From Pope Pius IX to Benedict XVI, the Vatican now has online 142 years of documents, including unofficial texts relating to the period during the Second World War - writes Luigi Sandri.
The official site of the Holy See site (www.vatican.va) is now offering access to the documents from the resource library and they include papers of popes and of the Roman Curia, from 1865 until 2007.
Beginning with Pius IX, who served for almost 32 years in the 19th century, the official Vatican documents had been published on what are known in Latin as "Acta Sanctae Sedis" (Acts of the Holy See) at that time.
The publication of these documents was usually monthly and they consisted only of official Vatican documents, papal audiences, appointments and decisions, without any comment.
The documents show that during the pontificate of Paul VI, from 1963 to 1978, there was concerted discussion on accusations of "silence" by Pius XII during the Second World War on the Holocaust.
Accusations were [made] that Pius XII never openly and unequivocally protested against the Holocaust and some historians have accused him of accepting actions of Nazi Germany under its dictator Adolf Hitler.
The Vatican has often rebutted this accusation by saying that while it did not condemn the Holocaust, Pius XII strongly encouraged a wide network of Roman Catholics - in parishes, families and monasteries – throughout Europe to help thousands of Jews escape death.
Documents show that Pope Paul VI entrusted a group of four Jesuit historians, headed by the Rev Pierre Blet, to edit the Acts and documents of Holy See regarding the Second World War.
From 1965 to 1981, the group published 12 volumes. They contain not only official documents, but also letters of the secretary of state, of papal nuncios, and private letters of bishops to the pope. On the whole, according to the Vatican, these documents show that the Holy See did a lot to help Jews during the period.
The Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, announcing the decision of 25 March, quoted Blet as saying, "In our 12 volumes we do not hide anything."
Still, when Pope Benedict XVI visited the Great Synagogue of Rome in 2009, some Jewish leaders asked him to open "all Vatican archives" regarding the pontificate of Pius XII, from 1939 to 1958, and to thoroughly investigate his policy regarding Jews. Until the present day the archives have been only partially open.
L'Osservatore Romano said that the 25 March decision "makes accessible a boundless mine of texts until now available in paper form only in libraries".
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]