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Poland and the Holy See, 1918-1939

  • Neal Pease (a1)


From 1918 to 1939, a diplomatic partnership between the Holy See and Poland appeared extremely likely. Since 1870 the Vatican had sought to restore the temporal status it had lost during Italian unification. The Lateran accords of 1929 resolved the Roman question and confirmed the disputed sovereignty of the papal enclave. This achievement, however, was only part of the Apostolic See's determined efforts to fortify its international standing in a continent dominated by Protestant, anticlerical, or atheist states. The Vatican seemed to be a natural match for revived Poland, a nation renowned for its fealty to Rome and menaced by Germany and Russia, traditional antagonists of the papacy and champions of totalitarian doctrines that the church regarded as inimical.



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1. Loiseau, Charles, “The Vatican and the New States of Central Europe,” The Living Age, 8 November’ 1919, 323 ; Tadeusz Marynowski to Sylwin Strakacz, 26 April 1919, in Archiwum polityczne Ignacego Paderewskiego, 4 vols. (Wroclaw: Polska Akademia Nauk, 1973-1974) 2: 116 [hereafter APIP].

2. For instance, Jaroslaw Jurkiewicz claimed that the Vatican, in its obsessive hostility toward communism and the Soviet Union, desired above all a “strong and reactionary Germany, capable … of expansion to the east… . We had, just as we have now, many decided enemies in the Vatican,” Watykan a Polska w okresie miedzywojennym 1918-1939 (Warsaw: Ksiazka i Wiedza, 1960), 159-163. Similar arguments appear in Watykan a stosunki polko-niemieckie w latach 1918-1939, ed. Jaroslaw Jurkiewicz (Warsaw: Ksiazka i Wiedza, 1960), and Myslek, Wieslaw, Koscidt katolicki w Polsce w latach 1918-1939 (Warsaw: Ksiazka Wiedza, 1966 . On the whole, recent Polish scholarship is more satisfactory. See Krasowski, Krzysztof, Zwiazki wyznaniowe w II Rzeczypospolitej (Warsaw: Paristwowe Wydawnicto Naukowe, 1988 ; Zielinski, Zygmunt and Wilk, Stanislaw, eds., Koscidi w II Rzeczypospolitej (Lublin: Katolicki Uniwersytet Lubelski, 1980 ; and the relevant sections of Cywiriski, Bohdan, Ogniem probowane: korzenie tozsamos'ci (Rome: Papieski Instytut Studidw Kokielnych, 1982). Practically no substantial literature on interwar Polish-Vatican relations exists in western languages. Some information may be gleaned from Meysztowicz, Walerian, L'Eglise catholique en Pologne entre les deux guerres (Vatican City: Embassy of Poland, 1944 ; Rhodes, Anthony, The Vatican in the Age of the Dictators, 1922-1945 (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1973); and Stehle, Hansjakob, Eastern Politics of the Vatican 1917-1979 (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1981 ).

3. Benedict's neutrality has been interpreted as a thinly veiled preference for the Central Powers. The assertion is entirely plausible; the pope would have had ample reason, on both political and religious grounds, to look askance at a coalition of England, France, Italy, and Russia. On the other hand, each warring camp criticized Vatican policy as excessively favorable to the enemy cause. See the balanced assessment of Stewart A. Stehlin, Weimar and the Vatican, 1919-1933: German-Vatican Diplomatic Relations in the Interwar Years (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1983), 3-21.

4. Dmowski, Roman, Polityka polska i odbudowanie paftstwa (Warsaw: Parzynski, Niklewicza, 1925), 136137 . See Hachey, Thomas E., ed., Anglo-Vatican Relations, 1914-1939: Confidential Annual Reports of the British Ministers to the Holy See (Boston: G. K. Hall, 1972), 4 .

5. Wladyslaw Skrzynski to August Zaleski, 8 November 1929, Poland, Ambasada (Catholic church), Instytut Historyczny im. Generate Sikorskiego, London (hereafter IHGS).

