The Vatican and its archives

The Vatican is to be commended for its decision.

March 28, 2016 21:00
3 minute read.

The Vatican . (photo credit: REUTERS)


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 The Vatican has announced it will release documents pertaining to the years of the last military dictatorship in Argentina, between 1976 and 1983. The aim would be to shed some further light on the disappearance and murder of thousands of people under one of the most brutal regimes of the 20th century.

Staging a coup in March 1976 against an incompetent civilian government partly responsible for a state of anarchy in the country, the military went on to institute a reign of terror leading to the disappearance of thousands of people.

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The objective was to fight against the left-wing armed groups and their sympathizers, which had wreaked havoc on Argentina’s civic society.

The ultimate victims of the so-called dirty war, apart from the disappeared, were the rule of law, human dignity and the basic values enshrined in the so-called Judeo-Christian tradition.

The combination of left-wing armed groups, an incompetent and populist civilian government and a brutal military regime led Argentina to an abyss from which, in a sense, it is still trying to recover.

The Vatican is to be commended for its decision.

HOWEVER, A pertinent question arises which the Vatican can no longer elude: Why is the Vatican prepared to release documents on what transpired in Argentina 40 years ago, but still refusing to release documents related to the Holocaust, which occurred more than 70 years ago? Why is the Vatican ready to release documents on a dark period in Argentina’s history but still unwilling to do so with regard to the darkest period in human history? What makes the Argentinean case less problematic for the Vatican in this regard than the Holocaust? The refusal of the Vatican to release all the documents in its archives related to the Holocaust begs a simple question: Why? Historical archives are usually closed for a limited period. In Britain, for instance, historical archives are closed for 30 years. Only very sensitive material is not released thereafter.


Most democratic countries tend to follow, more or less, Britain’s example.

In the United States, documents may be released earlier by virtue of the Freedom of Information Act.

Even if we assume that the Vatican authorities might need a longer period for its own historical documents to be released, aren’t 70 years more than enough? The Vatican could emulate the British and decide that all its historical documents would be released following a period of X years, except very sensitive documents that might endanger the lives of individuals or put in danger the security of the Vatican as a sovereign entity.

Wouldn’t that be both reasonable and sensible? By not releasing all the available documents on the Holocaust, the Vatican exposes itself to the charge that it has something serious to hide. Why else would it refuse to share the relevant historical documents with the outside world? Totalitarian regimes do not open historical archives or do so in a very selective manner.

It is inconceivable that the Vatican would wish to emulate the example of such regimes, and certainly not under the current pontiff.

The release of all the documents related to the Holocaust would go a long way toward enhancing the image of openness that the current pontiff, Pope Francis I, has been endeavoring to promote.

Pope Francis I is rightly seen as an open and humane pontiff. The decision regarding the Vatican documents related to the period of the last military government in Argentina is a further proof of that.

Why not follow it by announcing the release of all the documents concerning the Holocaust? We would respectfully recommend Pope Francis I to do that or alternatively to explain why he can’t.

After all, is honesty less of a Christian virtue than silence?

The author is studying in the Diplomacy Studies Program at Tel Aviv University.

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