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Myron C. Taylor's Mission to the Vatican 1940–1950

  • John S. Conway (a1)


The mission of Myron C. Taylor, personal representative of Presidents Roosevelt and Truman to Pope Pius XII, remains a strange anomaly in the history of the foreign relations of the United States. Ever since 1867, when an act of Congress terminated diplomatic relations between the republic and the world's oldest diplomatic entity, the United States had been unrepresented at the Vatican City. The short-lived attempt to reconstitute some form of permanent and effective diplomatic presence was born in controversy and lasted only from 1940 to 1950 during the incumbency of the single appointee. When on Taylor's resignation President Truman attempted to appoint a popular second world war general to the post, the outcry in the United States was so heated that the nomination had to be withdrawn and the venture abandoned. What went wrong? Was the storm of protest merely a result of religious bigotry on the part of American Protestantism? Or had Taylor's conduct of his mission been such as to evoke these outraged feelings? Certain episodes of the diplomatic negotiations between the United States and the Vatican have already been published, for example, the polite exchange of courtesies collected and introduced by Taylor himself, Wartime Correspondence between President Roosevelt and Pope Pius XII. Some more controversial matters, such as the question of the advisability of bombing Rome, were outlined from the American point of view in the Foreign Relations of the United States. Not until the Vatican's recent decision to publish some of its papers from the pontificate of Pius XII, or more particularly until the opening of Taylor's own papers in 1973, has it been possible to study in more detail the curious entanglement of theological, diplomatic and political considerations which governed the United States' relations with the Vatican, and encompassed Taylor's mission from beginning to end.



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1. See particularly Foreign Relations of the United States (hereafter FRUS) 1942, 2:791800; 1943, 2:910952; 1944, 4:12741313. Neither Cordell Hull in his Memoirs (New York: Macmillan, 1948), nor Sumner Welles in his description of his journey to Europe in 1940, The Time for Decision (New York: Macmillan, 1944), makes any mention of Myron Taylor's mission.

2. Actes et documents du Saint Siêge relatifs a la seconde guerre mondiale, vols. 1–7 (Vatican City, 1966–1973).

3. Now held at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, Hyde Park, New York.

4. Graham, R. A., Diplomacy, S. J. Vatican: A Study of Church and State on the International Plane (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1959) devotes chapter 12 to an interpretation of Taylor's mission, but solely from the point of view of its constitutional status. Cianfarra, C. M., The War and the Vatican (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1945) is a lively account of this correspondent 's stay in Rome, but contains some totally unreliable material on papal policies. See also Hastings, M. J., S. J., “United States-Vatican Relations,” Records of the American Catholic Historical Society of Philadelphia 69 (06 1958): 2055; Alvarez, D. J., “The United States, the Vatican, and World War II,” Research Studies 40, 4 (12 1972): 239250; for a judicious assessment of the Vatican's position in the second World War, see Becker, J., “Der Vatikan und der II Weltkrieg” in Heinen, Ernst, ed., Geschichte in der Gegenwart: Festschrift für Kurt Kluxen (Paderborn: Sehöningh, 1972), pp. 301317.

5. Langer, W. L. and Gleason, R., The Challenge to Isolation (New York: Harper & Bros., 1952), p. 347.

6. Wartime Correspondence letween President Roosevelt and Pope Pius XII (New York: Macmillan, 1947), pp. 3, 1719.

7. Langer and Gleason, pp. 348–349.

8. FRUS 1940, 1:124; Wartime Correspondence, p. 22.

9. See Conway, J. S., “The Vatican, Britain and relations with Germany, 1938–40,” The Historical Journal 16, 1 (1973): 147161.

10. Myron Taylor Papers, Roosevelt Library, 1940 Report. Taylor's wartime visits to the Vatican took place between ffebruary and august 1940, September 8–6, 1941, September 17–29, 1942, June 1944-August 1945. In the interval his assistant Mr. Harold Tittman represented United States interests in the Vatican City.

11. FRUS 1940, 1:125.

12. Osborne to Foreign Office, quoted in Rhodes, A., The Vatican in the Age of the Dictators1922–1945 (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1973), p. 242.

13. Taylor Report, 1940. On the other hand, Roosevelt was more conscious of his own political requirements and hoped that amid the cordialities of diplomatic courtestics, a small hint could be dropped about the conduct of the Catholics in America In a note sent to Taylor just as he was departing for Italy Roosevelt minuted, “Anti-Jewish feeling in Brooklyn, Baltimore and Detroit is said to be encouraged by the Church. You should point out that this only causes anti-Catholic feeling in return.”

14. As Pius grandiloquently wrote to Roosevelt: “As Vicar on earth of the Prince of Peace, from the first days of Our Pontificate We have dedicated Our efforts and Our solicitude to the purpose of maintaining peace, and afterwards of re-establishing it. Heedless of momentary lack of success and of the difficulties involved, we are continuing to follow along the path marked out for Us by Our Apostolic mission. As We walk this path, often rough and thorny, the echo which reaches Us from countless souls, both within and outside the Church, together with the consciousness of duty done, is for Us abundant and consoling reward.” FRUS 1940, 1:124.

