Actes et Documents du Saint Siège relatifs à la Seconde Guerre Mondiale (French for Acts and Documents of the Holy See related to the Second World War), often abbreviated Actes or ADSS, is an eleven-volume collection of documents from the Vatican historical archives, related to the papacy of Pope Pius XII during World War II.

The collection was compiled by four Jesuit priest-historians—Pierre Blet (France), Angelo Martini (Italy), Burkhart Schneider (Germany), and Robert A. Graham (United States)—authorized by Pope Paul VI in 1964, and published between 1965 and 1981.

The remainder of the documents from Pius XII's papacy may not be released for years; Bishop Sergio Pagano, the prefect of the Vatican Secret Archives announced in June 2009 that five or six years additional of preparation would be necessary to organize the papers, after which the decision to make further documents available to researchers will be the pope's.[1] The completed catalog would include approximately 16 million documents from Pius XII's papacy (1939-1958), divided into approximately 700 boxes related to the Cardinal Secretary of State and the various nunciatures.[2]


The collection is a rare exception to the Vatican's de facto seventy-five year rule for opening its archives, published in the aftermath of the controversial play, The Deputy, by Rolf Hochhuth.[3] The collection was intended to answer critics of Pius XII, such as Hochhuth, who alleged that the Pope had turned a blind eye to Nazi atrocities against Jews.[4] In particular, the editors presented a variety of documents which they claimed demonstrated the Pius XII had "protested" the various roundups of Jews; Phayer calls this the "spin" of the editors and bluntly states "there was no protest".[5]

According to Phayer, "when the editors of the Vatican's World War II documents did their work in the 1960s, the Holocaust was known to be a historical event, of course, but at that time, no body of knowledge about it existed. The editors, in a word, did not understand".[6]


Five of the eleven volumes deal with World War II, in chronological order.[7] Four volumes deal with the humanitarian activities of the Holy See during the war, also in chronological order.[7] One covers Pope Pius XII's letters to German bishops before and during the war.[7] The last encompasses documents pertaining to Poland and Baltic countries.[7]

None of the documents—mostly in Italian—were translated from their original language.[3] The introductions to the volumes and the brief descriptions preceding the documents are in French.[3] Only one volume has been translated into English. Because the third volume contains two books, the ADSS are sometimes incorrectly referred to as a twelve-volume collection.[8]

Inclusions and omissions

The editors describe the selected documents as a representative sample of Vatican activity during World War II; the four Jesuits claimed that only size constraints prevented them from publishing the full set of documents and that no new important revelations would accompany the eventual complete publication.[3]

Notable missing documents include most of the letters from Bishop Konrad von Preysing of Berlin to Pope Pius XII in 1943 and 1944, the papers of Austrian bishop Alois Hudal, and virtually everything appertaining to Eastern Europe save Poland and the Baltic.[9] For example, von Preysing was known to have sent many letters to Pius XII describing the unfolding situation in Germany and urging the pope to take a stronger and public stand; Pius XII's first response begins by noting his possession of "eight letters of 1943 and five letters of 1944", the first of which was sent in March 1943.[10]

According to the count of Australian historian Paul O'Shea, the ADSS contains 107 references to Jews prior to December 1942, and substantially more thereafter; a variety of other studies have extensively listed the data revieved by the Vatican on the nature and extent of the atrocities throughout Europe, as can be confirmed by the ADSS.[11]

The omissions also extend to Pius XII's correspondence with Ustaše leader Ante Pavelić and the involved Croatian clergy, including Archbishop Aloysius Stepinac, convicted of collaboration with the regime.[12] Reports from 1939, 1941, and 1942 detailing the progression of the deteriorating situation of Jews in Germany and the extent of the Holocaust have also not been included—documents that could confirm Pius XII's depth of knowledge about the atrocities suggested by his extant correspondence outside the ADSS.[13] The ADSS is also silent on the economic history of the papacy during the war, including whatever remains of the records of Bernardino Nogara.[14] The beginnings of the Holy See's emigration work (which began well before the war ended), including the Vatican's involvement in the "ratlines" for former Nazis, fascists, and war criminals is impossible to determine from the ADSS.[15]

