Let’s peek inside the Vatican’s Secret Archives!

How exciting! Long before Dan Brown wrote Angels and Demons earth shaking stories about what is hidden in the Vatican’s vaults were around. The Catholic church keeps most of its documents looked away from the public. Not even scholars have access to all collections in the Vatican‘s Secret Archive. But now some are, for the first time ever, on public display. Devote 4 minutes to take a look inside the Secret Archives:

The documents at the current exhibition in Rome serves as a fascinating journey into the memories of the past of the church, empires, kingdoms and republics. For six months about a hundred documents will be on display at the Capitoline Museum

Some documents on display

  • The 1521 decree from Pope Leo X excommunicating German monk Martin Luther
  • A 1530 petition asking Pope Clement VIII to annul Henry VIII of England’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon
  • Letter from Mary Queen of Scots to Pope Sixtus V, written just weeks before she was beheaded by Queen Elizabeth of England.
  • The judicial acts of the trial of Galileo 
  • A letter from the guillotine-bound Marie Antoinette

Some letters are written in the Vatican’s own encrypted code used to prevent secret messages between the Holy See and its diplomats being intercepted by hostile powers. The oldest of those are from the first half of the 14th century.

Re-branding the Vatican

It’s all part of an effort to get away from being seen as an institution that keep historical, and potentially damaging, documents sealed away. To put an end to being a source and symbol of intrigue that provide endless fodder to conspiracy theorists.

Vatican, The Holy See, Pope Pius XII, Marie Antoinette, Mary Queen of Scots, Queen Elizabeth I, Gallileo, Martin Luther
Will the Vatican eventually shed light on if Pope Pius XII (to the right) did or didn’t collaborate with the Nazis?

Pius XII’s documents still kept secret

Have personally been interested in the Secret Archive since I was a teenager and read about how Pope Pius XII collaborated with the Nazis. Sadly however, those documents stay locked behind metal fences. Vatican officials say they need time to index them but from what I understand it’s actually an issue of papal prerogative.

So for all the scholars with an interest in what Pope Pius did or didn’t do, the collection will be kept hidden. Can’t help wondering if it’s really a good idea to keep such controversial documents under lock when you are trying to re-brand yourself? Wouldn’t it be better to release them even if the content is damaging for Pope Pius XII? He passed away a long time ago and the Vatican would, if worse comes to worse, gain respect for admitting that he did something wrong and apologise for his mistakes. The re-branding effort would definitely have gained from doing so. 

But it’s a huge step forward for the Vatican to release papal files to the public. In the past you could be thrown into the papal dungeons for doing so. Now a modern look will also be launched with new logos, slogans and costumes, in fact even a re-launch of the Christian fait, to re-package the Vatican and the Catholic faith. 

Is this the beginning of a new era of transparency for the Vatican? Will the documents relating to Pius XII’s reign eventually be released? Or only part of them? Will holding an exhibition have an impact on how the institution is perceived? Or is it just a lame effort to make it appear as if the church has adapted to the modern era in order to keep its power? Will the re-branding effort work? Is it a good idea for the Holy See to re-brand itself and adapt to the modern world? Or would they gain from being shrouded in secrecy? Will more faiths follow in the Vaticans footsteps and re-brand themselves? 

Video: romereports/You Tube – Photo: SDASM Archives

28 thoughts on “Let’s peek inside the Vatican’s Secret Archives!

  1. I believe that what they display is not really what is going on in side the Vatican. if they really want to open up, then show us every thing. or could it cause they're down fall, or maybe give religion a whole new perspective.

  2. What an exciting and intriguing post this is! Although, I'm not sure how far these efforts will affect change. this is a start. I am extremely glad I stopped by. This will be a great piece for my literacy program with my after school students. Thank you. What a great conversation starter this will be.
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  3. Can't see the Vatican ever becoming transparent. Too much to hide and too reliant on mystery within their "business operations…"

  4. It is really is earth shaking and shattering to know some of those dark and deepest secrets. We all have them but to think the church does hide a lot and make a fool out of its believers.

