Holy See–United States relations

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Holy See-United States relations

Holy See

United States

United States–Holy See relations are bilateral relations between the United States and the Holy See. The principal U.S. official is Ambassador Ken Hackett. The Holy See is represented by Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, who assumed office on October 19, 2011. The U.S. Embassy to the Holy See is located in Rome in the Villa Domiziana. The Nunciature to the United States is located in Washington, D.C. at 3339 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W.



The United States maintained consular relations with the Papal States from 1797 under President Washington and Pope Pius VI to 1867 and President Grant and Pope Pius IX. Diplomatic relations existed with the Pope, in his capacity as head of the Papal States, from 1848 under President Polk to 1867 under President Andrew Johnson, though not at the ambassadorial level. These relations lapsed when on February 28, 1867 Congress passed legislation that prohibited any future funding to United States diplomatic missions to the Holy See. This decision was based on mounting anti-Catholic sentiment in the United States,[1] fueled by the conviction and hanging of Roman Catholic, Mary Surratt, for taking part in the conspiracy to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln. Her son, John Surratt, also Roman Catholic, was accused of plotting with John Wilkes Booth in the assassination. He was given sanctuary by the Roman Catholic Church and fled to Italy where he served as a Papal Zouave. There was also an allegation that the Pope had forbidden the celebration of Protestant religious services, previously held weekly in the home of the American Minister in Rome, within the walls of the city.[citation needed]


From 1867 to 1984, the United States did not have diplomatic relations with the Holy See. Several presidents, however, designated personal envoys to visit the Holy See periodically for discussions of international humanitarian and political issues. Postmaster General James Farley was the first of these representatives. Postmaster General James Farley was the first high ranking government official to normalize relations with the Holy See in 1933 when the Postmaster General set sail for Europe, along with Soviet Commissar of Foreign Affairs Maxim Litvinoff on the Italian Liner SS Conte Di Savoia "Count of Savoy." In Italy, Farley had an audience with Pope Pius XI, and dinner with Cardinal Pacelli, who was to succeed to the papacy in 1939.[2] Myron Charles Taylor served Presidents Roosevelt and Truman from 1939 to 1950. Presidents Nixon, Ford, Carter, and Reagan also appointed personal envoys to the Pope.

On October 20, 1951, President Harry Truman nominated former General Mark Clark to be the United States emissary to the Holy See. Clark later withdrew his nomination on January 13, 1952, following protests from Texas Senator Tom Connally and Protestant groups.[citation needed] The official prohibition lasted until September 22, 1983, when it was repealed by the "Lugar Act".[3]

The Vatican has historically been accused of being un-American, at least until the presidency of John F. Kennedy (see Americanism (heresy), nativism and anti-Catholicism in the United States). The bulk of the accusation is found in Paul Blanshard's book American Freedom and Catholic Power, which attacked the Holy See on grounds that it was a dangerous, powerful, foreign and undemocratic institution.


The United States and the Holy See announced the establishment of diplomatic relations on January 10, 1984.[4][5] On March 7, 1984, the Senate confirmed William A. Wilson as the first U.S. ambassador to the Holy See. Ambassador Wilson had been President Reagan's personal envoy to the Pope since 1981.[5] The Holy See named Archbishop Pio Laghi as the first Apostolic Nuncio (equivalent to ambassador) of the Holy See to the U.S.[5] Archbishop Laghi had been Pope John Paul II's apostolic delegate to the Catholic Church in the United States since 1980. Following the September 11 attacks and the beginning of the US war on terrorism from 2001, the Vatican has been critical of the war on terrorism in general, and particularly critical of the US policies in Iraq.[6] On July 10, 2009, President Barack Obama and Pope Benedict XVI met in Rome.[7] A planned relocation of the U.S. embassy to the Holy See drew criticism from several former U.S. ambassadors.[8] On March 27, 2014, Obama and Pope Francis met in Rome.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Melady, Thomas P. and Timothy R. Stebbins "US-Vatican Relations: 25th Anniversary and a New President" The Institute of World Politics May 1, 2009 Retrieved May 1, 2011
  2. ^ http://archive.org/stream/jimfarleysstory017770mbp/jimfarleysstory017770mbp_djvu.txt
  3. ^ "Religion: Recognition for the Holy See" Time December 26, 1983 Retrieved May 1, 2011
  4. ^ "Bilateral Relations of the Holy See" Vatican.va Retrieved March 26, 2011
  5. ^ a b c "Background Note: Holy See" U.S. Department of State March 8, 2011 Retrieved March 26, 2011
  6. ^ Teslik, Lee Hudson and Toni Johnson "U.S.-Vatican Relations" Council on Foreign Relations July 14, 2009
  7. ^ Saul, Michael (July 10, 2009). "President Obama, Pope Benedict XVI meet for first time in Rome". New York Daily News. Retrieved July 12, 2009. 
  8. ^ Jones, Kevin (November 27, 2013). "Decision to move US embassy to Vatican sparks controversy". Catholic News Agency. Archived from the original on December 9, 2013. Retrieved December 15, 2013. 
  9. ^ Abdullah, Halimah (March 27, 2014). "Obama, Pope Francis meet for first time". CNN. Archived from the original on March 27, 2014. 

External links[edit]

Media related to Holy See – United States relations at Wikimedia Commons

 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the United States Department of State (Background Notes). http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/3819.htm#relations