Pope and Devil
The Vatican’s Archives and the Third Reich
by Hubert Wolf, translated by Kenneth Kronenberg
Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, $29.95, 336 pp.
Spurred by widespread criticism over the unavailability of its documents from the Nazi era, the Vatican in 2003 began to open secret archives to researchers, making public an array of material from the pontificate of Achille Ratti, who as Pius XI held office from 1922—the year of Mussolini’s march on Rome—to his death, in 1939, on the eve of World War II. The Vatican is now preparing to release documents from the pontificate of Ratti’s successor, Eugenio Pacelli, the wartime Pope Pius XII. According to the Vatican’s man-in-charge, Bishop Sergio Pagano, some 16 million such documents will eventually appear, but the work of cataloging and preparing them may take five years. As controversy continues to swirl about the proposed beatification of Pacelli, one wonders what these papers will reveal. Some idea of what we’re likely to learn—and what we’re not, as well—may be gleaned from Pope and Devil, Hubert Wolf’s excellent examination of the Pius XI archives.
A highly respected researcher, theologian, and Catholic priest, Wolf is perhaps best known for his work on the Index Prohibitorum Librorum, the list of prohibited books by which the church’s Inquisition clamped down, during the Counter-Reformation, on allegedly heretical thought. No stranger to the dark side of church history, and intimately familiar with ecclesiastical dogma, politics, and procedure, Wolf presents sensitive material with admirable evenhandedness, avoiding both apology and easy...