by PAUL BLANSHARD
THE national rumpus over the appointment of General Mark Clark as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States to the State of Vatican City has served to remind Americans that the issue of church and state is still one of the hottest issues in American politics. On this issue no one can be neutral. The cleavage revealed by the President’s sudden maneuver runs to the very roots of our national life.
On one aspect of the affair the eulogists and the viewers-with-alarm are almost unanimous. It was bad theater. The appointment was badly timed and badly stage-managed. If the President wanted serious consideration for an important innovation in American foreign policy, this was not the way to get it. When you want genuine legislative deliberation on a man and his mission, you do not dump his name unceremoniously into the Senatorial hopper in the last few hours of a Congressional session and then announce that you cannot even make an interim appointment because a necessary enabling statute has to be enacted. The method of the nomination seemed to indicate that it was a political stunt, designed to attract Catholic votes and to appease the Catholic-dominated political machines in our larger cities. Its only virtue is that it will bring the problem of Catholic power out into the open where it belongs.
The tidal wave of opposition from American Protestantism startled even the most callous politicians. The Presidential appointment suddenly revealed a great, underlying mass of anti-Catholic sentiment which had lain dormant for many years. It was not a pleasant revelation for those of us who cherish national unity, but it had its compensations. It was not based on personal bigotry; it had none of the character of the Know-Nothing movement of the last century, or the Ku Klux campaign against Al Smith. It was a spontaneous and amazingly powerful reaction in defense of the American tradition of the separation of church and state. It was opposition to any move that might entangle America in any church-state alliance. The force of the protest was so overwhelming that I doubt whether any ambassador to the Holy See will be confirmed at Washington during this generation.
During the weeks since the nomination of General Clark, the simple argument which has appealed most strongly to non-Catholic Americans is that this is gross religious discrimination. Why send an ambassador to the international headquarters of one religion and not to the headquarters of others? If this is not favoritism, why not send an ambassador at the same time to Mecca, to the Archbishop of Canterbury, to the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, to the primarily Protestant World Council of Churches? Why single out the Vatican for specie I prestige ?
Behind this fundamental and primary charge of discrimination lies the basic argument that we believe in the separation of church and state. The man on the street does not always know what he means by that phrase— nor does the Supreme Court — but he is sure of one thing. The nation has achieved the separation of church and state the hard way, and it does not want to go backward toward medieval clericalism. The American experience of church-state separation has justified itself because it has helped to make America a land of equality for all creeds. Our people look at the European systems of church-state mixture with genuine disgust, particularly at the two chief clerical-fascist (and Catholic) states of Spain and Portugal. They are proud of the fact that the United States is one of the few great nations in the world where church and state are cleanly and clearly distinguished, where no church party interferes in politics, and no political official bosses a religious organization, and no tax dollar goes into religious coffers. This pride and this conviction have become part of the American definition of religious freedom.
The appointment of an ambassador to the Vatican has only a remote connection with this underlying loyalty to the tradition of church-state separation, but the connection is real. To most Americans the naming of a Vatican ambassador seems to threaten our church-state tradition because the Vatican is both a church and a state. The very appointment of an ambassador proves this fact. The fiction that we can send an ambassador to the 108-acre Vatican City State without recognizing the Roman Catholic Church is political eyewash. We do not need an ambassador to a territory the size of a golf course. The Pope is one man, and you cannot split him in two even to win both the Catholic and Protestant vote. He is head of ihe Holy Roman Catholic Church and the Vatican State, and the two are facets of the same thing. The Vatican’s diplomats are priests and its priests are diplomats. It supports itself wherever possible throughout the world from public revenues, and preaches the duty of governments to give it special privilege and political advantage. Its supreme head is a sincere and saintly priest, but he has been a professional diplomat all his life, and he has never actually been the fulltime pastor of a single church.
The President’s schizophrenic philosophy of Pope-splitting will not work in practice any more than did Roosevelt’s backhanded device for sending Myron Taylor to Rome as his personal envoy in order to avoid a Congressional veto. When General Clark kneels, as Myron Taylor did, before the Papal throne, and presents his credentials, will he be kneeling before the foreign sovereign Pius XII or the Catholic Vicar Pius XII? The sovereign and the vicar are the single, absolute dictator of one of the world’s great empires, the semi-religious and semipolitical empire of Catholic power which claims jurisdiction over certain vital aspects of the conduct of 350,000,000 subjects. The Pope himself does not make a clear distinction between the two facets of his power. Why should we?
It is true that a few non-Catholic. nations manage to overlook the anomaly of a democracy recognizing a state which is a church, and a church which is a state. But the diplomatic representatives they send to Rome are not full ambassadors, and their philosophy of church and state is quite distinct from ours. There are only nineteen nations which send full ambassadors to the Holy See, and all of them are Catholic nations. If General Clark is confirmed, he will be the only member of his class, the only full ambassador from a non-Catholic power. The two leading non-Catholic nations of Europe which recognize the Vatican, Great Britain and the Netherlands, do not practice the separation of church and state—they grant public revenues to religious enterprises, and they do not find in a legation at the Vatican anything opposed to their traditional policy. When our own government sent a chargé d’affaires to the Papacy from 1848 to 1868, he was strictly limited to nonreligious relations with a nation which does not now exist, the Papal States.
