No. 247 NAI DFA Rome 1921-1923

Report from Count P.J. O'Byrne to George Gavan Duffy

(Confidential) (Copy)

Rome, 23 February 1922

When I sent you the wire 'Ratti Pope - satisfied' the election had just taken place, and I was given to understand that the new Pope1 was very favourable to Ireland. Since then, however, I have found out some facts which raise doubts in my mind. It appears that when he was Prefect of the Vatican Library, he was thrown a good deal with Card. G.[asperri] at whose house he stayed later for two months at the time he got the 'Hat', and held the customary reception there. To what extent that would imply that the above Cardinal could bring influence to bear on the Pope to adopt an anti-Irish policy, it would be hard to tell: but it is an element that makes one suspicious. Moreover, a friend of mine meeting Dom P.L. a few days after the election heard him express the greatest satisfaction which is rather ominous. On the other hand I'm told the Pope is a man of strong and independent mind who would not easily be diverted from any course he wished to pursue. He is not versed in diplomacy, and the only connection he had with that branch of the Vatican was during the short time he was Nuncio in Warsaw, when he roused the ire of the Germans by the attitude he took up on the Silesian question. Hence it appears Germany does not view his election with favour at all. He also stayed a time at Oxford making researches for the Vatican Library and was made very much of when there. What his policy towards Ireland will be I cannot yet ascertain. From the general character given him he may not be necessarily influenced [by] Card. G's policy which was very pro-British, as he was always afraid to hurt the susceptibilities of England. The latter may not occupy for a long time his present post as many rumours are about that Mgr. Ceretti will shortly take his place. In fact a friend of mine who has just returned to Paris was told by a person here who pretends to be in the know, that he might warn the nuncio that he will shortly be recalled to fill the post of secretary of state. The latter used to be a great friend of Ireland but recently rumour had it that he had changed in that respect. It is hard to tell whether if he does get promoted to that Office he would follow the policy of his predecessor. The person for whom you sent me a letter to Paris was more or less laid up since I came here with a very heavy cold, complicated I think by the old stomach trouble, which prevented him from going out or even transacting any business. He told me he would write you by first opportunity he had to send letters by hand and I expect he may have done so by a person who left for home a couple of days ago. He (Dr Hagan) continues very friendly and though he does not wish to be directly identified with any negotiations he will assist me from behind the scenes when I see my way to make a move. I was told it would be better to wait a bit as owing to the interregnum a lot of work had accumulated at the Vatican offices, and they would not be disposed to take on new business for a time. I shall move cautiously and am sending out feelers first through a friend to the Irish cause in the principal office we are concerned with, to find out what view will be taken now by the Secretary of State. I must tell you candidly that from what I hear there is very little prospect of making any headway at present. Italians I speak to, and the same state of mind no doubt holds good in the Vatican too, cannot at all understand the anomalous situation in Ireland, viz. a Republican Government in being with a Cabinet pledged to uphold it until the Irish people decide to dis-establish it and several members of that Cabinet in the Provisional Government which is preparing the way for the Free State. Moreover what is against us and has injured us much in the eyes of both lay and ecclesiastical Italians are the unfortunate and heartrending discussions in Ireland at present. I know they will be thrown at me if I succeed in entering into pourparlers at the Vatican, and they are hard to explain when one has to take up a neutral attitude in the controversy such as I have to do. My position here is a very difficult one. I often feel worried to the point of despair and feel like resigning as it looks as if I could do no good here. However I get over that feeling soon and decide to stay on as long at least as I think I have your confidence. I dread that the Ard Fheis which must be going on at present will add to the bitterness which is manifesting itself more and more amongst our countrymen. If only there were some means of uniting on common ground. I feel however both sides are too far apart now. I hear on good authority however that once a stable Government is established in Ireland free from British control, the Vatican would be only too pleased if possible to have our country represented there. At present they may say 'How can we be expected to recognise a form of Government which may cease in a short time?' That is the reason I would rather put out feelers first and if I see I'm right in my previsions I would strongly advise you not to insist on my trying for recognition until after the elections, unless I can see a prospect of success. A refusal now might prejudice us later on. I'll inform you soon again how the land lies. If pourparlers begin a condition put before receiving a representative from Ireland may be that a nuncio or apostolic delegate be sent to Dublin. I know you view that latter course with disfavour, and I for my part think it should be resisted. I believe the Irish Bishops don't want one nor do the Irish Ecclesiastics here, certainly not the one I referred to above. An Italian versed in Vatican diplomacy and perhaps under British influence might be only troublesome.