  5. Hi Catarina,
    Thanks so much for sharing that video. I agree that the Vatican will still be shrouded in secrecy but this is definitely a step in the right direction. It's a sign that things are starting to change I think their image may be slightly altered in the eyes of some but I don't think that shroud will be lifted in our lifetimes.
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  6. I watch many documentaries on the Vatican and about religion in general (it fascinates me) and this is a strange turn of events for the church, but you have to know that the important documents and the secrets the church doesn't want the world to know are still locked away from the curiosities of those who would love to have a peek. One entire building is dedicated to just the archives alone. The church will always be tight lipped on the real juicy stuff. Like the mysterious murder of Pope Pius XII. Still, I'd love to visit the exhibit.
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    1. Hey Dennis!
      I've always had an interest knowing the history facts about religion. I too have watched many documentaries but the only "The Arrival" was the only documentary which cleared many of my misconceptions & revealed the curtain on hidden facts which Vatican wouldn't want to be revealed to anyone.
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  7. Hi Catarina,

    The Vatican probably won't become more transparent at this point. I understand your fascination with the Vatican, but from what I learned in Western Civ. I, I'm not too interested at this point. The Vatican, even today, has done some shocking things in regards to pedophile priest, so I don't know how much different they are than the "modern" world. The Vatican will keep its power in the world primarily because there are so many people who don't want to question papal infallibility…they didn't read the same history books I did.

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  8. Rebecca,sorry you have problems with the video. It works fine for others, including me. The Catholic church are doing what they are doing to consolidate its power and become even more powerful. Hence the re-branding effort.

  9. I wouldn't count on too much transparency in these newly opened Secret Archives. I don't want to seem unkind or anti-Catholic, but I don't see Rome historically admitting to much wrongdoing. In fact, just this February, former Archbishop of New York, now Cardinal Edward M. Egan who often operates as a spokesperson for the Vatican, withdrew his 2002 apology to childhood victims of sexual abuse at the hands of Catholic priests.

    As for Pope Pius XII, some of us worry that he may not have always been channeling God during WWII. I suspect that if the Vatican had a lot of evidence to the contrary, they would have released it long ago. It's been over 50 years. How much more "indexing" can possibly be needed?

    I suspect that it will be difficult to rebrand the Catholic Church as long as they cling to the position that the law does not apply to the Church, the Pope is always right, the Spanish Inquisition was "perhaps slightly overzealous," and pedophile priests can be cured by moving them to another parish.

    Power corrupts: Absolute power corrupts absolutely. But it's nice to know that they at least recognize that they have a problem.

    Kay in Hawaii

    1. Kay, someone just told me that an author by the name of John Cornwell was given access by two key archivists to hitherto unseen materials about Pius XII. Those documents confirmed the following: Pius XII was not a Nazi, but he clearly preferred the Nazis to the Communists. He was also probably antisemitic. One of his main faults was to facilitate Hitler's access to total power by demanding that the Catholic party, the Zentrum, dissolve itself, thus giving Hitler a majority in parliament. Later on the pretext that the Nazis might seize the Vatican, something they were not stupid enough to do, he refused to publicly condemn the steps the Nazis took against the Jews, never mentioning them by name, and only once condemning racial persecutions in general. After WW II he let clerics in the Vatican help in the escape and resettlement of Nazi war criminals in South America.

      Maybe I should add that Cornwell is a Catholic historian and author. He wrote a book called Hitler's Pope based on the documents he got access to.

  10. Hi Catarina,

    I am not sure they should release everything as some documents like the ones involving Pope Pius X11 may work against what they are trying to achieve. To re-brand I would have thought it would also involve addressing the areas that are of concern to followers today. That said the exhibition would be fascinating to see.
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    1. That's one way of looking at it Susan. But sooner or later they have to release all those controversial documents. However, it will be less infected to do so in the future.

  11. What a great step they are taking opening it up for the public. I can't even imagine the knowledge that they might have in those 50 miles of shelf space! WOW!

    As a book lover and someone who loves learning this would be an amazing experience!

    Thanks for sharing it Catarina
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  12. Catarina — I guess you could call this a start. The controversy over Pope Pius XII is as alive today as it was during WW II. I don't know about statues of limitations or if, as a sovereign nation, the Church might be subject to suits by survivors or their heirs if it turned out the Pope collaborated with the Nazis. I think it they released those documents it would be front page news for months and stir up a lot of painful memories.
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