Saturday, October 02, 2010

Vatican Diplomatic Policy: the Early Inter-War Years - an Irish Perspective

The nuncio Eugenio Pacelli visits the Opel Factory in Rüsselsheim, Germany 19th October1928

Primary sources of history have to be read in context.

There can be bias and/or simplification of events or viewpoints.

Often they merely reflect one individual opinion on events.

Such reports may not be wholly accurate or complete.

Reports might be used to enhance the writer`s own image or importance. One should always try to evaluate the amount or direction of bias.

With these caveats in mind the website entitled Documents on Irish Foreign Policy is worth more than a look as a new collection of Irish Foreign Policy documents from 1923 to 1932 becomes available free online

A search of the word "Vatican" reveals a plethora of interesting documents.

One document caught my attention. It is an extract from a Memorandum by Charles Bewley in Rome to Joseph B Walshe in Dublin on 12 March 1932 on the policy of the Holy See in international relations at that time.

Charles Henry Bewley (July 12, 1888, Dublin – 1969, Rome) was to say the least a rather strange character. He was appointed Irish ambassador to the Vatican (resident minister to the Holy See) in 1929. The status of his appointment was disputed by the British Government. But the complaints of the British only increased Bewley`s stock in Ireland.

In July 1933 he was posted to Berlin. Wikipedia writes that:

"His reports from Berlin enthusiastically praised National Socialism and Chancellor Hitler. He gave interviews to German papers, which were anti-British. In Berlin he annoyed the British embassy. He ignored the King’s jubilee celebrations in 1935. With the ending of the economic war and the return of the treaty ports, there were good relations between Ireland and Britain. Bewley was then frequently reprimanded by Dublin, who were no longer amused at his anti-British jibes"

Joseph (Joe) Walshe ( 1886 - 1956) was Secretary of the Department of External Affairs of the Irish Free State from 1923-46 and as such the department's most senior official.

He has been described as "a right-wing clericalist (hence more pro-Mussolini than pro-Hitler and more attuned to Pope Pius XII than either)" by Owen Dudley Edwards

The entry in Wikipedia on him is only a stub but does give a flavour of the man and his career

For the historical context in 1932 see:

In 1932 De Valera (1882 - 1975) was appointed President of the Executive Council (Prime Minister) by Governor-General James McNeill after the General Election in that year.

He also in effect appointed himself Minister for External Affairs.

His policies led to a deterioration in relations with the United Kingdom.

He abolished the Oath of Allegiance to the King and withheld land annuities owed to Britain for loans provided under the Irish Land Acts and agreed as part of the 1921 Treaty. This launched the Anglo-Irish Trade War when Britain in retaliation imposed economic sanctions against Irish exports. De Valera responded in kind with levies on British imports. The ensuing "Economic War" lasted until 1938

Why is the Memorandum interesting ?

It provides contemporary evidence that in 1932 the Vatican under Pope Pius XI and his Secretary of State Cardinal Pacelli (later Pope Pius XII) was very hostile to the National Socialist movement in Germany.

It is a small adminicle of evidence in the portrait of Pope Pius XII which is an aid

1. to correct the widespread view that he was "Hitler`s Pope": favouring Fascism in Germany as a matter of prediliction, and
2. that any opposition of the Holy See at this time to movements other than German Fascism was a result of this alleged prediliction.

The memorandum states:

"[The Vatican] is undoubtedly reluctant to see the establishment of dictatorships, except on exclusively Catholic lines, if such a thing be possible: the events of the summer of 1931 showed its apprehension of Fascist dictatorship; it is even more strongly opposed to a possible National Socialist government in Germany.

In each case, the reason is its fear of what was described by the Pope in his Encyclical of June 29, 1931, as statolatria or state-worship, and in particular of the interference of an absolutist state in the two matters which the Church regards as exclusively its own province, namely, matrimony and the education of the young....

The position and influence of Germany at the Vatican is for the time determined entirely by the Centre Party. This party, though nominally interconfessional and actually comprising Lutheran and Jewish members, is of course predominately Catholic and was founded to safeguard Catholic interests. Though not essentially republican, its hostility to the extremely Protestant Hohenzollern dynasty and ruling caste of Prussia led it to accept the [Weimar] republic readily. Since the declaration of the republic it has been forced by political circumstances into a position rather on the left, and consequently stands for the democratic programme of republicanism, payment of reparations to the extreme limit of Germany’s capacity to pay, and a rapprochement with France, if the latter should be possible.

