VATICAN CITY -- The Vatican will display 100 select documents from its Secret Archives at an unprecedented exhibit next year that includes previously unpublished papers from its World War II papacy.
"Lux in Arcana: The Vatican Secret Archives Revealed" opens in February at Rome's Capitoline Museums and marks the first time such precious documents, manuscripts and parchments have been allowed out of the Vatican vaults for view by the general public.
The occasion is the archive's 400th anniversary.
On view will be the acts of Galileo's trial for heresy as well as the letter from members of the British Parliament asking Pope Clement XII to annul the marriage of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon -- one of the key events that led to England's break with the Roman Catholic Church.
Organizers said some of the previously unseen documents concern the papacy of Pope Pius XII, accused by some of failing to do enough to stop the Holocaust. Those documents normally wouldn't have been released for another three or four years since Vatican librarians slowly catalog the archives in chronological order and are still working on Pius' papacy.
The Vatican's chief archivist, Monsignor Sergio Pagano, said visitors shouldn't expect to find anything that directly concerns Pius' role in the war in the upcoming exhibit but rather more "emotional" material about the period, such as a diary from a concentration camp.
Releasing selective documentation about the debate over his role in the war, Pagano said, would be "dishonest" since scholars won't have access to the full record.
But he said scholars could expect some "juicy" information when the archives are fully opened.
Asked to explain what he meant, Pagano said he knew the general "flavor" and "perfume" of the contents because he has overseen the cataloging for the past four years.
He said he believed the new documentation would show that Pius was "tormented" but that he also "did a lot to defend those who suffered all over the place, and did a lot not just during the war but after the war."
The Vatican insists Pius used quiet diplomacy to save Jewish lives and that speaking out more forcefully against the Nazis would have resulted in more deaths. Critics argue he could have and should have said and done more.
The Vatican has placed Pius on the path to possible sainthood despite opposition from Jewish groups and scholars who say the pope should wait until scholars have access to the full archives before rendering judgment about his sanctity.