Roman Catholicism in the United States: A Thematic History

By Margaret M. McGuinness; James T. Fisher | Go to book overview

FIVE
“An Embassy to a Golf Course?”: Conundrums on the Road
to the United States’ Diplomatic Representation
to the Holy See, 1784–1984

Roy Domenico

When the fourth-century Roman emperors accorded Christianity a formal state role, they wrote the first page in a long story of complex relations between the papacy and Christian powers. In the seventeen hundred years that followed, meddlesome princes, opportunists, zealots, and manipulators, from Constantine to Pepin, from Philip II to Benito Mussolini, attempted to influence, bully, cajole, and champion the Holy See. The modern era, furthermore, added its own list of conundrums in the affairs between the papacy, or Holy See, and temporal powers—beginning with Protestantism in the sixteenth century and followed by secular ideologies in the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries. These issues periodically placed the pope and his church at odds with European states, and they colored dealings across the Atlantic, particularly diplomatic relations at the ministerial level with the United States. Quintessentially modern and Protestant America embraced what became known as liberal principles—secular, representative, and pluralist democracy anchored in civil rights and a free market or capitalist system. The Holy See contested those values, which nonetheless triumphed in the United States and Europe, while at the same time the papacy suffered the extinction of its temporal power. After the pope surrendered his last earthly provinces, the Papal States, to the new Kingdom of Italy in 1870, many wondered why he should receive diplomats at all. Should Washington accord an embassy to a state that did not exist? Then, with the creation in 1929 of the tiny Vatican City State, new quandaries surfaced—should the United States send a representative to a postagestamp territory enveloped by the city of Rome?

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