At the same time, it has in Germany, at any rate until recently, preserved the tradition of being the party to which Catholics are almost morally bound to adhere, and has retained the vast majority of the votes of the Catholic electors. During the period in which Cardinal Pacelli, Secretary of State to the Holy See, was Nuncio in Munich, and later in Berlin, he was on terms of intimacy with the leaders of the Centre, and naturally adopted their views of German politics to a considerable extent.

The Prälat Kaas, chairman of the party, wrote the introduction to the collected edition of the Cardinal’s addresses in Germany, and is a frequent visitor to Rome.

In consequence, the attitude of the Holy See has been extremely hostile to the National-Socialist movement, whose condemnation by the German bishops was of course determined and approved of by the Vatican.

Moreover, the influence exercised by the German Centre, in a sense hostile to National-Socialism, is reinforced by French influence, which is of course bitterly opposed to the possibility of a government in Germany which might take up a more resolute attitude in the questions of reparation and disarmament."

The "favourite" Nation at this time in Vatican circles would appear to have been France. Its ecclesiastics had the greatest influence in Vatican circles above any other nation

"[The] influence of France with the Holy See is a most remarkable phenomenon and a triumph of French propaganda. In spite of the anti-Catholic measures of twenty years ago and the anti-clerical spirit still so strong in France, as shown, for instance, by the recent celebrations of the anniversary of lay education, France enjoys today the reputation of a pro-Catholic state – a state of affairs due largely to the intense nationalism of the French clergy, who never lose an opportunity of emphasizing every Catholic manifestation in their country.

French ecclesiastics at Rome are undoubtedly more influential than those of any other country but Italy: apart from Cardinal Lépicier (who is not perhaps regarded as politically so important), there are Mons. d’Herbigny (mentioned above), Pére Gillet, General of the Dominicans, Mons. Hertzog of the Sulpicians, who was described to me by an Irish priest as the real representative of France to the Holy See, and various others.

These ecclesiastics, no doubt in the most perfect good faith, depict a France which has given more saints to the Church than almost any other country, which protects Catholic Missions in Asia and Africa, and which is governed, if not entirely by Catholics, at least by a combination of Catholics and non- Catholics friendly to the Church. The anti-Catholic elements in French life are, needless to say, not insisted on, and the influence of the Grand Orient is, so far as possible, ignored.

But perhaps the strongest influence which France brings to bear on the Holy See is by means of the representation that it is the main bulwark against Soviet Russia at the present time, both owing to the conservative character of the French people, and owing to the system of alliances built up by France with Poland, Roumania and the other border states. The trade agreement between Italy and Russia was not looked on with favour in Vatican circles, and the French personalities have no doubt exploited the situation in France’s favour. It may be stated in general that French influence with the Holy See is definitely anti-Italian, and it was stated openly in the Italian press last summer that Mons. d’Herbigny and other French and pro-French prelates were responsible for what was considered the anti-Italian attitude of the Pope himself.

How far French influence may decline in consequence of the improved relations between the Holy See and Fascist Italy, only the future can tell. It is very strong, and loses no opportunity of making itself felt. To give an obvious instance, the recent visit of Cardinal Bourne to Rome was made the occasion of a French demonstration, to which the Cardinal, who has always been extremely pro-French and recently spoke in favour of France at a Disarmament meeting in London, readily lent himself – an attitude which provoked criticism even among the English clergy. An instance of the manner in which French policy is supported by the Holy See is provided by the incident of the Flemish pilgrims referred to in my minute of September 11th, 1931"

At this time the great "enemy" was Communism and in particular Soviet Russia. But in countries where there were Communist influences such as Spain and Mexico, the policy was not total opposition:

"At the present time the great enemy of the Church is the Communist movement, already in possession of the reins of government in Russia and striving by means of the international agitation which it has succeeded in fomenting to secure power in the other states of the modern world. Consequently, the mainspring and principle of the policy of the Holy See at the present day is its opposition to Communism, and the explanation of the details of its policy can only be arrived at by remembering that every question is considered in the light of its possible effect on the great contest between the Church and its Communist enemies.

With regard to Russia itself, the policy is simple enough. A special commission has been set up, the Commissione Pontificia per la Russia, under the control of Monsignor d’Herbigny, Archbishop of Ilium, a very able and influential French Jesuit, with the object of investigating conditions in Russia, publishing such matter as it may be advised, and in particular of training for the priesthood in Russia a number of young men, prepared to undergo every possible hardship and, if need be, martyrdom, for the sake of preserving Christianity in that country.

