REVIEW: Article

New Pope: Any Change in US-Vatican Relations?

The United States (US) maintains full diplomatic relations with the Holy See, the government of the Roman Catholic Church. The head of the government of the Holy See is the Pope, who is also the Supreme Pontiff of the Church. The year 2005 witnessed the death of Pope John Paul II of Poland and the election of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany as reigning Pontiff. In July 2005, President George W. Bush nominated L. Francis Rooney, III, of Tulsa, Oklahoma as the United States Ambassador to the Holy See. With a new Pope and a new US Ambassador, are there any implications for the US-Vatican relationship?

The government of the Roman Catholic Church is basically a monarchy. In this type of government, the head has significant influence. The question naturally arises: will there be any change in the direction of the Vatican’s diplomatic positions vis-à-vis the United States under Pope Benedict XVI? In my opinion there will be no fundamental change. Diplomatic relations initiated by President Reagan in 1984 have been steady and predictable. This was not always the case.

Unsteady Contacts: 1776-1984

The relations between the United States and the Vatican for the first two centuries were unsteady. In the first year of the United States, the new republic had contacts with the Papal States. During that period, papal authority existed, per se, over the territory of central Italy. It was a fact. However, the recognition of this reality by the United States did not include any perception of the Holy See and the unique international personality of the Pope that transcended his role as the sovereign head of a state and the head of a church. The consular relations established by the United States in March 1797 with the Papal States, whose capital was in Rome, were reciprocated at the same consular level in 1826 when the Papal States established a consulate in New York City. President James Polk proposed in 1848 that the United States extend formal de jure recognition to the Papal States and appointed a Chargé d’Affaires. An extensive debate then took place in the Senate on whether or not this should be done. The strong advocates wanted the US representative to have the full rank of minister plenipotentiary. While there was a compromise in sending in the first instance a Chargé d’Affaires, the appointment acknowledged formal de jure recognition by the US of the Papal States as a member of the community of nations.

Mr. Jacob I. Martin presented his credentials to Pope Pius IX in Rome on August 19, 1848. Seven days later, on August 26, he died of malaria. Mr. Martin was in a certain sense the first representative of the United States government accredited to the Pope and to any government in Italy.[1] More than 100 years after he was buried in Rome, his grave was located in the Protestant cemetery. In 1990, I participated in the ceremony of placing the gravestone on the plot of land where he was buried.

Mr. Martin was followed in a period of nineteen years by five other diplomats. They were: Lewis Cass, Jr., 1849-1858; John P. Stockton, 1858-1861; Alexander W. Randell, 1861-1862; Richard M. Blatchford, 1862-1863; and Rufus King, 1863-1867.

Rufus King was the last minister resident to the Papal States. He left his post in August 1867. Beginning in that year, it would not have been possible to fund such a diplomatic post, as Congress in that year prohibited the financing of any diplomatic post to the Papal States. Furthermore, with the incorporation of the Papal States into Italy, the United States would not have had a basis for its recognition, since control of territory was an intrinsic part of its original recognition of the Papal States. The international personality role of the Holy See and the unique role of the Pope himself at that time were not part of the act of US recognition.

For 72 years (1867-1939), there was no official diplomatic contact between the Papacy and the United States. This changed in 1939. This is a case in which one man—the President—played a significant role in establishing a new precedent. He was Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Roosevelt’s Appreciation of the Vatican’s Role

The attractiveness of Roosevelt’s domestic policies to many American Catholics was matched by the openness by which he approached the worldwide Catholic Church. President Roosevelt welcomed Eugenio Cardinali Pacelli, Vatican Secretary of State at the time (and later Pope Pius XII) in 1936. The papal visitor was the guest of President Roosevelt at his ancestral home in Hyde Park, New York. Cardinal Pacelli and President Roosevelt discussed ways whereby the Vatican and the United States could cooperate. Rather than being “turned off” by Roman Catholic traditions like several of his predecessors, especially President Wilson, Roosevelt was intrigued by the broad geopolitical interests of the Roman Catholic Church. He was close to Monsignor John Ryan, Professor at the Catholic University of America, who was the great advocate of the Social Security program launched by President Roosevelt. He was comfortable with the Catholic clergy.

