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US-Vatican relations in the Cold War and Iraq discussed at IWP symposium

On Friday September 28th, The Institute of World Politics hosted a panel of experts to discuss the rocky road to diplomatic relations between the U.S. and the Holy See. IWP’s founder and president Dr. John Lenczowski offered opening remarks, and introduced IWP’s Senior Diplomat in Residence Thomas P. Melady, who served as the Ambassador to the Holy See from 1989-1993.

Amb. Melady reviewed the history of U.S.-Vatican diplomatic relations from the conception of the U.S. to 1984, characterizing this period of time as an “unsteady relationship” between the young country and the Papal States. He spoke about the first diplomat to receive the post in 1846. He also noted the passage of a “no funding” act by Congress for the post, which was not repealed until the Reagan administration.  Melady said that this “no funding” law was a clear misunderstanding of what the Holy See represented: the government of the church, not its teachings. He pointed out that two past Presidents played a significant role in recognizing the value of diplomatic relations with the Holy See.  On December 24th, 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed a personal envoy who would represent the President in the diplomatic relations with the Holy See. President Roosevelt feared that in accordance with Article II, Sect. II of the U.S. Constitution that he would have difficulty in obtaining the consent of the U.S. Senate. Forty-five years later President Ronald Reagan perceived a significant change and nominated the first Ambassador of the U.S. to the Holy See on January 10th, 1984.

Ambassador Melady then introduced the Chairman of the Board at IWP, Owen Smith. Mr. Smith spoke about the personal contacts between Pope John Paul II and President Reagan from 1980 to 1984 and their role in bringing about the fall of communism in Poland and the Soviet Union. 

Mr. Smith, the son-in-law of the former Director of the CIA William J. Casey, spoke about the connections between his father-in-law and the Holy See. Mr. Casey was the first representative to go to the Vatican for the U.S. He was interested in Poland’s revolution against Soviet rule, as he wanted to cut down on the Soviet bloc’s influence in Eastern Europe. Many in the U.S. viewed Poland as the “lynchpin” of communism’s survival in the Soviet Union. 

Mr. Smith also talked about the significant role that Vernon “Dick” Walters, who would become the Ambassador to the UN in 1985, played in helping Mr. Casey convince the Pope to help combat communism in Poland. He said that President Reagan understood the important world role played by the Vatican, probably more than any previous president, and pursued a substantive meeting with the Pope about world matters. Mr. Smith emphasized further that, during this time, the CIA had supplied the Vatican with $50 million in aid for printing presses, telephones, and fax machines – all to push propaganda combating the Soviet Union’s control in Poland. 

Introduced next was former Ambassador James Nicholson, who served the post at the Vatican during the first term of President George W. Bush’s administration. Nicholson served during the time of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and he quoted the Pope as saying, “We have to stop these people from killing in the name of God.” The War on Terror took a focal point during Nicholson’s time at the post, as he was constantly lobbying the Vatican to be in support of the invasion of Iraq. The question of the “morality of war” and the “just war theory” came into play during this time. Nicholson said that, even though the Pope was never supportive of this war, other individuals in the Vatican community were very much in support of the invasion. Nicholson recalled a time when the Patriarch of Iraq came to the Ambassador’s residential quarters and thanked him for setting the Chaldean community free from oppression in Iraq. 

The symposium concluded with remarks from Dr. Lenczowski on the future of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and the Vatican. Dr. Lenczowski explained that the two powers had different worldviews and different priorities. The Vatican is concerned about the overall well being of mankind with such priorities as health, human rights, and world peace. 

An issue that Dr. Lenczowski believed the two could work together on would be the rise of religious-based extremism and terrorism. He pointed out that, at this time, the U.S. is trying to distance itself from the reality of these threats; he believes the connection with the Vatican can help build the framework of understanding between the U.S. and these groups. Dr. Lenczowski emphasized the importance that the Vatican can play in the understanding of cultural diplomacy, which the U.S. lacks, largely because of its youth compared to the rest of the world’s countries. Dr. Lenczowski was hopeful in the fact that the Vatican can support this inter-religious dialogue because it is a good intermediary that has had practice in the past protecting Christians in places like the Holy Land. 

-Collin Ryan Figley

US_Vatican Symposium, September 2012