Pope Francis has named an Augustinian priest as the new prefect of the Vatican Apostolic Archive, which preserves Church documents dating back to the eighth century.

The Vatican announced on July 5 that Father Rocco Ronzani, a patristics professor from Rome, will serve as the head of what was formerly called the Vatican’s “secret archive.”

The Vatican Apostolic Archive contains 53 miles of underground shelving preserving documentation from historic papacies, ecumenical councils, conclaves, and Vatican nunciatures, or embassies worldwide.

Pope Leo XIII opened the archive to scholars in 1881. Qualified researchers can request permission to visit and view specific documents.

Many historians researching World War II have come to the Vatican’s underground stacks since 2020 when Pope Francis opened the archives of the Pontificate of Pius XII.

The Vatican archive also contains the original 1530 letter addressed to Pope Clement VII requesting permission for an annulment for King Henry VIII so that he could marry Anne Boleyn.

Pope Francis changed the name of the archive, which had been known as the Vatican Secret Archive since the 17th century, to the Vatican Apostolic Archive in 2019 to avoid the negative associations that accompany modern interpretations of the word “secret.”

As the new prefect, Ronzani succeeds Archbishop Sergio Pagano, who worked in the Vatican archives for 45 years, serving as prefect since 1997.

Pagano recently published a book titled “Secretum,” which describes some of the noteworthy historical “nuggets” documented in the archives from the Galileo trial to when Napoléon Bonaparte’s troops raided the Vatican archive in 1810.

The former prefect will take up a new role as the assessor for the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences.

Ronzani was born in Rome on Feb. 21, 1978. He entered the Order of St. Augustine in 1997 and was ordained a priest in 2004. He holds a doctorate in theology and patristic sciences from the Pontifical Patristic Institute Augustinianum in Rome, where he currently teaches.

He serves as a consultant to the Vatican Dicastery for the Causes of Saints and as the current director of the historical archives for the Augustinians’ Italian province.

Rev. Fr. George Nwachukwu