Later, when Cardinal Pacelli became Pope in March 1939, President Roosevelt sent Joseph Kennedy, then US Ambassador to England, as a special representative of the United States to the Papal Coronation. Roosevelt gave many signals that he wanted a close relationship with the leadership of the worldwide Catholic Church in Rome. He did this realizing that there were still patches of anti-Catholicism in the United States.

Roosevelt also realized that there were significant questions among influential Americans about what kind of relationship the United States should have with the Vatican. Even among some of his friends, he witnessed strong anti-Catholicism. He feared this would hinder his project of establishing diplomatic relations between the Vatican and the United States. He consequently devised a procedure that would allow him to avoid seeking the consent of the US Senate for a government-to-government relationship. Section II, Article 2 of the US Constitution requires the Senate to confirm the President’s nomination of ambassadors.

President Roosevelt announced on December 24, 1939, that he intended to send a special representative to the Pope. He selected a unique time to make this announcement. It was Christmas Eve, and World War II had already started in Europe. The same arrangement also included the news that he would establish contacts with the leaders of the Protestant and Jewish faiths. These special appointments did not require Senate approval. The important aspect of the announcement was the decision to send an envoy to the Vatican. His announcement of seeking contacts at the same time with the leaders of the other faiths was something of a cover for the real purpose.[2]

There was considerable opposition in the United States to Roosevelt’s appointment. But since the appointment did not require Senate approval, there was no way to focus a national campaign against it. Some of the opposition was rooted in sincere concern about the constitutional implication of the appointment. Many did not understand the role of the Pope as a world leader, or as a sovereign head of the Holy See, which included the Vatican City State.

And there was a clear case of unabashed anti-Catholicism. Catholics were still a minority in the United States. Furthermore, many of them were either the first or second generation of immigrants. In addition to being a minority, Catholics were also insignificant in terms of wealth. In 1939, Catholics were not members of the American political-power establishment.

President Roosevelt was able to handle the opposition of all groups, because the growing war clouds in Europe diverted the attention of the public to more pressing events—and, again, the appointment did not require the consent of the Senate. Consequently, there was no public forum to debate the merits of President Roosevelt’s action.

Once he arrived in Rome, Myron Taylor was always treated as an Ambassador representing the United States government. In those difficult times, the Holy See was pleased to welcome him as the representative of the powerful President of the United States. Taylor’s ten years as his country’s diplomatic envoy covered the World War II years. He had easy access to the Pope and top Vatican officials. His office was a source of invaluable information to the United States. It is still a remarkable fact that in the middle of World War II, the United States had a major operational and intelligence-gathering center in Rome. Ambassador Taylor was able to influence the Holy See to immediately recognize in 1945 the danger of Soviet Communist expansion. This led to a long period of cooperation between the United States and the Holy See on fighting the expansion of Communism in Europe and in other parts of the world.

The records of Myron Taylor’s activities in Rome during World War II have not all been available for public inspection either in US archives or in the archives of the Vatican. One very persistent report that I was not able to verify was that the Japanese government in 1945 was in contact with the Vatican to see if Pope Pius XII could serve as an intermediary to arrange a cessation of hostilities between Japan and the Allies.Little interest, the reports state, was indicated by Mr. Taylor in the Japanese efforts for a negotiated cessation of hostilities. President Roosevelt was determined to obtain unconditional and total surrender of both the Japanese and the Germans. Roosevelt’s unconditional-surrender doctrine was not consistent with the Vatican’s just-war beliefs. It was these same fundamental values that were present when the Vatican opposed US military-related actions in Iraq in 1991 and 2003.

