Thursday, September 1, 2016

ADSS 1.214: Spellman to Maglione - possible US representative to the Holy See

ADSS 1.214 Francis Spellman (New York) to Luigi Maglione, Sec State

Reference:  AES 9451

Location and date: New York, 25.10.1939

Summary statement: President Roosevelt and Spellman had discussed possibility of a US representative at the Holy See.  Suggested Myron Taylor or Breckinridge Long.

Language: Italian


From time to time during the last two years President Roosevelt has invited me to talk about various things, amongst which was the possibility of establishing diplomatic relations with the Holy See.

The President has always appeared well disposed towards doing everything possible to accomplish this project, and it seemed that the only difficulty was that of obtaining the support for this decision from the majority of the members of the Congress of the United States.  Although it is true that, according to the American constitutional procedure, the President can recognise a Government, Congress must approve the assignment of the necessary funds for the upkeep of a mission.

The first practical step towards the establishment of the proposed relations was taken on the occasion of the coronation of the Holy Father, Pius XII, when the President appointed Mr Joseph P Kennedy, United States Ambassador in Great Britain, as his Extraordinary Envoy for that propitious occasion (1).

Following along these lines, the President invited me to Washington yesterday, 24 October, and re-opened the discussion on this most important subject.  I place more than the usual importance on the fact that the President called me just at a time when he is so very busy.  But it transpired that the invitation was full of significance not only because of the particular time but more especially for the way the conversation was carried on: so cordial, unaffected, sincere and explicit.

My appointment with the President was for luncheon at one o’clock and I took this opportunity of being in Washington to pay my respectful regards to His Excellency, the Apostolic Delegate, Mons Cicognani (2).  I spent the night of 23 October in the Apostolic Delegation as a guest of His Excellency.

The President and I lunched alone.  The first thing the President inquired about was the health of the Holy Father.  I replied that, according to the news received by me, the Holy Father was in very good health although very saddened by the present world condition and fatigued because of his many important pre-occupations and by various heavy anxieties.  This information pleased the President and I took advantage of this conversation concerning the Holy Father to say the His Holiness had decided to speak on the radio at the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the foundation of the Catholic University. (3)

The fact is that the Rector of the Catholic University (4) had invited the President to participate in the celebration, and was disappointed because the President had not agreed.  As soon as the Rector knew that the President did not feel able to take part in this solemn celebration, he came to see me and ask me to beg the President to reconsider his decision, and to speak on the same programme with the Holy Father.

Although I do not like to assume duties other than those with which I am entrusted in consequence of my office, I consented to speak to the President.  He replied to my request willingly and sincerely that he would be very please to speak, and I communicated this to His Excellency, the Apostolic Delegate, and to the Rector of the Catholic University before leaving Washington for New York.

Then, the President began to talk about the subject of establishing relations with the Holy See. He repeated what he had already said to me, namely, that he was looking for a moment and occasion suitable for a persuasive appeal to the American people.  I replied that I agreed with him, and that is seemed to me that the present time and the existing circumstances were favourable and propitious.  I added that the theme could be the possibility of the Catholic Church’s co-operating with the United States in their common and similar aims, plans and wishes for world peace.

I said that the Holy Father’s speeches as Head of the Universal Church have the same theme and the same tone as the statements that he himself, the President, had made as head of the greatest democracy in the world.  I said to the President that I was conscious of the fact that he would be criticised by some ill disposed citizens, but that I did not think that at this time too much weight should be placed in what such people had to say.  I said that this would be an association of great moral forces for the good of mankind.  Continuing the conversation, the President said with a smile.  “I think that every moment brings us nearer to the conclusion of this matter’.  This gave me courage, and we continued the conversation as if the matter were already decided, and only the mode of procedure was to be discussed.

The President thought that if it proved possible to obtain the revision of the Neutrality Act, already being considered by Congress, and which should be completed during the month of November, then Congress would adjourn and would not be in Session again until 3 January [1940]. (5) He pointed out that during that period efforts could be made to appoint a special mission the Holy See, explaining as motive of his action his belief that such an association would be of great help to the peace of the world, as in effect it is.  The President also said that the mission could look after the problem of the refugees from all nations as well.

For the time being the relationship would consist of a mission of the United States Government to Rome accredited to the Holy See, without its being necessary that the mission of the Holy See in Washington should be recognised as an Apostolic Nunciature.  To supply funds for a special mission an Act of Congress is not required, but once the mission has been launched, if everything goes well, Congress could be induced more easily to vote the funds for a permanent mission.

We discussed the mission staff.  The President said that as head of the mission he had Mr Myron C Taylor in mind, a very distinguished American (6).  Mr Taylor is already very interested in the problem of refugees.  The President also mentioned the name of Mr Breckenbridge [sic] Long (7), who not long ago was the Ambassador of the United States Government in Italy.  Neither of these two gentlemen is Catholic; both are persons of great experience and culture.  I do not remember if My Taylor has any experience in the diplomatic service, but Mr Long is experienced and learned.  One of the other would, in my opinion, be suitable.  The Holy Father already knows Mr Taylor, having met him and also honoured him by visiting him at his home in New York. (8)

I said to the President that I was always ready to return to Washington to discuss this matter, but when he finally decided to act, the best procedure would be officially to advise His Excellency the Apostolic Delegate.

As I had the definite impression of considerable progress, I felt it my duty to report the details of the conversation to His Excellency the Apostolic Delegate, and I send this report to Your Eminence through the hands of His Excellency.  I add also that I asked for the President’s permission to present a report to the Holy See and he readily agreed adding that he wanted to send his sincere and affectionate regards to the Hoy Father, and to say that if a mission to the Holy See is arranged, as he sincerely hopes, one of the most important elements that would make it acceptable and accepted by the American people would be the wee-remembered, appreciated, historical and fruitful visit of the Holy Father to the United States when he was Cardinal Secretary of State.

(1) Joseph Patrick Kennedy (1888-1969), USA Ambassador to Britain 1938-40.
(2) Amleto Cicognani (1883-1973), Apostolic Delegate to the United States, 1933-59.
(3) 13.11.1939 Pius XII addressed a message to American Catholics on the occasion of the Golden Jubilee anniversary of the Catholic University of America in Washington DC.
(4) Joseph Corrigan (1879-1942), rector of the Catholic University of America 1936-42.  Corrigan had presented a “loyal address” to the President on 03.08.1939 when, possibly, the invitation to attend the Jubilee Celebrations was made.
(5) FDR addressed a message to Congress on 21.09.1939 asking for a revision of the Neutrality and Sale of Armaments Act.  The first Neutrality Act was passed in 1935 with revisions made in 1936 and 1937.  The 1939 Act was passed by Congress on 04.11.1939.  It repealed the previous Acts and allowed for a “cash and carry” provision with France and Britain.  The Neutrality Act was superseded by the Lend Lease Act of March 1941.
(6) Myron Charles Taylor (1863-1959), an industrialist with a special concern for refugees, he had represented the USA at the 1939 Evian Conference.  He was appointed the President’s Personal Representative to the Holy See on 22.12.1939.
(7) Samuel Miller Breckinridge Long (1881-1958), USA Ambassador to Italy 1933-36. In September 1939 FDR appointed him special assistant Secretary of State, a position he held until January 1940 when he was named Assistant Secretary of State.  He held a “hard line” on granting refugees visas for the USA and was criticised during the war years.

(8) I have not been able to verify this statement.

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