At this very moment I am watching History 2. On this channel is a series of shows dedicated to giving the viewer an inside look at the Vatican. One of these episodes was dedicated to the Vatican Secret Archives. With this episode came the usual speculation. What historical documents are hidden in the archives? If people were allowed unlimited access, what secrets would they find? What might the Catholic Church be hiding to a I have had many discussions with both Catholics and non-Catholics about the Vatican Secret Archives. Many want to know if I, as a fairly well-informed Catholic, know what secrets are hidden in the archives. Others want to know, for instance, why the documents of St. John Paul II aren’t accessible. Still others want to know why one must get approval to view certain documents. Why aren’t the archive’s contents accessible to all?
It’s really quite simple. First of all, the Secret Archives is not called such because it contains certain information which the Church is trying to conceal. If the Church really wanted to conceal information, wouldn’t destroying it be a better way to do it? Why simply store this info in a massive bunker, and then refuse to allow people to see it? Especially when so much negative info on the Church is already stored and made accessible by the Church?
Second of all, the personal writings of a pope are kept locked up for a minimum of 75 years after the pontiff’s death. I don’t know for sure why this is, but it may be due in part to objectivity. Even with documented evidence it can be difficult for people who know the pope personally to be objective about him. Supporters may tend to ignore negative evidence; and detractors may ignore evidence that lends support to the pope’s actions and decisions.
One should also keep in mind that all the writings of a deceased pontiff must be gone through very, very thoroughly. The Vatican Secret Archives is horribly understaffed. This makes a difficult job much more difficult. So it takes time to release documents related to a deceased Roman Pontiff.
Thirdly, the Vatican only grants approval to a select number of people because they are dealing with very important documents. Not everyone is a fan of the Catholic Church. Too often our opponents attempt to distort the Church’s Teachings. Many still resort to falsifying what our own documents actually say. This is easy to do with documents in the Secret Archives. So few people gain access that it would be easy to lie about what is in the documents.
Here again, it helps to remember that the archives is sadly understaffed. It takes these handful of employees time to answer all the requests. Then, they have to limit how many people are admitted, because these few workers could not watch a large number of people. To protect so many documents would be nearly impossible with a large number of guests.
Before we go criticizing the Church over the Secret Archives, let us keep what has just been said in mind. Let us be logical and reasonable about it. Do you criticize museums for being a bit selective on who they allow in their archives? It’s not like everyone gets in there for free! Let us also remember that the word “secret”, as it is used in the Vatican Secret Archives, doesn’t refer to information the Church wishes to hide. It refers simply to important information. This information is massive, and it is difficult for such a small staff to categorize and watch over it.
Peace in Christ,
David J. Pollard
American Catholic Solidarity