President Truman’s Nomination of General Clark

Following Myron Taylor’s retirement in 1949, President Harry Truman waited until 1951 to name a successor. He then made the decision to do what President Roosevelt did not do. President Truman nominated General Mark Clark as the first Ambassador to the Vatican. Here again, the emphasis in President Truman’s nomination was on the independ­ence of the Vatican City State. It was not related to the very specific role of the Pope as head of the Holy See and the worldwide Catholic community.

This action came after 83 years of no official government-to-government diplomatic representation of the US government with the Holy See. The last diplomatic representative of the United States government to the Papal States had left Rome in 1870. Myron Taylor was the personal representative of the President to the Pope and thus had no formal government position. He could speak for the President but could not speak for or commit the United States government.

Some thought that President Truman’s decision came after careful analysis of the mood of the country. Others commented that he was interested in influencing the Catholic vote in the 1952 elections.

In any case, opposition to the nomination mounted quickly, and it was more intense than President Truman had expected. Hundreds of US citizens wrote letters to their local newspapers on this subject. The majority were opposed to the appointment. Some of the letters to local newspapers were full of anti-Catholic trivia. Anti-Catholicism was still a serious political consideration in the 1950s. While there was some question about the qualification of General Clark for the post, others were strongly opposed to the “recognition” by the US government of a “church.” While it is true that the concept of the sovereignty of the Holy See rather than the independence of the Vatican City State was not clearly explained, a major obstacle to the confirmation was bitter anti-Catholicism.

The National Council of Churches declared the nomination to be a “threat to basic American principles” and formally asked President Truman to cancel the nomination. The issue aroused such emotion that the ecumenically based National Council of Christians and Jews expressed public concern that the proposed appointment was energizing bitter interdenominational feelings. The failure of the Clark nomination was caused by three factors, including the lack of groundwork by President Truman’s staff and the desire of General Clark to maintain his military rank.

But the high pitch of religious opposition—some based on honest concern about the separation of church and state, and the rest mainly on religious prejudice—was a major factor in the defeat. President Truman and the staff misjudged the character of the opposition. Strong mainstream Protestant groups still had prejudices against Catholicism. The opposition was from the center of American political life, not just from religious extremes. Proposals opposed by the American political center normally are not adopted. The attempt by President Truman was out of the mainstream. He was not able to duplicate the success of Franklin Roosevelt. In the early 1950s, I was a student at the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. I observed a major rally opposed to this appointment. There were even vulgar signs attacking the Pope.

Return to the Personal Representative

In 1952, President Truman had decided not to submit the Clark nomination to the formal confirmation process. It would have been defeated if it had been submitted. Another eighteen years would expire before a US President would attempt to name any kind of a senior diplomat to the Holy See. There was no diplomatic representative in the Administra­tions of Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson. These three Presidents all had contacts with the Vatican but on an ad hoc basis.

President Nixon broke the long interregnum in 1969 and appointed Henry Cabot Lodge as his personal representative to the Pope. Mr. Lodge, a former US Senator, had the courtesy title of “Ambassador,” as he had served as US Ambassador to the United Nations, Vietnam and Germany. Ambassador Lodge assumed his part-time responsibilities on June 6, 1970, and served until July 6, 1977. Vietnam, the spread of independence in Africa and Cuba were among the major topics that Ambassador Lodge took up with Vatican officials.

Ambassador Lodge was enthusiastic about the benefits to the United States of even “part-time” diplomatic relations between the two powers. His enthusiasm was passed on to the members of the Reagan planning team in the early days of his Administration.

Shortly after his inaugural, President Carter filled the appointment quickly, and David Walters served as the personal representative of the President from July 6, 1977, until August 18, 1978. This brief period of service was followed by President Carter’s appointment of a well-known political figure, Robert F. Wagner, former mayor of the City of New York, on November 28, 1978. He served as a personal representative of the President until 1981 and devoted many efforts to the problems of United States Embassy hostages in Iran. These appointments, with the exception of Walters, were from the US political establishment which helped to deflect opposition from those opposed to the Catholic connection.

