatican archives will unseal a long-awaited set of records concerning the relationship between the Holy See and Germany during the pontificate of Pius XI (1922-39). 

     The documents are being made public ahead of schedule, since their release was originally set for 2009. The accelerated release is an attempt to respond to the bitter public debate over the Catholic Church and the Holocaust, and especially the role played by Eugenio Pacelli, who became Pius XII on March 2, 1939. 

     Normally the Vatican unseals all the records from a given pontificate at once, at a rhythm of approximately 70 years from the death of the pope. The last pontificate’s records to be opened were those of Benedict XV (1914-1922). But given the controversy surrounding Pius XII, including urgent demands for full disclosure of archival material, the Vatican has tried to speed things up. The rest of the material from Pius XI should be available in 2005 or 2006, and the first batch of material from Pius XII is anticipated somewhere between 2007 and 2009.

     The records to be presented on Saturday will be subjected to immediate scrutiny by partisans on all sides of the Church/Holocaust debate, though critics convinced the Vatican is hiding something will obviously remain unsatisfied until all the records from both Pius XI and Pius XII are revealed.

     The 650 files set to be unsealed Saturday contain thousands of documents. To get a sense of what we might expect, I sat down on Thursday, Feb.13, with Jesuit Fr. Peter Gumpel, the Vatican’s point man on the sainthood cause of Pius XII.

     Documents of immediate interest, Gumpel said, will include those concerning Pacelli’s term as nuncio in Munich, and later in Berlin, in the 1920s, when he was writing regular reports on the German situation. In December 1929 Pacelli was made a cardinal, and in 1930 Pius XI appointed him Secretary of State. Scholars will want to comb through his correspondence pertaining to Germany in that period as well.

     Gumpel said that although in theory he had full access to these documents, he chose not to examine them before their release, because he didn’t want to be accused of tampering or monopolizing the records. He told me, however, that he asked the staff of the archives to tell him if there was any “smoking gun” that would incriminate Pacelli, and they assured him there is nothing.

     Scholars are not completely in the dark about what they’ll find. Many documents have already been made public. The German state archives, for example, contain the originals of all correspondence sent from the Holy See in the 1930s and 1940s, and they have been published. Likewise, the fifty protests Pacelli wrote to the Nazis in response to violations of the concordat with the Catholic Church have appeared. In other cases, oral testimony has given the experts a fairly clear picture of what many files contain.

     One document sure to make headlines is a letter written in April 1933 by Edith Stein to Pius XI concerning the danger facing European Jewry. It’s been suggested that Stein specifically asked the pope in this letter to write an encyclical against the Nazis, and his delay in doing so has been advanced as evidence of the Vatican’s pattern of “silence.” Gumpel, however, says scholars will now be able to see that there was no such request in Stein’s letter.

     Why does it take so long to prepare this material for release?

     Gumpel said most of the material was in the form of loose sheets thrown semi-randomly into boxes. The pages had to be sorted, stamped, registered, and bound. That’s expert work requiring a specialized knowledge of languages, church history, and Vatican systems, and at the beginning there were only two full-time archivists on the job. Today that number is larger, but still under 10, because this kind of specialization doesn’t grow on trees.

     It’s going to take some months, if not years, for scholars to sort through this material and come to some consensus about what it teaches us. The model for this process is not a team of reporters from the Boston Globe combing through archdiocesan records unsealed by court order, and uncovering a series of damaging revelations in a matter of a few hours. For one thing, journalists won’t be let anywhere near these records, only scholars. For another, the Vatican archives are a relatively small operation. Privately I’m told that if 40 academics turn up Saturday morning, the operation will be overwhelmed. It normally takes two to three weeks just to get photocopies. Also, scholars who don’t know Italian are not allowed to bring translators, so they’ll have to wait to get home to really understand what they’re seeing. 

     Despite these speed bumps, Gumpel said the Vatican is committed to full disclosure, even knowing that some people may use this material to impugn the church and Pius XII.

     “We have nothing to hide,” Gumpel says. “The truth should come out.”

The e-mail address for John L. Allen Jr. is

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