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No. 43 UCDA P150/2419

Handwritten report from Joseph P. Walshe for Eamon de Valera (Dublin)

Rome, 22 April 1937

Secretary's report on his visit to Rome April 1937

The President
I arrived in Rome by air on Saturday 17th April about 4.30 p.m. having left Dublin by the Holyhead boat the previous evening.

Macaulay arranged an interview with Monsignore Pizzardo the Assistant Sec. of State for midday Sunday.

Monsignore Pizzardo received us with his usual cheerfulness, and when I explained the object of my visit he said that he saw no difficulty in getting the desired approval. This, as things happened, proved to be excessive optimism. He arranged an interview for us with the Cardinal S. of State1 for Tuesday. Meanwhile I leftwith him, for the Cardinal's information, the first three sections of Art 452. The Cardinal was most amiable. He kept us over an hour well into lunch time as he did also on the two following days. I gave him an exposé of the background historical and religious in which the new Constitution came to be written, and I emphasised particularly the aspect of the 'appeasement' which you desired to bring about not only amongst our own people of all religious and political beliefs but also between our people and the British people. He was deeply interested in all I had to say about the aims you had set before you to accomplish, and he asked me endless questions.

I thought it well to say at a very early stage that you fully realised that the sections of the Constitution under discussion did not correspond with the complete Catholic ideal. You would like to have the approval of the Vatican in so far as it could be given. At any rate you wished to have the satisfaction of having let the Card. Sec. and the Holy Father see the sections relating to the Church before putting them before Parliament. Card. Pacelli expressed his great joy that you had done so. You should understand that whatever he and the Holy Father might say they were in the fullest sympathy with you and the Govt. in your difficulties, and thus appreciated how great a task it was to achieve anything like the Catholic ideal in the special circumstances. Nevertheless he would say with complete frankness and friendliness what he felt bound to say - though of course that would not detract from his good wishes and those of the Holy Father to you in your task. He said that he had had a preliminary chat with the Holy Father, but would of course see him again the following (Wednesday morning) in order to repeat to him the aperçu historique which I had just given him. He felt however that the 'special position' given to the Catholic Church had no real value so long as there was not a formal acknowledgement of the R.C. Church as the Church founded by Christ. Moreover its importance was based on numbers only (as far as the text was concerned) and the realisation given to the other churches mollified any advantage which might have been derived from exclusive recognition. He thought we should use the word 'tolerates' in regard to them. He could see no juridical consequence flowing from the text used which could confer advantages on the Catholic Church not equally conferred on the other bodies. Ireland was the Catholic Country of the world, and he thought we should have made a very special effort to give to the world a completely Catholic Constitution. I told him that I quite realized how important the form of the Constn was in the mind of the Vatican, but from what I had already said he would agree that we had abstained from using the forms in order to be able to keep the realities. In our case the full Catholic framework would destroy absolutely the building which we desired to construct. We had to take the long view in order to reconcile the most hostile religious opinions, and to get all our people to work for our common country.

Catholic forms in the rigid sense incorporated into our Constitution now would defeat that purpose, and would also certainly defeat the purpose which he and the H.F. had in mind, namely the establishment of permanent peace in our country, and peace with G.B. (an almost exclusively protestant country). Above all they would hinder the growth and influence of the Catholic Church in Ireland and Great B. and would revive all the old accusations of intransigence and intolerance. In real truth, in our Constitution, we were being more Catholic than the Church because we were assuming the ultimate success of the aims of the Church, while the Cardinal's suggestion might well destroy all chance of ever attaining them. The Cardinal all the time insisted that he was talking as a Church man must talk and he never once departed during all our conversation from his attitude of the greatest possible friendliness. From the beginning he made me feel free from any sense of embarrassment whatsoever, and he encouraged me to be as frank with him as he was with me. I think that I did not omit any explanation or argument which could reasonably be offered. But it became clear at a very early stage of our conversations that we should not succeed in getting any expression of approval of the text from the Vatican. From the nature of things they have to stake their full claim, and formal or indeed informal approval was not to be given to a text which did not come down completely on the side of strict Catholic doctrine. The Cardinal told me with a smile but quite truthfully that according to the strict teaching of the Church we were heretics to recognise any church but the one true church of Christ. Again I reminded him of the danger of seeing only the form and he assured me at once that the Church would not take an heresy too seriously. It did not shake him when I contrasted the expressly Xtain3 character of the new Const. with the liberalism (continental sense) of the old though he recognized the great change for the better. He promised to have a long talk with the Holy Father and to obtain his blessing for Govt. for having done so well in such difficult circumstances. It was clear when saying this that the Cardinal did not realize that the Holy Father was going to adopt the negative attitude which he made known to me the following day. Indeed he gave me the very clear impression that having said all he could say, he was going to get the Pope to bless the Govt. for the effort they had made to meet the Catholic view point - without making any reference to the Const.

I need hardly therefore say that I was very disappointed when I received from the Cardinal yesterday the exact text of the words used by the Holy Father, 'Ni approvo ni non disapprovo; taceremo'. And the Cardinal did not leave me any doubt as to the meaning. I had asked him to ensure at least that the H.F. would not disapprove. The answer was: 'I do not approve, neither do I not disapprove we shall maintain silence'. I tried to translate the evil out of this double negative but the Cardinal held me to the sense. He went on to show that the H.F. was doing quite a lot in saying that he would maintain silence. It was an attitude of complete neutrality. He might have taken the text without bearing in mind all the implications of the explanations I had given, because the text after all was what counted, but he refrained from disapproving. He would not say 'I approve' and while he would not say 'I do not disapprove' he took the middle position of keeping silence. So argued the Cardinal and while he clearly wanted to give us a crumb of consolation he had to maintain that the Pope went to the extreme limit to which his position allowed him to go.