Last Personal Representative

President Ronald Reagan continued the practice of naming a personal representative to the Pope. Within a few weeks of his election in November 1980, he announced that he would name William A. Wilson of California to that position. He would soon emerge as the second US President who would be a significant factor in bringing the United States and the Holy See together in a closer diplomatic relationship.

A long time friend and associate of Ronald Reagan, Ambassador Wilson assumed his duties in early 1981. It soon became apparent that he would devote considerable time and attention to a position that many in the Department of State regarded as “part-time.”

Although it is noteworthy now, in light of President Reagan’s subsequent decision to upgrade the diplomatic post to Ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary of the US government, it was not immediately noticed that the State Department was giving the Personal Representative more support than his predecessors received. Furthermore, President Reagan’s support for a significant diplomatic presence at the Holy See was soon evident. President Reagan’s very important meeting with Pope John Paul II on June 7, 1982, established the groundwork for US-Vatican cooperation in ending Communist control, first in Poland and then in the rest of Eastern Europe. In the Reagan term of office, General Vernon Walters, visited the Pope several times a year and briefed him on Soviet matters. Soon after my arrival as Ambassador in 1989, a senior Vatican official informed me that General Walters was always welcome at the Vatican. Several visits took place during my tenure.

Within a year of the President’s inaugural, it became known that the national security advisor, Mr. William Clark, was making a study of the matter of diplomatic relations with the Holy See. The study and consultations took around three years. The Senate was consulted, and the leaders of the various religious communities were asked for their opinions. Given the recent history of the contemporary controversies that surrounded President Roosevelt’s nomination of a personal envoy in 1939, and President Truman’s failed attempt to nominate an Ambassador of the United States for Senate approval, the Reagan Administration moved carefully on this project.[3] In a meeting that I had with Cardinal Casaroli after he retired and several months before he died, he told me how favorably impressed he was with the way President Reagan orchestrated the establishment of diplomatic relations with the Holy See.

Decisive Role of President Reagan

President Ronald Reagan on January 10, 1984, announced the establishment of formal diplomatic relations with the Holy See. The 1984 announcement by President Reagan, gave full recognition to the unique international sovereign role of the Pope and his government, not only in the Vatican City State but also throughout the world where the Pope and his government exercised their spiritual and political authority. There was no equivocation in this announcement. The United States was extending full recognition for the first time to the government of the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. President Reagan like Franklin Roosevelt in the late 1930s and early 1940s became a strong and powerful advocate of strong ties with the Vatican.

The study conducted by the National Security Council at the request of President Reagan indicated strong bipartisan and ecumenical support for the establishment of diplomatic relations and clearly established its legitimacy, in terms of the United States Constitution and international law. However, there was opposition to the move within the Department of State. Secretary of State George Schultz had serious reservations about the proposal. Both Presidents Reagan and Roosevelt had strong opposition from the Department of State to their actions for stronger ties with the Vatican.

But the White House support was led by President Reagan and the Security Council; Judge William Clark, national security advisor, General Alexander Haig, who had preceded Schultz as Secretary of State, and William Casey, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, were strong supporters of the proposed diplomatic recognition. Ambassador William Wilson was in many ways the quarterback of the campaign. His close friendship with Ronald Reagan gave him easy access to the President. When the recognition project was held up by the Department of State in the fall of 1983, Mr. Wilson fought hard to get it moving. When finally he couldn’t do that, he personally appealed to President Reagan. Following Ambassador Wilson’s personal appeal in December 1983, President Reagan made his decision to proceed with the appointment. He did this in less than 30 days.

In the announcement of January 10, 1984, President Reagan simultaneously nominated William A. Wilson, who had been serving as his personal envoy, as the first US Ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary to the Holy See. He was to be the Ambassador of the United States with full ambassadorial powers, and he was to be accredited to the Holy See, not to the Vatican City State. Theoretically, the Holy See, the government of the Roman Catholic Church, could move its location from the Vatican City State, and its international personality would remain.

