He Kept Vatican's Secrets for 45 Years. Now He's Retiring

Retiring prefect of the Vatican Apostolic Archive reveals how US funds paid for 1922 peculiar conclave
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Feb 20, 2024 4:04 PM CST
He Kept Vatican's Secrets for 45 Years. Now He's Retiring
Prefect of the Archivio Apostolico Vaticano, Bishop Sergio Pagano poses in his office at The Vatican, Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2024, after an interview with the Associated Press.   (AP Photo/Domenico Stinellis)

The Vatican has been trying for years to debunk the idea that its vaunted secret archives are all that secret: It has opened up the files of controversial World War II-era Pope Pius XII to scholars and changed the official name to remove the word "Secret" from its title. But a certain aura of myth and mystery has persisted—until now. The longtime prefect of what is now named the Vatican Apostolic Archive, Archbishop Sergio Pagano, is for the first time revealing some of the secrets he has uncovered in the 45 years he has worked there, per the AP. In a new book-length interview titled Secretum being published Tuesday, the retiring Pagano divulges some of the lesser-known details of well-known sagas of the Holy See over the past 12 centuries.

  • Pagano delves into the peculiar conclave—the assembly of cardinals to elect a pope—of 1922 that was financed by last-minute donations from US Catholics. After Pope Benedict XV died that year, his safe was discovered to be empty. The book, for the first time, reproduces the encrypted telegrams in which the Vatican secretary of state asked his ambassador in Washington to urgently wire "what you have in the safe." The transfer of $210,400.09 allowed the vote that eventually elected Pope Pius XI.
  • Pagano also proudly showed off one of the archive's prized possessions. Behind plate glass and illuminated with special lights, is the original 1530 letter from British nobles urging Pope Clement VII to grant King Henry VIII an annulment so he could marry Anne Boleyn. As is well known, the pope refused and the king went ahead and got married, breaking with Rome. "You can say that here we are at the birth of the Anglican Church," Pagano says.
  • Pagano discusses Pope Pius XII, the wartime pope who has been criticized for not having spoken out enough about the Holocaust. The Vatican has long defended Pius, saying he used quiet diplomacy to save lives. Pagano, though, stands out among Vatican hierarchs for his willingness to call out Pius' silence, particularly after the war ended. Pagano attributes Pius' post-war silence to his concerns about the creation of a Jewish state. The Vatican had a long tradition of supporting the Palestinian people, and any word from Pius about the Holocaust even after the war "could have been read in political terms as a support for the foundation of a new state."
  • Read the full story.
(More Vatican stories.)

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