Volume 8 1945~1948

Doc No.

No. 149 UCDA P150/2716

Letter from Joseph P. Walshe to Frederick H. Boland (Dublin)
(14/23) (Most Secret)

Holy See, 10 July 1946

The Cardinals of the Curia and Ireland

Following the Taoiseach's instructions, I requested audiences from all the Cardinals in the Curia after I had presented my Letters of Credence. It takes no little time to secure appointments from them all and it will probably be the end of July before I have completed the visits. I need not emphasise that good relations with the Cardinals are of prime necessity for my work. I have now had conversations, generally lasting half an hour or longer, with nine Cardinals - Lavitrano, Verdi, Canali, Rossi, Marchetti, Massimo, Pizzardo, Bruno and Belmonte.

  1. One is immediately struck by the very remarkable calibre of these men; in culture and distinction they seem to be of an incomparably superior type. No doubt, in a country where there is such a large body of very eminent clerics, it is natural that the relatively few who reach the Curia must be altogether outstanding. Although most of them have reached their 70th year, in only one case did I notice any trace of physical or intellectual fatigue. They are in themselves a living proof of the essential superiority of Roman training and culture.
  2. In each case, I conveyed the respects of the Taoiseach, and I told them of his earnest desire to cooperate in every possible way in these terrible times with the Holy Father and the Sacred College. They all displayed a considerable knowledge of the Taoiseach's work, and they quite definitely look to him, as the leading Catholic statesman of the world, to help the Church in the struggle which lies before her. These men have reached the age where earthly ambitions seem to have no longer any scope, and they spoke to me with great detachment and sincerity about the future of the world and about Ireland's place in it. Eminently discreet themselves, they made it clear that they expect absolute discretion in regard to all matters of confidence which they discussed with me. They take the view that the persecution of Ireland was allowed by Providence for the purpose of establishing the Faith, through our people, in the new worlds. And they are immensely impressed by our achievements there.

    I was naturally interested to find out why the present-day Curia was so much better informed than that of some twenty years ago with regard to Ireland's work, and it became clear, in the course of conversation, that the growth in this knowledge has coincided, step by step, with the increasing influence of the American Hierarchy here and with the increasingly excellent choice that has been made by them of young Irish-American priests for work in the Secretariat of State.

    With all simplicity, the Cardinals told me what they expected from us in relation to the Church of the future. Although two or three are over-inclined to confuse our achievements with those of the Irish in America, the majority - and this is especially true of the best-informed of them, Cardinal Pizzardo - see in Ireland a unique quality of standards which does not, in their view, exist in the countries to which our people have emigrated. They look to us as an ancient Catholic nation and to our Catholic Government, and especially to the Taoiseach himself, for a very special form of cooperation in the new era.

    Cardinal Pizzardo, formulating more precisely ideas outlined by all the others, was most explicit in pointing out that the time had come for Ireland to organise her Catholic activities, especially on the intellectual side, and to take - what he thinks her talents would enable her to take - a leading position in the Catholic world.

    Cardinal Massimo, who had long contacts with Irish students in Rome, was particularly emphatic in his view that Ireland's position in the Church, owing to her history and the special intellectual gifts of her people, should be higher in the Church's Councils than even that of the United States.

    Three of the Cardinals, namely, Verdi, Massimo and Canali, expressed the view that our people were of a higher religious and intellectual calibre than the Italians themselves. When I asked Cardinal Pizzardo whether it was not possible for us to get young men into the Secretariat of State, immediately he replied with enthusiasm 'Most decidedly yes!', and he went on to say that the Holy Father - as I knew - was altogether in favour of the internationalisation of the Curia and that all the Cardinals in the Curia were at one with Him in that purpose. (It must be remembered that the 'Curia' in the wider sense comprises all the organs in Rome through which the Pope rules the Universal Church). Cardinal Pizzardo thought the moment was most favourable for us, but we had certain lessons to learn immediately.

  3. My talk with Cardinal Pizzardo was especially important. We had established a certain link of frankness and friendliness when I was here in 1929. He is still full of youth and energy and is said to be closely and constantly in touch with the Holy Father. Apart from being in charge of Catholic Action - an office which made him the strongest enemy of Fascism within the Vatican - he is the arbiter of everything relating to the education of the clergy all over the world. He told me he would speak to me with the utmost frankness, and he asked me to regard our conversation as most confidential. On his side, he would report only to the Holy Father 'one of the great elements of whose strength was', he said, 'his capacity to keep a secret'.