The fairly rapid confirmation of Ambassador Wilson surprised some observers. His confirmation was not so much an examination of his credentials as a review of fundamental constitutional issues of church and state. It was also a test of ecumenical relationships. The 1951 nomination of General Mark Clark by President Truman, only 33 years before, had energized deep anti-Catholic feelings. It had been feared that this could occur again.

In fact, the stinging defeat of the 1951 attempt to name an Ambassador to the Holy See had been followed nine years later in 1960 by the first Roman Catholic President, John F. Kennedy, who bluntly stated his opposition to such a move.

I believe that the separation of church and state is fundamental to our American concept and heritage and should remain so. I am flatly opposed to the appointment of an Ambassador to the Vatican. Whatever advantages it might have in Rome, and I am not convinced of these, they would be more than offset by the divisive effects at home.[4]

President Kennedy continued his total opposition to any diplomatic contact with the Holy See by not even following the tradition of naming a special envoy. Vatican officials told me how shocked their predecessors were by this action of the Kennedy Administration. At no time, they told me, did any member of the Kennedy Administration give a rationale for the coldness that existed toward the Holy See.

The Reagan staff, aware of these past failures and circumstances, made extensive studies of the subject. This review included the power of the President. Section II, Article 2 of the Constitution defines the President’s authority to nominate diplomatic officials and the responsibility of the Senate to give its consent. There never was any question in the mind of President Reagan’s counsel that the President had the power to recognize the Holy See as an international personality and thus to nominate an ambassador of the United States to represent the government and to receive an ambassador from the Holy See.

A big question was rooted in domestic politics. The opposition to the action of Truman was in many ways vicious. The only Catholic President, John F. Kennedy, would not even review that proposal. In fact, he blocked an attempt to reopen the matter. It may be that the first Catholic President felt that he should absolutely avoid any appearance of favoritism toward the Church.

The legal situation had not changed in the 1980s, but the domestic political climate had. Dr. Billy Graham stated publicly that he saw a significant difference in the national Protestant attitude. There was still opposition, but not as vehement as it had been thirty years previously. The public anti-Catholicism manifested in the 1950s with the nomination of General Clark was not acceptable thirty years later with the nomination of William Wilson.

First Steps by Reagan

Once he was convinced that the nomination of an ambassador to the Holy See was constitutional and in the national interest of the country, President Reagan approved a move to void the 1868 law which prohibited the expenditure of public funds for an Embassy to the Vatican. This action was successful. The relative ease with which this action took place reassured the Reagan White House about proceeding with their project.

The administration, now ready to initiate the process, approached the Holy See. President Reagan took advantage of being in the same hotel with Cardinal Casaroli, then Secretary of State for the Holy See, at the 100th anniversary convention of the Knights of Columbus in September 1982 in Hartford, Connecticut, and informed Cardinal Casaroli of the US intentions. Mindful of the embarrassment caused by Truman’s ill-fated under-taking in 1951 and the strong opposition of Kennedy in 1960, Cardinal Casaroli received the information politely but without much comment. He may have been fearful that anti-Catholicism was still a strong factor in American politics. Cardinal Casaroli and his advisors refrained from saying anything publicly about the possibility of establishing diplomatic relations. They were frankly dubious, in view of the recent past, that it could be done.[5] They were not the only ones. Many Washington observers said that recognition of the Holy See by the United States would never happen.

January 10, 1984

Once the announcement was made on January 10, 1984, that the United States would establish diplomatic relations with the Holy See, and that the President would nominate William A. Wilson to serve as the first Ambassador, the opposition became public. The announcement implied the acceptance of the international law principle that the Holy See is a bona fide international personality. Thus, the announcement by President Reagan acknowledged the papacy as a religious organ with international rights and duties. This was not a qualified recognition of the Vatican City State. In previous times it would have caused a firestorm of protest. But it immediately became evident, both in tone and substance, that there had been a major change in domestic US political opinion. There was some opposition, however. The opposition in the 1984 hearings fell into three groups:

  1. Those who sincerely doubted the constitutionality of the action.
  2. Those who exhibited clear anti-Catholic prejudice.
  3. Catholics opposed to the nomination for fear that the US government would use official pressure to influence religious and/or state and/or church decisions of the Vatican.

