No. 527 NAI DFA 19/1B

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

Vatican City, 3 March 1931

I have found it rather difficult to arrive at any conclusion as to the attitude of the Vatican towards modern Ireland.1 There is everywhere a very real knowledge and admiration of Ireland's fidelity to the Church in the past and also of the persecutions which she underwent for her religion. There is a genuine recognition of the fact that Irish emigration is responsible for the present strong position of Catholicism in the United States of America and the Dominions of the British Commonwealth of Nations. There is also a strong feeling that to day the Irish people are as genuinely Catholic as any race in the world.

It is however difficult to induce either the Cardinal Secretary of State or the other Vatican authorities to consider such aspects of modern Ireland as are not directly connected with the interests of the Catholic religion. For instance, I have on several occasions, both with the Pope and Cardinal Pacelli, introduced the subject of the Irish language. His Holiness said that it was very important in the life of every race that national traditions should be kept up, and that it would be most desirable that the Irish language should be studied by learned men. Cardinal Pacelli took up the same attitude and, while giving no opinion on the desirability of reviving the Irish language, commented on the difficulties of the task in such a way as to have little doubt of his opinion of the policy.

It would appear to me that in the question of the revival of the Irish language, as in many other questions, the attitude of the Vatican is determined by the possible increase or decrease of Ireland's influence as a Catholic force in the English-speaking world; and that, while of course there would never be a hint of opposition to a policy so obviously within the legitimate province of a Government, the Vatican does not regard with sympathy a policy which might eventually tend to restrict the supply of English-speaking Catholics, clerical or lay, in England, America, and the Dominions.

The same considerations apply to the question of a republic. The Secretary of State has more than once pointed out to me the practical advantages to Ireland of remaining within the British Commonwealth of Nations, and amongst them has mentioned in particular the influence which she can exercise on England and the Dominions. An instance of what the Cardinal means is the question put by him to Mr. Scullin whether the Maltese question had been discussed at the Imperial Conference. I infer that his hope is that the more Catholic Dominions may exercise an increasing influence in the Councils of the Commonwealth, and that therefore he would regret any overt hostility or even coolness of relations which would tend to diminish that influence.

At the same time, there is a definite impression in Vatican circles that the Irish Episcopate as a whole is republican. Both the Secretary of State and Monsignor Caccia Dominioni, the Maestro di Camera of His Holiness, have made the statement to me as if it were a well-known fact. I of course said that, while all of them were strongly Nationalist, it would be an error to suppose that all or even a majority were republican in politics; that, on the other hand, many of them were certainly strong supporters of the present form of Government. I am not sure, however, that my denial was fully accepted. I do not know where this belief has its source, - whether from the Irish bishops themselves or some of their number, from the late Monsignor Hagan, from an English source, or from more recent reports received from Ireland. It appears to be widely spread, as the French Ambassador commented to me on the paradox that the Irish bishops and clergy were republican in Ireland and Imperialistic in Canada.

My impression may be summed up by saying that, while the Vatican dislikes any policy which might have the effect of removing Ireland from the British Commonwealth of Nations or diminishing its influence within the Commonwealth, it would be very unlikely to use its influence directly unless there were some apparently religious issue involved.

In this connection it may be relevant to say that I asked Cardinal Pacelli about the recent condemnation of the National-Socialist movement by the Bishop of Mainz and later by eight Bavarian bishops. He told me that the condemnation was on purely religious grounds, namely, that in the constitutions of the party as well as in speeches by prominent members there was hostility to the Catholic Church. I asked how it was that the other German bishops had not condemned the movement, and he stated that there might be different circumstances in different parts of the country, or that the other bishops might not yet have had the time or opportunity of examining it. He also said that the condemnation was not on the ground of the violence of the methods employed by this political party or any particular episodes ending in the death of its political opponents. He further gave me the impression, without actually stating it, that the condemnation of any political party on religious grounds was entirely within the province of the individual bishop and was left to his own initiative. The general impression in Rome is that in Malta at any rate the condemnation of Lord Strickland's party was pronounced by the Archbishop of Malta without previous consultation with Rome.

At the same time, Cardinal Pacelli has repeated on a number of occasions in response to questions put to him by various ministers that the Holy See definitely disapproves of the clergy taking any further part in politics than the opposition to specific measures or parties which are definitely contrary to the teaching of the Church. When the specific case of Monsignor Seipel, the Austrian ex-Chancellor, was put to him, he replied that, where a priest had already taken a prominent part in politics and his prohibition would mean the weakening of a political party and consequent strengthening of another, which might be anti-clerical, he would be permitted to continue his activities, but that the Holy See disapproved of such activities in principle.

Some few weeks ago I inquired whether there was likely to be any development of the Malta problem. Cardinal Pacelli told me that the Holy See would very much welcome any renewal of discussions, but that no offer had been made by the British Government and that therefore nothing would be done. It is quite clear that the Vatican does not propose at present at least to depart in any way from its position in the matter.

[signed] C. Bewley

1 Handwritten marginal note: 'For the Minister for next meeting of the Executive Council', 'PMcG, 11/3'.

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