No. 389 NAI DFA EA 231/4

Confidential Report from Charles Bewley to Joseph P. Walshe (Dublin)1

Vatican City, 1 July 1930

It would, in my opinion, be correct to say that the position of the Saorstát as an independent state linked to Great Britain by a personal union is well understood in official and diplomatic circles in Rome, and I have not found (except in certain British circles to a limited extent) any disposition whatever to regard me as in any way connected with or dependent on the British Legation.2 The chief question is, as I consider, whether we can make ourselves felt as one of the States which must be reckoned with, or whether there is a danger of our being regarded as one of the numerous small countries (e.g. Lithuania, Latvia, Bavaria, various South American republics, Monaco, San Marino) which have representatives accredited to the Holy See but do not count for particular purposes. I shall return later to this aspect of the situation.

As regards Cardinal Pacelli, I am satisfied that he perfectly understands our international position. I have sometimes had occasion to explain to him the policy of the Government in maintaining a Free State as established by treaty and the impossibility of repudiating the settlement without entailing consequences which might prove fatal to Irish interests; but I have always kept clearly before him the fact that the union existing between Great Britain and Saorstát Éireann is purely a personal one and that, while regular friendly relations exist, there is no formal or actual link but that of the Crown. I have also taken occasion of bringing to his attention such matters as the absence of facilities of divorce and the Censorship of Publications Act for the purpose of emphasizing 1) the difference of policy between the two countries 2) the entire liberty of the Saorstát to legislate for itself in the face of directly opposite opinion in England.

The Cardinal has, as I mentioned in a recent report, spoken to me on the subject of Malta. He had previously given an audience to Monsignor Cavendish of Valletta, who had come to Rome, so far as I can ascertain, with the definite mission of doing propaganda for that island, and one of whose chief ideas appeared to be the discussion of the question at the Imperial Conference.

I have of course no idea whether such discussions would be feasible or desirable, but if it were to take place I suggest that I might be authorized to mention it, in confidence or otherwise, to the Secretary of State, as it would be a very clear illustration of our independence, and one which would particularly appeal to the Holy See and be in harmony with Irish traditions.

I do not myself think that there will be a rupture of relations between England and the Holy See; the latter is very anxious to avoid it, and it is possible that the Labour Government may fear losing Irish votes too much to take the risk. Also there may be something in a theory held by some of the diplomatic corps, one of whom said to me: 'England might have broken off relations if it were not the fact that Ireland is represented here; because if there were no British Legation, the Dominions might desire to be represented by the Irish Minister'.

If, however, relations were to be broken off, it would be an additional striking demonstration of our independent position. The possible consequences have no doubt been considered by the Minister: it is only necessary to point out one or two. If the English Government wished to have its interests represented by another Legation, it could either ask Saorstát Éireann to take over the duty or some other state. While I think the first alternative unlikely, the effect of the latter would be that the English Government would be treating Ireland as a foreign and possibly unfriendly state, though it would no doubt justify itself on the ground that the staff of the Irish Legation is not sufficient to cope with English affairs. Or if, as I think more likely, the English Government preferred to communicate with the Vatican informally through the English College, there is always the possibility that one or other of the Dominions would prefer more direct diplomatic representation and would confide their interests to the Saorstát.

As I have said, I do not believe that relations will be broken off, but it remains a possibility. Both the Pope and Cardinal Pacelli are, so far as I can judge, quite inflexible when principles are involved such as they believe to be involved in the Maltese question, and the conduct of the Ministers in taking affidavits of what was said in confession, supported as it was by the British Government, has deeply shocked them. If similar acts occur, I have no doubt that they will issue the most strongly worded protests, and the British Government might seize the favourable tactical occasion for breaking off relations. In that event, I would suggest that the Government of Saorstát might consider the possibilities which I have attempted to set out.

To return to the attitude of the Vatican toward the Saorstát, I do not think that, outside Cardinal Pacelli, anyone in the Secretariat of State counts for very much. Neither Monsignor Pizzardo nor Monsignor Ottaviani have, so far as I can ascertain, either inclination or authority to form independent judgements on political questions, and in any event, the office is so understaffed that their time is almost altogether taken up with routine work.