6. Memorandum of General Staff Information Division, 2 November 1920, Archiwum Adiutantury Generalnej Naczelnego Dowodztwa (Archiwum Belwederskie) 70/5752, Sterling Library, Yale University [hereafter AB]; Rataj, Maciej, Pamietniki (Warsaw: Ludowa Spotdzielnia Wydawnicza, 1965), 191192 .

7. Meysztowicz, Walerian, Gawedy o czasach i ludziach (London: Polska Fundacja Kulturalna, 1983), 262 , and Tommasini, Francesco, La risurrezione delta Polonia (Milan: Fratelli Treves, 1925), 101 . Alas, this account is not strictly true. In fact, Ratti received the award two days before the opening of the conclave, Times [London], 8 February 1922.

8. France, Ministere des Affaires Etrangeres, Bulletin periodique de la presse polonaise, no. 152 (1925).

9. Falconi, Carlo, The Popes in the Twentieth Century: From Pius X to John XXIII (Boston: Little, Brown, 1967), 172 ; Derek Holmes, J., The Papacy in the Modern World, 1914-1978 (London: Burns and Oates, 1981), 9192 ; Rhodes, Vatican in the Age of Dictators, 19.

10. According to the census of 1921, Roman Catholics accounted for 63.8 percent of the population of Poland. The remainder included 11.2 percent Greek Catholics, 10.5 percent Eastern Orthodox, 10.5 percent Jews, and 3.8 percent Protestants. Religious affiliation closely followed nationality; Latin-rite Catholics tended to be Poles, just as Protestants were generally German, Greek Catholics Ukrainian, and the Orthodox either Ukrainian or Belorussian.

11. Rataj, Pamietniki, 202.

12. For the concordat, see Grabski, Stanislaw, “Jak zawieratem konkordat ze Stolica Apostolska,” TygodnikPowszechny, 3 May 1971 , and Wisiocki, Jerzy, Konkordatpolski z 1925 roku (Poznari: Uniwersytet Adama Mickiewicza, 1977 . Most of the Polish protocols of the negotiating sessions for the concordat, lasting from October 1924 through January 1925, are in IHGS.

13. Poland, Sejm, Sprawozdanie stenograficzne z posiedzenia Sejmu Rzeczypospolitej, 24-27 March 1925.

14. J. Webb Benton to Frank Kellogg [1928], State Department Decimal File, 860c.404/27 National Archives, Washington, D.C. [hereafter SDNA]; Skrzynski to Jdzef Beck, 17 November 1934, IHGS; Aleksander Cardinal Kakowski typescript memoir, vol. 5, 74, Archiwum Archidiecezjalne Warszawskie, Warsaw.

15. Bulletin pModique, no. 173 (1927). In effect, Pius XI rebuked Action Franchise and its leader, Charles Maurras, for attempting to hide a materialist and chauvinist creed behind a facade of Catholicism. While imperfect, the comparison with National Democracy was close enough to sting. See Mistewicz, Teodor, “Stosunek Romana Dmowskiego do religii i Koiola,” Studio. Historyczne 32 (1989), 5772 . Dmowski outlined his view of political Catholicism in Poland in his 1927 tract Koscidi, Nardd, Panstwo (Warsaw: Nakladem Obozu Wielkiej Polski, 1927).

16. Bulletin periodique, no. 183 (1928); John C. Wiley to Henry L. Stimson, 15 October 1930, SDNA 860c.00/503.

17. According to a Polish Foreign Ministry official cited in a memorandum of the United States legation in Warsaw, 3 November 1928, SDNA 860c.404/28.