One Cardinal on whom, as I told you in one of my letters, I had no great store, did not give any assistance at all. I had called on him immediately after my arrival and before he went into the Conclave and met him at dinner at the Irish College. When he came out of the Conclave I called on him again and asked him to dinner. He declined abruptly on the ground that he couldn't spare an evening, but a few days after he accepted to dine at the English College. He made no sign of returning my visit but when De Salis called on him subsequently, he returned his visit the same day. That made a very bad impression on all our Irish friends here and would also perhaps have had a bad effect at home. Somebody must have told him as much, for a few days before he left he called in full state and stayed a long time. Having regard to that visit, I went to the Station to see him off when he left, which I would not have done had he not returned my visit, I also called on Cardinals O'Connell and O'Dougherty. The former was out, but the latter received me and was very friendly.

I have been asked to draw your attention to the question of the appointment of Bishops in Ireland. There is no actual concordat I believe dealing with it but some kind of argument2 since 1829, whereby the election is in the hands of the Parish Priests. For long past a struggle is being made at the Vatican to have the power of appointing the Bishops vested in the Consistorial congregation I think. The Bishops of Ireland are against it and so far had prevented any action from being taken. There is however a grave suspicion here now that a decree has been made but not promulgated owing to the present difficulties in Ireland and is ready to be launched when peace is restored. A significant thing is that the Bishop of Raphoe was appointed coadjutor to Armagh without the usual election whereas up to this a coadjutor with right of succession has always been elected in the ordinary way. We will see in a short time what procedure will be adopted in filling the Raphoe vacancy. It is thought here, however, that the Vatican may not think it wise to show its hand at present and will allow the above election to proceed in the ordinary way. I need not tell you the new procedure is one which I think Irish lay people will object to for it would lay the way open to the appointment of anti-national Bishops for one never knows what influence may predominate at the Vatican. I put this forward merely for your consideration in case you should share my apprehension and think it wise to take some steps to oppose the decree if such has been made, and of course I cannot state that definitely, as contrary to Irish National sentiment.

As regards the fact that your telegram of condolence on the death of the Pope had not been officially acknowledged, I am not in a position to tell you definitely the reason though I made many inquiries. As a result of these my surmise is that it was in pursuance of the old policy that they did not like to formally recognise the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Dail Eireann for fear it might be distasteful to England. I asked the person you suggested in your letter but owing to his being laid up and not able to go to the Vatican nor since your wire got there he could not tell me though he was inclined to agree with my surmise. He will shortly be going there and will try diplomatically to find out something about the matter.

I note in your letter No.14/1922 you say there is no need for new credentials. I'm told if they consent to see me at the Vatican, they will surely ask me for my credentials. They may object in the first place that the ones I have were issued by a former Government, and next that they are too extensive as they appoint me representative in Italy. The Vatican it appears does not like that the same person should be authorised to deal with itself and the Quirinal. As I consider my task is primarily to get recognition from the Vatican, I have done nothing to broach the subject with the Italian Government. In any event nothing could be done there owing to the present ministerial crisis which does not seem near a solution. I would like some instructions as to my course of action should objection be raised to my being a general representative in ITALY.

P.J. O'Byrne

1 Pius XI.

2 'agreement'?

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