THE chief official defense of the Clark appointment is that it is necessary and desirable in the war against Communism. I believe in collaboration with the Vatican in the struggle against Communism if the terms of collaboration are honorable for both parlies, but this particular argument, that an American ambassador to the Holy See is vital in the antiCommunist struggle, strikes me as wishful thinking. The Vatican is in no position to deny us valuable information because our accredited agents do not wear plumes or while ties. Moreover, the importance of the Vatican as a listening post in the cold war has been grotesquely exaggerated. The Vatican’s intelligence service of diplomats and bishops is widely diffused, but it is neither swift nor thorough nor professional. Many times in Rome in 1950 I saw the Vatican secretariat neatly scooped by the Rome newspapers which printed facts about Communist-Catholic relations behind the Iron Curtain of which the Vatican diplomats were still ignorant. The elaborately publicized Myron Taylor mission to the Vatican was informationally a farce. Its labors could have been more successfully performed by a small group of specialists in the American Embassy to Italy whose reports would not have been buried in Presidential files. Taylor himself was in Rome only thirteen times in a ten-year term, perhaps 10 per cent of his period of service.
In collaborating with the Vatican in the cold war we can demand coöperation on our terms, and it is time that those terms became self-respecting. We have repeatedly saved the Vatican’s life in Europe since the end of World War II without demanding any real reciprocity. We have exported to Europe almost every feature of our democracy, but out of deference to the Vatican we have withheld one of its most vital elements, the gospel of the separation of church and state. We made no protest against the fact that the land-reform program in Italy exempted the nation’s largest landowner, the Church. We have kept silent about birth control and allowed uncontrolled overpopulation to cancel out partially the benefits of our ECA millions. A one-sided recognition of the Vatican at this moment would be used as further evidence of continued and softheaded American approval for such practices and principles, for Vatican-supported fascist dictators, for the Vatican network of nine major Catholic political parties in Europe, for the separatist Catholic trade-union international, for the world-wide system of segregated private schools. It is true that the Vatican is on our side in the war against Communism, but it is not on our side in the continuing struggle for democracy and cultural freedom — witness the Pope’s indignant rejection in October of a mild proposal to establish a plenary world organization for Catholic laymen! — and it continues to support such Catholic anti-democrats as Franco, Salazar, and Perón.
The Vatican appointment raises many new questions about the dual citizenship and the divided loyalty of our 28,000,000 American Catholies, embarrassing questions which Catholic Americans do not like. They are loyal and true Americans, and they do not want to be regarded as subjects of a foreign power. But if the Vatican is fully recognized in American law as a foreign nation, how can they escape the legal and moral implications of that recognition? Whose directive should they obey when a Catholic mandate conflicts with American law? Why, for example, if the Vatican is a foreign political power which the Vatican would acknowledge by receiving a purely political envoyshould not American Catholic bishops be compelled to register as foreign agents under our Foreign Agents Registration Law? These bishops are appointed abroad by a foreign sovereign without any ratification by an American assembly, and their political allegiance to Rome is clearly expressed.
After ratification, which nation will be considered the primary nation of an American Catholic bishop, the Vatican or the United States? The Vatican will reply loftily that there is no conflict between the “religious" zone of Catholic power and the purely “civil" territory of American law, but Americans know differently. They know that there are great areas of American civic life in which the voice of Rome and the voice of democratic America do not agree, and that in most conflicts in the past Rome has won by default because of our conventional taboos against “religious controversy.”
The Clark mission would continue the old taboos. The Pope will refuse to discuss any of the major issues which lie between Catholic authority and American democracy, the issues of education, medicine, marriage, divorce, birth control, and censorship, since he insists that these are matters of “holy faith,”outside the scope of American determination.
Can anyone, for example, imagine Mark Clark discussing frankly with Pius XII the most important conflict between the Vatican and American democracy, the Catholic opposition to public schools? The Catholic law on public schools (Canon 1374) is distinctly anti-American. It directs American Catholics to maintain a segregated school system under clerical control in opposition to the public school, and it instructs them on pain of mortal sin not to send their children to public schools without special permission of the Rome-appointed bishop. It should be the first item on the agenda of any ambassador to the Vatican. It will be the last.
Similarly, if our schizophrenic diplomacy could be suddenly transformed into honest and courageous diplomacy, our ambassador would raise promptly the issues of Catholic marriage courts operating on American soil and handing down decrees in contradiction to the decrees of American courts, of Catholic pressure against American legislators who support liberal and honest divorce laws, of Catholic battles against the right of non-Catholics to receive information on contraception, of the Catholic edict (Canon 1399) against reading any literature which directly assails Catholic doctrine, of the organized Catholic pressure upon our press. All these are American issues which lie close to the heart of our democracy. Will an American ambassador to the Vatican dare to raise them?
The very asking of the question can evoke nothing more serious than hearty laughter. Washington is not ready for frank dealing with Catholic power. It visualizes an American ambassador as a courtly and pliant gentleman delivering our prestige and support to an anti-Communist Vatican front without demanding any concession to our democracy in return. We would not dare to propose such a onesided deal with Communist power. We would never dream of sending an ambassador to any other nation while conceding that we were precluded from even discussing our basic national interests. Why should we have a double standard for Vatican diplomacy?