In the Secret Vatican Archives are stored documents that testify to the unprecedented and shocking genocide by the Ottoman Empire against the Armenians after the First World War, documents that will be published soon in a book co-edited by the same Vatican Archives.
The advanced news arrived, a little by surprise, during the presentation in the Vatican of the exhibit “Lux Arcana”, which – from next February – will open to the public, for the first time, the treasures of one of the oldest and most extensive archives in the world.
The testimonials, explained the prefect of the Secret Archives, Monsignor Sergio Pagano, describe “in detail” the “procedures of torture that the Turks used towards the Armenians”. For example, he said, there is evidence of how the soldiers of the Sublime Porte would bet “on the sex of fetuses in the wombs of pregnant women before they quartered them and with the same knife killed the babies”.
These episodes, said the Vatican archivist, who “make me ashamed to be a man, and if it were not for faith, I would see only darkness”.
It is easy to imagine that the publication of these documents reignite the tension between the Holy See and Turkey, at a time when the memory of the killing of Monsignor Luigi Padovese, Apostolic Vicar of Anatolia, a year ago June 3rd, is still alive.
The Catholic Church is still waiting for an acknowledgment by the Turkish state, although recently some progress has been made. For example, it has become easier to perform pilgrimages to the church in Tarsus, the birthplace of St. Paul.
From the presentation of the exhibit many expected new light on the pontificate of Pius XII, always controversial because of his role during World War II and with regards to the Holocaust. On this point, Bishop Pagano announced that we must expect “interesting tidbits” within three or four years, when the inventory of documents relating to his pontificate will be completed and the Archive opened to scholars.
In the exhibit, however, there will be a display of “emotional documents” such as photographs and diaries of the war but nothing that “can shed light on Pius XII’s pontificate, since it is still closed”.
In light of the controversy over his role during the Holocaust and the delicacy of relations between the Catholic and Jewish communities, for decades scholars have hoped to find a document that can attest unequivocally that Pius XII had called on Catholic institutions worldwide to protect persecuted Jews – a document of which there are various indirect evidences.
The issue is still very delicate as shown by the echo caused by the recent words of the Israeli ambassador to the Holy See,Mordechay Lewy, who had at first defended Pacelli as a “protector” and was later forced to clarify his statements after the controversies that erupted at home.
The Vatican Secret Archive is surrounded by a halo of mystery, and not just for its name (‘secret’, in this case, is the medieval Latin meaning for ‘private’). Not surprisingly, Dan Brown set some scenes of his ‘Angels and Demons’ and strangely enough, a video prepared to present the exhibit points heavily on the enigmatic atmosphere of the Hollywood movie.
Actually, for centuries the Archives preserve records and government documents of popes and the Holy See.
The intention of the exhibit, explained Monsignor Pagano, is precisely to dispel this storybook myth: “In addition to a natural intent for aesthetic vision of historic relics, famous and less so, fascinating vestments, it intends to shed light on the reality of the venerable institution, on its nature, its contents, its activity”.
For the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, ‘Lux in Arcana’ (light on hidden places, in Latin) is therefore a more than appropriate title for the exhibit. “The ‘arcane’ – he explained – are not to be construed as ‘arcana imperii’, or the secrets of the government, but the hidden and vast areas of the archives, which by their nature are jealous, protective, alert to the treasures they watch over.”
At the exhibit will be displayed, for example, the ‘Dictatus papae’ in which Gregory VII (1073-1085) sanctioned the supremacy of the papal theocracy over any other power; the next ‘Deposition of Emperor Frederick II’ (1245); the letter which members of the British Parliament sent to Clement VII on the known and controversial marriage of King Henry VIII (1530); an autographed document of Michelangelo.
Also present were two findings in the middle between the archival and art: a letter on silk from Helen of China to Innocent X (1650) and a letter on birch bark of the American Indians to Leo XIII (1887). Also on display will be documents of the breach of Porta Pia and the unification of Italy.
Among the highlights of the exhibit, there are also the authentic and complete dossier of the trial of Galileo Galilei, including the indictments of the Holy Office, the documents of the prosecutor Robert Bellarmine, and the sentence and signed abjuration of the scientist from Pisa.