Of the Cardinals whom I have met, the majority, such as Ehrle,3 Frühwirt, Lépicier4 and Sbarretti, quite understand and sympathize with our position. The only one who I believe (possibly mistakenly) to be unsympathetic is Cerretti, who has always been a strong supporter of the British Empire. It is however right to say that since the death of Cardinal Merry del Val, there is no very outstanding or influential figure among the Cardinals resident in Rome, all the more distinguished of whom, as Cardinal Pietro Gasparri, have passed the age at which they would be likely to interest themselves in international politics.

I have frequently had opportunities to explain in an informal way the position of the Saorstát to my colleagues of the Diplomatic Corps - especially when waiting for an audience on Friday mornings. I am satisfied that they are under no misconceptions as to our position, if I may judge inter alia from the freedom with which they discuss British politics with me. I may perhaps mention that I make a point of never talking English with even such Ministers as can converse in that language, as the natural tendency is to identify any English-speaking person with Great Britain.

The British Legation to the Holy See has always been on friendly terms with me, and has passed over to me any such matters as related to the Saorstát. Neither the late Minister nor the Secretary ever did anything to suggest that I was not here on a basis of complete independence. This will be further accentuated, whenever a new Minister is appointed, by the fact that I will take precedence of him - a circumstance which cannot occur anywhere else, as Great Britain is represented at Washington, Berlin, and Paris by Ambassadors.

The new British Secretary, Mr. Ogilvie Forbes, will I have no doubt carry on the same lines. He is a Catholic, has a breezy manner, and, as it was described to me, 'slaps unoffending Monsignori on the back'. So far as I can gather he is merely a vehicle for transmitting communications between the British Government and the Holy See, and little is left to his initiative or discretion.

As regards the British Embassy, my relations with it are very slight. I have been to one garden-party, where I met the South African Minister, a great part of the English colony in Rome and a few Italians. I am on friendly terms personally with several members of the Embassy, although I find some of them inclined to treat me as a subsidiary member of the British representation in Rome. However, I think it better to preserve as amicable relations as possible. They are somewhat hostile to the South African Minister who, amongst other things, wrote to the British Ambassador in French, and regard him as unfriendly. He is, however, as he informed me, likely to return soon to South Africa, as he is 'a lawyer and politician and only came to Rome for a rest'.

It may be well to state that I have always been unable to attend such functions, as were definitely for British subjects, e.g. Empire Day, King's Birthday etc.

To recapitulate: - In my opinion, the position of the Saorstát is clearly understood here, and there is no danger of our being regarded as dependent in any way on Great Britain. It would however be regrettable if the position of Ireland were to be regarded as on a par with Nicaragua, or Venezuela, states of an equal population, but without Ireland's traditions and worldwide connections.

The obvious way of meeting this possibility is by the part which the Saorstát is able to play in international affairs. Its election, for example, to the Council of the League of Nations, would much enhance its position here as elsewhere. The same object would possibly be obtained by a strong attitude on, e.g. the Maltese question, at the Imperial Conference. In fact, as is obvious, any sane demonstration of independence must react favourably on the position here.

The second way in which our position in Rome can be emphasized is by the various manifestations of our entirely separate character here in Rome. I do not refer to anything of a directly political nature, but to such matters as the presentation of the carpet to the Holy Father, which can of course be reported fully in the Roman and other papers. In the same category I would place entertainment, as soon as we succeed in moving into a new Legation.

On the whole, I consider that the Saorstát has no reason to be dissatisfied with its position here, and that that position can be further improved in the course of the next year in the ways suggested above.

[signed] Charles Bewley

1 Handwritten marginal note: 'PMcG 24/7'.

2 See No. 386.

3 Franziskus Ehrle SJ (1845-1934), created Cardinal (1922), appointed Librarian and Archivist of the Holy Roman Church in 1929.

4 Alexis-Henri-Marie Lépicier OSM (1863-1936), created Cardinal (1927), Prefect of Sacred College for Religious (1928-35).

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