ROME (AP) – A 1938 diary written near the end of Pope Pius XI’s papacy confirms his opposition to fascism was hardening as the outbreak of World War II grew closer, a historian said Tuesday after examining documents in the Vatican’s just-opened secret archives.

The diary quoted Pius as saying, “‘I won’t be afraid. I prefer to beg for alms”‘ than to give into pressures from Italian dictator Benito Mussolini’s fascist regime, said French historian Philippe Chenaux.

The diary was written by Monsignor Domenico Tardini, a top aide who served as Pius XI’s foreign minister, and was based on Tardini’s private conversations with the pontiff in September 1938. That was just before the Munich conference, which became a symbol of Western Europe’s futile attempt to appease Hitler.

The Vatican opened the archive Monday to scholars, allowing them access to millions of documents from Pius XI’s pontificate, which lasted from 1922 to February 1939.

Chenaux said Tardini quoted Pius XI as uttering the alms quote after being informed that Mussolini’s regime had prohibited Italian newspapers from reporting on articles in the Vatican’s official newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano.

The diary also indicated that Pius XI was determined to oppose the 1938 anti-Jewish laws enacted by Mussolini’s regime, Chenaux said in a telephone interview.

Entries “showed the great firmness of Pius XI. He wasn’t afraid” to oppose both fascism and Nazism, said Chenaux, who is a professor of church history at the Pontifical Lateranense University in Rome and a biographer of wartime Pope Pius XII.

Many scholars and researchers had predicted the archives would yield fresh evidence that Pius XI took a harsher stance against the German and Italian regimes at the end of his papacy.

Initially, the pope had been supportive of far-right regimes, considering them a bulwark against liberal secularism and communism, which were viewed by the church as attacking traditional national and family values.

But by the mid-1930s, Pius had realized the dangers of totalitarianism, due to the growing persecution of Jews and minorities, said Emma Fattorini, a contemporary history professor at Rome’s La Sapienza University who is also studying the newly released files.

The archive is starting to yield insights into the church’s reactions to the growing persecution of Jews in Europe.

For years, the Vatican has struggled to defend Pius XII, who had served as a Vatican diplomat in Germany before becoming Pius XI’s secretary of state, against claims he did not do enough to save Jews from the Holocaust.

Pius XI had commissioned an encyclical denouncing racism and the violent nationalism of Germany. But he died before releasing it and it has never been made public.

Researchers said it could take months to study the 30,000 bundles of documents in the archives.

Three years ago, the Vatican made available documents from the offices of the papal nuncios in Berlin and Munich during the Pius XI papacy in a bid to deflect criticism from Jewish groups and others that the Vatican was silent in the face of the Holocaust.

The Vatican has insisted Pius XII used discreet diplomacy that saved thousands of Jews.

Associated Press Writer Ariel David contributed to this report.

AP-ES-09-19-06 1802EDT

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