18. Skrzynski to Zaleski, 8 November 1929 and 23 September 1930, IHGS; Kakowski memoir 5: 33.

19. Beck, Jozef, Final Report (New York: Robert Speller and Sons, 1957), 127 ; Anna M. Cienciafa, ed., Polskapolityka zagraniczna w latach 1932-1939 (Paris: Instytut Literacki, 1990), 185. In March 1938, while visiting Rome with his wife, Beck requested an audience with the pope. Pius XI declined to receive the couple on the grounds that the foreign minister had divorced and remarried. While observers privy to the incident questioned Beck's judgment and taste in requesting the meeting in the first place, he took great offense at the snub and never forgave it. From that time he treated the Vatican with chilly contempt. After the Polish ambassador to the Holy See died, Beck ostentatiously left the post vacant for more than a year and filled it only in mid-1939 after the death of Pius XI. For commentary on the episode, see Charles-Roux, Francois, Huit arts au Vatican (Paris: Flammarion, 1947), 174, 340 ; Meysztowicz, Gawedy, 333-334; Komarnicki, Tytus and Zaranski, Jezef, eds., Diariusz i teki Jana Szembeka, 4 vols. (London: Polish Research Centre, 1964), 4: 106, 121-125, 130-131, 615; Wysocki, Alfred, Tajemnice dyplomatycznego sejfu (Warsaw: Ksiazka i Wiedza, 1979), 718725 .

20. Beck, Final Report 127-128. See also Skrzynski to MSZ [Ministerstwo spraw Zagranicznych], 10 April 1922, Ambasada RP w Londynie, Archiwum Akt Nowych, Warsaw [hereafter A AN].

21. Memorandum of Political Department, Polish Foreign Ministry, for Zaleski, December 1929, in Jurkiewicz, Watykan a stosunki, 33-41.

22. In SDNA, John B. Stetson to Kellogg, 3 November 1928, 860c.404/28; memorandum of conversation with officials of Polish Ministry of Interior, 10 November 1928, 860c.404/29; memorandum of conversation with Jerzy Paciorkowski, 4 March 1929, 860c.404/30. See as well Cienciata, Polska polityka zagraniczna, 185.

23. Memorandum of Political Department, Polish Foreign Ministry, for Zaleski, December 1929, in Jurkiewicz, Watykan a stosunki, 33-41; Gerstmann, Adam, ed., Konkordat Polski ze Stolica Apostolska (Lvov: BibljoteJca Religijna, 1925), 56 .

24. Skrzynski to Beck, 17 February 1934, IHGS; Meysztowicz, Gawpdy, 321.

25. Notably, the blatant refusal of Bishop Augustyn Losiriski of Kielce to mourn the death of Pisudski in 1935 and, two years later, the unilateral transfer of the marshal's remains within the Wawel Cathedral by Archbishop Adam Sapieha of Krakow.

26. Skrzynski to Zaleski, 30 January 1932, IHGS.

27. Skrzynski to Beck, 7 April 1934, IHGS; Charles-Roux, Huit ans au Vatican, 259-260; Laroche, Jules, La Pologne de Piisudski: Souvenirs d'une ambassade 1926-1935 (Paris: Flammarion, 1953), 98 ; Diariusz i teki 4: 497-498. John N. Willys to Henry L. Stimson, 28 April 1931, SDNA 860c.011/33; Rataj, Pamietniki, 53, 459-460; Witos, Wincenty, Moje wspomnienia, 3 vols. (Paris: Instytut Literacki, 1964-1965) 3: 340341 .

28. Meysztowicz, Gawpdy, 322.

29. Diariusz i teki 4: 200, 492; Cienciala, Polska polityka zagraniczna, 186-187.

30. Genie Polonus, natione Ruthenus, to reverse an adage, Septyc'kyj excites controversy to this day. For recent Polish views, see Heydenkorn, Benedykt, “Polityczna dziatalnosc Metropolity Szeptyckiego,” Zeszyty Historyczne 72 (1985): 99114 ; Prus, Edward, Wtodyka Swietojurski, rzecz o arcybiskupie Andrzeju Szeptyckim (Warsaw: Instytut Wydawniczny Zwiazkow Zawodowych, 1985 ; Torzecki, Ryszard, “Metropolita Andrzej Szeptycki,” Znak 400 (1989): 5563 .

