Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Buffeted by History, Vatican Records Scattered

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Buffeted by History, Vatican Records Scattered

Article excerpt

A further complication for researchers is that, unlike how the papers of American presidents are preserved, no one saves the papers of individual popes.

Despite the Vatican's legendary reputation for centralization, the world's leading expert on its archives says they're actually far more scattered and, from a modern point of view, more disorganized than you might expect.

Professor Francis Blouin of the University of Michigan edited the most comprehensive guide to the Vatican archives, up to the point those records are open to researchers -- right now, 1922. As Blouin put it, "I'm the only one who's seen the whole thing."

A Catholic with an undergraduate degree from Notre Dame, Blouin was the man tapped by the U.S. government to look for evidence about assets looted by the Nazis should the Vatican open its archives from the war years. To date, that hasn't happened.

Blouin spoke to NCR in a telephone interview. He said that in talking about the "Vatican archives," people often have in mind the "secret archives" in Vatican City. In fact, however, the records of the Holy See are much more widely dispersed, reflecting the vicissitudes of its history.

The Archivio Segreto Vaticano does form the core of the Vatican's historical documents, Blouin said. But several Vatican offices do not deposit their records in these archives. They include the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Propaganda Fide (the Vatican's chief evangelization agency), and Fabricia St. Pietro (the curial office responsible for the upkeep of St. Peter's Basilica).

Blouin said he's "not sure why, historically" those records aren't in the archives. Given the centrality of the doctrinal office to much of church history, however, the fact that its records are not indexed with the main collection complicates research.

Other Vatican records ended up in Paris, Dublin or the trash because of Napoleon. When Napoleon created his empire, he decided to consolidate all of its records in Paris. French troops, therefore, carted the Vatican archives to the French capital. After Napoleon's downfall in 1815, about two-thirds of the material was returned. …

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