    Having said that Ireland was the best nucleus for the development of the Church and an 'intelligent Christianity' in the threatening days immediately ahead of us, he went on to speak as follows, asking me to report exclusively to Mr. de Valera 'in whose wisdom and discretion as the world's greatest Catholic statesman the Holy See had abounding confidence'.

    He said the time had come to send to Ireland a Nuncio of the first order. In his view (and I told him it was also the Taoiseach's), Ireland could be made the centre of a world revival of Catholic life. There must be a proper staff at the Nunciature.

    When I spoke to him about the present situation in which an immature Monsignore goes about the country representing the Holy See, he showed me positive annoyance at the neglect manifested in our regard by the Section concerned in the Secretariat of State.

    We must send young Irishmen to the Secretariat of State, but they must be men of outstanding quality and must have received their training in Rome.

    What was chiefly wrong with our Irish communities in Rome, he said, was their tendency to criticize everything Roman and Italian, combined with an inexplicable neglect to learn the language. That attitude, he believed, was due to a bad choice of superiors, who, although of Roman training, had themselves suffered from the same bad tradition. That must come to an end, and it will be brought to an end very soon, he said most emphatically. The responsible authorities in Rome could not allow such superb material to be lost through lack of good superiors. Moreover, he went on, it was most unfortunate that we were not sending our best men to Rome. Did our Bishops realize what a place Ireland could occupy in the Universal Church? Could they not send us some really good young priests immediately as a start?

    What Cardinal Pizzardo said about our criticism (and, mostly, very petty criticism) is a painful truth. I noticed it, with regret, from the moment of my arrival here, and I am doing, and shall do, all in my power to counteract it.

    I frankly believe that whoever occupies this post can do a great deal to induce a new attitude, because, in truth, the critical attitude does not go very deep, and it is more the result of frustration, and a sense of lack of support from home, than any positive judgment as to the inferiority of Roman institutions. Our best policy here is, beyond question, to be more Roman than the Romans and to let it be seen on every possible occasion. It is the best policy, not merely because Rome is much too powerful in itself to be influenced by mere criticism from outside, but also because it is the surest means of getting into the Councils of the Church ourselves and thereby helping in the general internationalisation of the Curia upon which the Holy Father has decided.

    I shall be most grateful for the Taoiseach's very early instruction about the Nuncio. Is it still his desire that I should press for an Irish or Irish-American, or should we let them appoint an outstanding Nuncio of Italian nationality? Unless the Irish-American were of the O'Hara1 type, he might not be as good as an Italian of the first rank. An immediate instruction is most desirable. Things may have happened since I left home which would warrant the type of a strong Italian who would understand the desires of the Holy Father and would carry them out. Naturally, before any instructions were given, I could discuss the issues quite freely and in absolute confidence with Cardinal Pizzardo. The risk of an early appointment is real and I hope there will be no delay in giving me instructions.

  4. Before going to see the Cardinals, I was discouraged from 'bothering much about them', not merely by colleagues in the Diplomatic Corps, some of whom are notorious for their negligence of the forms which are naturally expected here, but, knowing that the Cardinals had the last word with the Holy Father and that each Cardinal saw Him several times a month, I knew the Taoiseach would wish me to neglect no effort to secure their goodwill. Therefore, instead of ringing up their Secretaries, which (incredible though it seems) is the normal practice, I sent to each one a formal letter telling him of my presentation of Letters to the Holy Father and of my desire to be received. The first result of this most fortunate act of courtesy had been that I have been given audience appointments with unprecedented speed. It is also now apparent that, instead of being treated as a very formal visitor (as is, I understand, the usual case with diplomats), I am being treated, from the very beginning, on an entirely different basis. This attitude has also been promoted, to a considerable degree, by the fact that the Cardinals have not to make the effort of talking a foreign language with me.
  5. Several of the Cardinals urged me to make contacts with the leaders of Catholic movements in this country and with the principal laymen in the Vatican service. In this connection, I was especially exhorted to establish friendly relations with Count Galeazzo,2 the most powerful layman in the Vatican, and with several other named personalities of influence.
  6. From the foregoing brief report, which I shall, of course, elaborate when I see the Taoiseach, we must draw the practical conclusion that the representative here must be given the closest cooperation and assistance from home to make use of this great source of goodwill which, though almost unbelievable, we must certainly possess in the highest quarters of the Vatican at this particular moment of our history.

1 Archbishop Gerald Patrick O'Hara (1895-1958), Bishop of Savannah (1935-51), Apostolic Nuncio to Ireland (1951-4).

2 Count Galeazzo Ciano (1903-44), Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs (1936-43), Ambassador to the Holy See (1943), son-in-law of Benito Mussolini.