Legal Challenges

As soon as the Senate approved (by a landslide vote) the establishment of full diplomatic relations with the Holy See and the nomination of William A. Wilson as the first US Ambassador, several legal suits were initiated. Their purpose was to have the courts declare the action to be null and void. The suits were not taken seriously by the courts, and they were all dismissed.[6] No legal action was initiated when I was nominated as the third US Ambassador. This was true for my successors.

Stable Relationship Since Reagan

Once fully established by President Reagan in 1984, diplomatic relations have remained at the same high level of full cordiality.

Ambassador William Wilson served as Ambassador until 1986. He was succeeded by Frank Shakespeare who served until 1989.

I was nominated by newly elected President George H.W. Bush in the spring of 1989 and served until the spring of 1993. President Bush was very supportive of diplomatic relations with the Holy See. On several issues he gave his personal attention. On November 8, 1991, during my tenure as Ambassador, President Bush had a very successful visit with Pope John Paul II. I was sensitive to the prohibition of any involvement with “church” matters. On one occasion, for example, when a US woman came to my office directly from the Rome airport with a confidential letter to the Pope in regard to a US priest being considered for an appointment as Bishop, I stopped her from continuing the conversation with me. I simply said that as the US Ambassador I could not discuss this matter with her. I returned the unopened envelope.

There were many clerical visitors to my office. I instructed the staff to treat every clergyperson, Cardinal, Rabbi, and Protestant minister, with the same courtesy and respect.

While my four years as Ambassador were full of many events that affected US-Vatican relations, one experience that involved three words remains forever in my mind. After I completed the official ceremonies of presenting my credentials on October 1, 1989, I, in a personal meeting with Pope John Paul II in his study-office, inquired at the end if I should informally ask my government to explore more thoroughly the background to the attempted assassination of him on May 13, 1981. There are many theories of who was behind the plot of 1981. Seven years later I said to the Pope that we should find out who initiated the plot to kill him. His reply, which came several seconds after my comment, was a simple, “No, not now.”

Less than a year before he died, Pope John Paul II indicated in his last book that the attempted assassination was an organized plot. He, in fact, challenged the world to find out who initiated the conspiracy to kill him.[7]

President Bill Clinton’s eight years as President (1993-2001) saw two Ambassadors at the Vatican—former Boston Mayor Raymond Flynn and Corinne “Lindy” Boggs.

Although there were some differences in the position of the United States and the Vatican at the United Nations Conference on Population and Development held in Cairo in 1994, as well as some distancing by the Vatican during President Clinton’s personal problems, the formal aspects of relations remained intact. Mrs. Boggs of Louisiana was the fifth Ambassador to the Holy See. Having served nine terms in the House of Representatives, she was well known in government circles. A greatly beloved lady, she was very active in representing the US in the festivities of 2000 when millions of pilgrims were in Rome for the celebrations.

President George W. Bush nominated R. James Nicholson as the sixth US Ambassador to the Holy See in 2001. One of the major events in Ambassador Nicholson’s tenure was the Iraq war. Despite the differences between the United States and the Holy See on this war, there were numerous other instances of convergence. Ambassador Nicholson was in Rome waiting to present his credentials when the terrorists attacked the United States on September 11, 2001. While the military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq were to occupy much of his time, the US Embassy, under his leadership, took a very active role in alerting the world to the evils of human trafficking.

President George W. Bush called on Pope John Paul II twice during his tour. Another emphasis was on the challenges of poverty and food distribution in Africa.

Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict is the product of two strong papal leaders. It was Pope Paul VI who recognized his leadership qualities and facilitated his systematic rise in the hierarchy. It was known soon after Pope John Paul II took over the helm of leadership that Cardinal Ratzinger would be appointed to the key position as Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith.

