Spies in the Vatican: Espionage & Intrigue from Napoleon to the Holocaust

By Coppa, Frank J. | The Catholic Historical Review, July 2003 | Go to article overview

Spies in the Vatican: Espionage & Intrigue from Napoleon to the Holocaust


Coppa, Frank J., The Catholic Historical Review


Spies in the Vatican: Espionage & Intrigue from Napoleon to the Holocaust. By David Alvarez. (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas. 2002. Pp. ix, 341. $34.95.)

There are few studies in English, or any other language, of the surveillance operations and intelligence activities of the Powers at the Vatican. Alvarez's clearly written and concise volume fills that gap. Commencing with the Gallie espionage authorized by Napoleon in the early nineteenth century, it concludes with the covert operations of Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany during the traumatic events of World War II. In all, it delves into the spying operation against ten pontificates from that of Pius VII (1800-1823) through that of Pius XII (1939-1958). Concomitantly, it explores the Vatican's countervailing efforts at espionage and information gathering, including its political-diplomatic efforts until the collapse of the temporal power in 1870, and its increasingly religious-inspired search for information thereafter. In the process, the author provides an informative and interesting survey of diplomatic events in the last century and a half.

The narrative is not only lively but authoritative, based upon a broad spectrum of archival records and diplomatic documents from the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Spain, and the United States, among others. Alvarez has also mined the Archivio Segreto Vaticano (ASV) for the pontificates of the first eight popes examined, whose papers are presently open: Pius VII to Benedict XV (1914-1922), and has had access to some of the material from the still-closed papers of the pontificate of Pius XII. His close collaboration with Father Robert Graham, S.J., an authority on the diplomacy of the modern papacy in general and the wartime papacy in particular, proved invaluable in this regard. When the two co-authored Nothing Sacred: Nazi Espionage Against the Vatican, 1939-1945 (1997), Alvarez discovered that Graham, one of the four Jesuits allowed to examine and edit the wartime papers of Pius XII's pontificate-in this regard see the twelve-volume Actes et Documents du Saint Siege relatives a la Seconde Guerre Mondiale (1965-1981)-had privately gathered written records, memoirs, and oral reports on this period. …

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