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Conference on Pius XI Debates Papal Role in WWII

November 10, 2010

A two-day conference, “Pius XI and America,” recently brought international scholars to Brown to discuss newly released documents from the Vatican archives. They discussed the papacy of Pope Pius XI and his relationship with the United States and Nazi and fascist leaders in Europe.

Scholars who attended the conference came from Italy, Canada, England, Finland, and the United States. It was the third of three conferences since 2006, when current Pope Benedict XVI opened the Vatican pre-WWII archives. This conference was hosted by Provost David Kertzer and conducted in Italian and English. Kertzer is one of three scholars who initiated the network and the series of conferences.

Conference discussion focused on Pius XI, who led the church from 1922 until his death in 1939, the Holy See, and their relationship with the United States. Inevitably, comparisons were drawn between Pius XI and his successor Pius XII, around whom a good deal of controversy has swirled. Eugenio Pacelli, who became Pope Pius XII, served from 1930 until his elevation to the papacy in 1939 as the Secretary of State to Pius XI.

Among the key topics that the newly available documents shed a great deal of light on is Pius XI’s relationship with Pietro Tacchi Venturi, a Jesuit who served as the unofficial liaison between the pope and Benito Mussolini. The newly available documentation chronicles scores of one-on-one meetings between the pope’s emissary and Mussolini on a wide variety of topics.

The network of scholars around Pius XI was established in 2006 by Kertzer, Alberto Melloni, director of the Fondazione per le Scienze Religiose Giovanni XXIII in Italy, and Professor Hubert Wolf of University of Münster in Germany.

Conference attendees, drawn from this network, are all engaged in research in the newly opened archives, chronicling a dramatic period in European and world history. During the conference the scholars shared and discussed their works, including presentations by a number of graduate students who have been writing doctoral dissertations based on these materials.

Melloni delivered concluding remarks, summarizing the current body of work that has occurred since the first conference. He spoke specifically about the network, and about collaboration of the network with a group based at the Ecole Française de Rome.  

The two earlier conferences were held June 2009 in Milan and a March 2010 in Münster. Alberto Melloni was host of the second conference. Wolf, host of the first, could not attend this third conference.

By Watson Institute Student Rapporteur Brittaney Check ‘12