Ratzinger’s fate, in my opinion, was determined during the ceremonies at the funeral of Pope John Paul II. While there were some who advocated a less high profile papacy, it was clear that as the voting started at the conclave, the electors were not going back to previous periods of leadership. A Cardinal fluent in languages with a commanding personality would be invited to take the leadership position.

Pope Benedict has moved rapidly. He is continuing and expanding the dialogue with the Orthodox communities. Plans are now being discussed for papal trips to Serbia and Russia, two countries where the Orthodox faith is the predominant religion.

He is now searching for a new diplomat to head the Vatican mission to the United States. He was a strong supporter of the late Pope on his opposition to the Iraq war. Two influential US Cardinals, McCarrick of Washington, DC and Moida of Detroit, had submitted the required resignation upon turning 75. They are both strong, executive type leaders, and have been asked by the Pope to remain in their positions for the next several years.

In predicting the direction of US-Holy See relations with the new Pope, the one factor that is clear is that the new occupant of the papal chair is a strong determined executive leader. His style will be different from his predecessor. Pope Benedict is very well organized and is now staffing his immediate staff with efficient and effective assistants.

On a personal note, this is the first time that a Pope was at one time a prisoner of war of the United States. This occurred in the summer of 1945 where the 18-year-old Ratzinger fled his German military unit and was classified as a prisoner of war by US forces in Bavaria. His close ties with US Church leaders will play a role in maintaining close diplomatic ties between the two powers.

There was an attempt by some US Catholics to involve the then Cardinal Ratzinger in the 2004 political campaign. Their goal was to obtain a strong official position that Catholic politicians who support abortion rights should not receive Holy Communion. He kept his distance from that group and the American Catholic Church stayed out of an intense US political campaign.

Informal discussions are underway in the Vatican for Pope Benedict to visit the United States. This visit would certainly include a visit to the United Nations as the Vatican remains committed to strengthening the organization.

The election of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as the 265th Pope on April 19, 2005, was no surprise to Vatican observers. Following his studies in Germany, and his ordination as a priest in 1951, he rose rapidly in the hierarchy of the Church. Once named Archbishop of Munich by Pope Paul VI in 1977, he, within a few months, was named a Cardinal.

When I arrived in Rome as the US Ambassador in 1989, Cardinal Ratzinger was serving as Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. He had been appointed to this position in 1981 by Pope John Paul II. While this is a very key position in the government of the Church, I soon realized that he was the key adviser to the Pope on overall policy. He was the “big picture” adviser who had the total confidence of Pope John Paul II.

The election in April 2005, on the third ballot, represented a very orderly transfer of authority from John Paul II to Cardinal Ratzinger now Pope Benedict XVI. My meetings with him left me with one clear memory: a highly competent, gracious and generous man. He started his reign at 78 and most likely will not be in the service of the Church as long as John Paul II.

Pope Benedict in his first few months in office clearly indicated that he will continue the worldwide leadership role of his predecessor. A new US Ambassador, L. Francis Rooney, III, has assumed his position. The years 2005 and 2006 will be ones to watch.

American Catholics are maturing in their acceptance of the fact that they are part of a universal church. Policies will be decided by the Pope and his staff based on the universal teachings and not on local politics.

The strong relationship between these two powers will continue. It is a unique relationship; the world’s only superpower and the world’s greatest organized moral authority. The unsteady contacts that characterized the US-Papal relationship from 1776-1984 was forever changed on January 10, 1984, when President Reagan established full diplomatic relations with the Holy See.

[1] See Thomas Patrick Melady, The Ambassador’s Story. (Huntington, Ind., 1994). Chapter III, pp. 41-43.

[2] See Melady, The Ambassador’s Story, pp. 44-45.

[3] See Melady, op cit., pp. 44-49.

[4] Committee on Foreign Relations, United States Senate, February 1, 1984, p. 20.

[5] See Melady, op cit., Chapters IV and V.

[6] See Melady. op cit., Chapter IV, pp 50-53.

[7] Pope John Paul II. Memory and Identity. Rizzoli International: New York, 2005.

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