15. Taylor Report, 1940.

16. FRUS 1940, 1:129.

17. Much later, on February 25, 1946, Pius XII told the Sacred College of Cardinals and the Diplomatic Corps, “We took special care, notwithstanding certain tendentious pressures, not to let fall from Our lips, or from Our pen, one single word of encouragement for the war against Russia in 1941,” Acta Apostolicae Sedis, 38, 1946, p. 154 (original in French), quoted in Rhodes, p. 256.

18. Actes et documents du Saint Siège, 5, no. 56 (09 1, 1941). See also Langer, W. L. and Gleason, R., The Undeclared War (New York: Harper & Bros., 1953), p. 793.

19. Taylor Report, 1941. Taylor was advised by Cardinal Maglione on September 10 that this action had been taken. Shortly afterwards Archbishop MeNicholas of Cincinnati issued a pastoral letter interpreting the 1937 Encyclical in the sense desired.

20. Taylor Report, 1941.

21. Foreign Office 371/3430: Mr. Myron Taylor's visit to Rome: 1942.

22. Memorandum for Hon. M. C. Taylor from President Roosevelt, September 1, 1941, Taylor Report, 1941.

23. William Philips to Roosevelt, September 9, 1941. President's Secretary File (hereafter PSF), Roosevelt Library, quoted in Alvarez, p. 242.

24. FRUS 1942, 3:772.

25. Auswärtiges Amt, Politisehe Abteilung 3, Büro des Staatssekretärs, vol. 3, telegram from von Bergen, December 15, 1941, quoted in Rhodes p. 265.

26. Taylor Report, 1942.

27. Ibid.; see also Alvarez, p. 243–244.

28. See the pope's remarks to E. V. Weizsäcker, July 5, 1943. Auswärtiges Amt, Büro des Staatssekretärs, telegram from Weizsäcker, United States National Archives, T-120, 361/ 277860–1; also the views of Mgr. Domenico Tardini, Actes et Documents du Saint Siège, 7:282.

29. FRUS 1942 Europe, 3:791–800.

30. Actes et documents du Saint Siège, 7:135, November 1942-December 1943. In a memorandum to his Secretary of State on December 18 President Roosevelt noted, “I really think that England and the United States could agree not to bomb Rome on condition that the City itself, outside of the Vatican, be not used in any shape, manner or form either by the Germans or the Italians for war purposes. I understand today that most of the Italian Departments have left Rome with their civil and military personnel, but that the Germans, who are of course all military, are using Rome as their central headquarters. I should think that we might consider that it is up to the Vatican itself to propose that Rome be demilitarized. If that is accomplished there is no reason for us to bomb it.” Roosevelt Papers, PSF, Box 76.

31. FRUS 1943, 2:916.

32. Ibid., p. 917.

33. The initial moves were made as early as January 1943, but following the German occupation of Rome later that year, the correspondence was destroyed in the Vatican lest it fall into the hands of the Nazis.

34. Actes et Documents du Saint Siége, 7:362–363.

35. Ibid.

36. Ibid., p. 377.

37. Ibid., p. 384.

38. Ibid., p. 414.

39. Ibid., p. 459. This was a somewhat more hopeful message than the one delivered by the British Ministers, which stated, “There is little disposition to allow Italy to bargain her way out of the tragic situation into which her acquiescence in Mussolini's cynical but misjudged opportunism has led her.” Ibid, p. 458.

40. On the following day he sent a further appeal to Roosevelt, which underlined his feelings: “We have had to witness the harrowing scene of death leaping from the skies and stalking pitilessly through unsuspecting homes striking down women and children; and in person We have visited and with sorrow contemplated the gaping ruins of that ancient and priceless Papal basilica of St. Laurence, one of the most treasured and loved sanctuaries of Romans, especially close to the heart of all Supreme Pontiffs, and visited with devotion by pilgrims from all countries of the world.” Ibid., p. 503; FRUS 1943, 2:932.

41. Actes et documents du Saint Siége, 7:534. In fact, in response General Eisenhower was ordered to suspend bombing of Rome temporarily.

42. Ihid., p. 538.

43. FRUS 1943, 2:945.

44. Actes et Documents du Saint Siège, 7:629–630.

45. Ibid., p. 650.

46. Ibid.

47. Ibid., p. 655–656.

48. Ibid., p. 689.

49. Ibid., pp. 692–693, 699.

50. Ibid., p. 727: notes by Cardinal Maglione of a conversation with General Chiels, December 19, 1943.

51. Taylor Report, 1944.

52. Ibid.

53. Ibid.

54. Rhodes, p. 358.

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Church History
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