Similar conditions to those in Russia obtain at the moment, though in a modified form, in Spain and Mexico, and the policy of the Holy See is similar with regard to them. Although their governments are not outspokenly Communist, they are Masonic, and are regarded as making the pace for the Communists, whether deliberately or by reason of the moral blindness engendered by their hatred of the Church. In all these countries, the policy of the Holy See is to do what it can to alleviate the conditions under which Catholics live, to keep alive the faith, and to await the circumstances which may alleviate the persecution of the Church....

[T]here is undoubtedly a genuine fear of the influence of Communism, in all probability partly due to the example of what has recently taken place in Spain, where the course of events came as a surprise even to the best-informed circles in Rome. If questions should arise between the Irish Government and that of Great Britain, I have no doubt at all that the Holy See will take an entirely sympathetic view of the Irish attitude, provided that it is satisfied that there is nothing in its policy likely to lead to the disorder which has always proved the best breeding ground for communistic ideas. It may well be that it is unduly nervous: but events in many countries have made it fear the infection of communism even among entirely Catholic communities.

As indicated in the beginning of this memorandum, every government and every policy is subjected to the test, firstly whether it is consciously favouring communistic doctrines, and secondly, whether its policy will, even against its intention, tend to encourage communism either by way of reaction against oppression or by passivity such as to permit the unchecked growth of communist propaganda. The same test has been and will be without the slightest question applied to Ireland; and our national policy has been and will be judged accordingly."

But it was not only Communism which at the time was found wanting and which was disapproved of at this time: Marxian Social-Democracy, Masonic Liberalism; Fascist dictatorship; non-Christian capitalism; and aristocracy or caste:

"Apart from its inevitable opposition to government by parties holding theories, such as Communism, Marxian Social-Democracy or Masonic Liberalism, which are in themselves opposed to the Catholic Church, there are other forms of government to which the Holy See appears to be opposed owing to the dangers inherent in them though not inevitable. Thus, it is undoubtedly reluctant to see the establishment of dictatorships, except on exclusively Catholic lines, if such a thing be possible: the events of the summer of 1931 showed its apprehension of Fascist dictatorship; it is even more strongly opposed to a possible National Socialist government in Germany.

In each case, the reason is its fear of what was described by the Pope in his Encyclical of June 29, 1931, as statolatria or state-worship, and in particular of the interference of an absolutist state in the two matters which the Church regards as exclusively its own province, namely, matrimony and the education of the young. Nevertheless, the Holy See has shown itself, in certain circumstances, prepared to accept and even support such dictatorship in preference to more undesirable alternatives: it has already done so in Italy and would almost certainly do so in Germany if the occasion arose.

Another form of government which the Holy See views with the greatest reluctance is the system of non-Christian capitalism which exists in more or less modified forms in almost the whole of the world of today with its representatives in every parliament and almost every party. From the famous Encyclical of Leo XIII to those of the present Pope, the Holy See has protested, not against the capitalistic system in general, but against certain developments of capitalism which are in themselves unjust and which tend to drive the workers into the arms of the enemies of the Church.

But, such capitalism not being part of an openly proclaimed programme but rather the result of the nineteenth century policy of laissez-faire, it is difficult to apportion the blame on the government rather than the individual capitalist, and still more difficult to blame the government for the defects of a system for which it is by no means solely responsible, and consequently it is not conceivable that the Holy See would adopt an attitude of definite hostility towards a capitalistic state as such, unless it had offended by some definite act hostile to the Church.

A third form of government to which the Holy See is undoubtedly opposed is that of an aristocracy or caste. Such governments scarcely exist at the present time, but the whole movement known as the Action Française represents the policy of aristocracy. Apart from the doctrinal extravagances of M. Charles Maurras, it would seem that the denial in principle by this movement of the rights of the common man is a doctrine which could never be consented to by the Holy See.

In other words, the Holy See recognizes that the individual in the modern state has certain rights, and that it is prepared to insist on their being accorded to him. It is therefore opposed to any system of government in the interests of a minority whether of capital or of birth."

It would be interesting to see more releases on the Internet from the Irish Foreign Policy archives from 1932 onwards. One wonders if there is anything more in them which might be used to throw light on and explain Vatican foreign policy in the inter-war years and after the outbreak of the Second World War, and in particular to provide a more balanced portrait of Pope Pius XII during those difficult times.

After 1932, the Irish Ambassador to the Holy See was Macaulay, a much more sympathetic character.

However many of the Department`s papers were destroyed on the instructions of De Valera in 1940. However those that remain have been released by the Irish Government and have been used in some histories such as Dermot Keogh`s Ireland and the Vatican: Politics and Diplomacy of Church State Relations, 1922-60