On the question of marriage which they regard as one of the supreme tests of the Catholicism of a State the Cardinal said we were also heretical. Cases of nullity and of 'ratum et non consummatum' (in the case of marriages celebrated in the Church) are within the Exclusive domain of the Church and must be formally declared so to be. I told him of the difficulties of taking that attitude in a country of mixed religions where divorce was forbidden to all. The non-Catholics could justifiably complain that a way of escape lay open to Catholics which was not available for them. I touched lightly on the difficulties 'ratione scandali' which could arise from cases in which evidence relating to defective intention for example might satisfy the ecclesiastical but not the lay mind. The Cardinal pointed out that the Yugoslav Govt. had recently concluded a concordat with the Holy See formally accepting the full Catholic doctrine. I suggested that as the Concordat was the subject of very serious quarrels between the Orthodox Church and the Govt. the latter might not be able to ratify it against the will of the majority of their people, and that in the end it may prove to have been a grave mistake to insist on the full pound of flesh. The Cardinal admitted this, but he seemed to regard the displeasure of the Orthodox Church with a certain amount of satisfaction. maintain that the Pope went to the extreme limit to which his position allowed him to go.

I insisted again and again that we regarded the fundamentally sound position of the Church in the hearts of the people as an infinitely greater safeguard for Catholic doctrine than forms in any documents whether constitutions or Concordats - and that that conviction was never absent from your mind when drawing up the constitution. The Holy Father and he the Cardinal, would realize, as our State evolved - that we had acted in the best interests of the Church as well as of the people. maintain that the Pope went to the extreme limit to which his position allowed him to go.

At the Cardinal's request we went back again to see him today Thursday. He told me how very ill the Pope had been and that there were several ministers accredited to the Vatican whom he had never seen and who would be annoyed if they heard - and they would hear - that he had given a private audience to me. However there were some people whom in the normal course he had to see on Saturday - and he would like Mr. Macaulay and myself to come with them. He would be able to give us his Blessing and perhaps say a word to us. The Cardinal then asked me about the Coronation and our attitude regarding it. I explained to him our general attitude and also the particular objection we had to the continuing anti-catholic character of the ceremony as stated publicly by you. I took the opportunity of saying that there were rumours in Ireland that the Legate was to attend the ceremony at Westminster, but that we naturally did not believe it. He assured me with great emphasis that they never had contemplated allowing the Legate to be present. 'If that happened' he said, laughing heartily, 'your Govt. would certainly be plus Catholique que l'eglise' and they would be right. Attendance as a spectator was of course permissible even for a Legate but the 'ratio scandali' was an all sufficient and compelling reason for abstention. I thanked the Cardinal for his great kindness. He asked to be warmly remembered to you and to thank you for your courtesy in having sent me. maintain that the Pope went to the extreme limit to which his position allowed him to go.

I wish to add that the position of influence with the Cardinal which is held by Mr. Macaulay and his wife and the great friendship which he has for them made my task very easy and pleasant. The Cardinal's attitude from the first moment, and I must repeat that, could not have been more friendly. maintain that the Pope went to the extreme limit to which his position allowed him to go.

The Cardinal on Tuesday expressed himself as very pleased that you intended to use the 'full official title of the Church' which he compared carefully with the title in the text of the Lateran Treaty4. He said that the H.F. would of course also be very pleased. I did not ask him a second time about the title as he was clear beyond misapprehension the first time. I am sorry that my telegram was not sufficiently clear about this point. 'Other Christian Churches' he could not formally approve, but let it go without taking any responsibility for it. He thought 'Bodies' would be more appropriate. Again I had to explain that in using the word 'Church' we were following the local custom and doing only what ordinary courtesy required. We did not intend to imply and nobody in our country would regard us as attempting to imply that there was any Church in the strict sense other than the one true Church. He gave me a long and very interesting discourse on the oneness of the Church and the impossibility of having a plurality of them and he quoted a good deal from an encyclical of the present Pope (6 Jan 1928) which immediately struck me as being a superb and very beautiful statement of the position. maintain that the Pope went to the extreme limit to which his position allowed him to go.

To conclude this scanty and hastily written report I want to express my great regret at not having been able to do what I was sent out to do. But I have learned a great deal about the attitude of the Holy See to such matters and I can assure you, most confidently, that at the back of their adherence to rigid forms and dogmas there is very sincere respect, and even gratitude for the extent to which you have been able to go in making our Constit. Catholic, notwithstanding the very great difficulties which they understand better than they pretend to understand them. I will of course amplify this report viva voca on my return.

J.P.W. 22nd April 1937

1 Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli.

2 Article 45 of the new Irish constitution then being drafted.

3 'Christian'.

4 The Lateran Treaty of 11 February 1929 (modified in 1985) regulated the relations between Italy and the Vatican City. It provided a solution to the 'Roman Question' which had arisen in 1870 when Rome was incorporated into the Kingdom of Italy. Under the treaty, the Italian state renounced all claims to Vatican territory and the Vatican City, recognised the Italian state and became an independent sovereign state. A concordat to the treaty defined the rights of the two states in the realms of education and spiritual matters.



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