31. Beck, Final Report, 128-129; Wladyslaw Sokotowski to Zaleski, 5 August 1930, Ministerstwo Spraw Zagranicznych, AAN.

32. Record of conversation between Stanislaw Grabski and Monsignor Francesco Borgongini-Duca, 4 October 1924, IHGS.

33. Skrzynski to Zaleski, 24 November 1930, and Kakowski to Hlond, 3 October 1932, IHGS; Bulletin periodique, no. 227 (1932). The book in question was Henryk Ignacy Lubienski's Droga no. wschod Rzymu (Warsaw: [privately published], 1932).

34. Skrzynski to Beck, 9 April 1933, in Jurkiewicz, Watykan a stosunki, 62; Bulletin periodique, no. 229 (1933). Bishop d'Herbigny had made many enemies of various nationalities who might have welcomed his demise, and his biographers are not in accord concerning the murky incident. They generally, however, agree that the Polish government, with Ledochowski's assistance, pressed for the removal of the papal aide. See Stehle, Eastern Politics, 142-178; Lesourd, Paul, Entre Rome etMoscou, le Jesuite clandestin, MgrMichel d'Herbigny (Paris: Lethielleux, 1976), 149, 159-161, 237; Wenger, Antoine, Rome etMoscou 1900-1950 (Paris: Brouwer, 1987), 433459 .

35. [Skrzynski to Beck?], 13 October 1932, IHGS.

36. Diariusz i teki 1: 195; and 4: 495.

37. Hachey, Anglo-Vatican Relations, 86; Report of the Political Department, Polish Foreign Ministry, 29 January 1921, in Jurkiewicz, Watykan a stosunki, 27-32; Polish intelligence report, 14 December 1920, AB 71/6124; Jozef Wierusz-Kowalski to Ignacy Jan Paderewski [July 1919], APIP 2: 291-292.

38. In IHGS, Alfred CWapowski to Zaleski [January 1930], Skrzynski to Zaleski, 27 January 1930, 8 March 1930, 10 March 1931.

39. Skrzynski to Beck, 11 March 1933, in Jurkiewicz, Watykan a stosunki, 50.

40. [Skrzynski?] to Beck, 3 November 1933, and Skrzynski to Beck, 10 February 1934, HIA.

41. Charles-Roux, Huit ans au Vatican, 105-106.

42. In IHGS, Janikowski to Beck, 4 May and 28 June 1939, and Szembek note of conversation with Archbishop Filippo Cortesi, 13 April 1939; Diariusz i teki 4: 561-562, 566, 683; Meysztowicz, Gawedy, 275.

43. Mgr. Domenico Tardini to Luigi Cardinal Maglione, 30 August 1939, Actes et documents du Saint Sie “ge relatifs a la seconde guerre mondiale (Vatican City: Libraria Editrice Vaticana, 1965) 1: 262-263.

44. Charles-Roux, Huit ans au Vatican, 332-333; Diariusz i teki 4: 704-705.

45. Beck, Final Report, 201-202.

46. Notes of Maglione, Actes et documents 1: 277.

47. Meysztowicz, Gawedy, 276; in IHGS, Kazimierz Papee to MSZ, 2 September, 4 September, and 6 October 1939.

48. Summi Pontificatus, 20 October 1939; William M. Harrigan, “Pius XII's Efforts to Effect a Detente in German-Vatican Relations,” Catholic Historical Review 49 (1963): 185-186. In all, roughly onethird of Polish Roman Catholic clergy perished during the war.

49. Diariusz i teki 4: 517.

50. New York Times, 28 August 1932.

Poland and the Holy See, 1918-1939

  • Neal Pease (a1)


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