Phayer has argued that the selection of the documents was intentionally misleading with respect to Poland: "singling out the letters of bishops Sapieha and Radonski, the editors sought in the introduction to volume three of Actes et Documents to build a drama around Pope Pius in which he would emerge from disrespect to respect".[16]

Phayer further argues that more recently declassified documents have cast doubt on the representativeness of the ADSS, stating that "the face of Pope Pius that we see in these documents is not the same face we see in the eleven volumes the Vatican published of World War II documents, a collection which, though valuable, is nonetheless critically flawed because of its many omissions".[17] According to him, "historians—as opposed to writers whose sole objective is to defend Pius XII—are not in agreement with the editors of Actes et Documents".[18]

In his article for the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano (April 29, 1998), Father Pierre Blet, the last surviving editor of the series, defended the integrity of the collection. "In the first place, it is not clear exactly how the omission of certain documents would help to exonerate Pius XII from the omissions alleged against him," Blet wrote.[19] "On the other hand, to say in peremptory tones that our publication is incomplete is tantamount to asserting what cannot be proved: to this end it would be necessary to compare our publication with the archives and show which documents in the archives are missing from our publication." Blet added that he and three other Jesuits "did not deliberately overlook any significant document, because we would have considered it harmful to the Pope's image and the Holy See's reputation."

The editors

The four Jesuit editors also wrote many articles derived from these primary sources, most of which were published in La Civiltà Cattolica, an Italian-language Jesuit journal.


Blet's Pius XII and the Second World War : According to the Archives of the Vatican (1999) represents his interpretation of what essential conclusions can be drawn from the eleven volume collection.


Robert A. Graham's research did not stop with the publication of the ADSS; he continued to seek out primary sources within and without the Vatican and interview contemporaries almost until his death.[20] He retired to California, taking his considerable body of records with him; this collection was made open to the public (although rarely actually used) until his death, at which point the Vatican had all the papers returned to Rome and sealed.[20]

Graham's work has not always been popular with secular historians. For example, Phayer states that "in his zeal to prop up Pope Pius, Graham completely overlooked the historical context".[21]


  1. AFP. 2009, July 7. "Secret Archives of Pius XII to remain closed for years".
  2. Zenit. 2009, July 2. "Five year timeline proposed for Pius XII archives".
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Sánchez, 2002, p. 29.
  4. Marchione, Margherita. Pope Pius XII: Architect for Peace. 2000, page 201
  5. Phayer, 2008, p. 80.
  6. Phayer, 2008, p. 17.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 Sánchez, 2002, p. 30.
  8. Rittner and Roth, 2002, p. 6.
  9. Michael Phayer. 2000. The Catholic Church and the Holocaust, 1930-1965. Indiana University Press. p. xvii.
  10. Phayer, 2008, p. 88.
  11. Phayer, 2008, p. 45.
  12. Phayer, 2008, pp. 10-11.
  13. Phayer, 2008, p. 30.
  14. Phayer, 2008, p. 102.
  15. Phayer, 2008, p. 244.
  16. Phayer, 2008, p. 32.
  17. Phayer, 2008, p. xi.
  18. Phayer, 208, p. 79.
  19. Blet, Pierre. "Myth vs. Historical Fact" L'Osservatore Romano, republished at Catholic Culture
  20. 20.0 20.1 Phayer, 2008, p. xiv.
  21. Phayer, 2008, p. 78.


  • Blet, Pierre. 1999. Pius XII and the Second World War : According to the Archives of the Vatican. New York : Paulist Press.ISBN 0809105039
  • Phayer, Michael. 2008. Pius XII, The Holocaust, and the Cold War. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press. ISBN 978-0-253-34930-9.
  • Ritner, Carol and Roth, John K. (eds.). 2002. Pope Pius XII and the Holocaust. New York: Leicester University Press. ISBN 0-7185-0275-2
  • Sánchez, José M. 2002. Pius XII and the Holocaust: Understanding the Controversy. Washington D.C.: Catholic University of America Press. ISBN 0-8132-1081-X.

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