Vichy, the Church and the Vatican
Since the beginning of the century the relations between the French State and the papacy had hardly been marked by tolerance or cordiality. After the Separation of Church and State and the passage of the secular laws it was not until 1921 that diplomatic relations with the Vatican were renewed. A conciliatory step was taken when the 'associations cultuelles', set up at parish level to administer Church property, were replaced by 'associations diocésaines', over which the bishop had greater control. However, although the Bloc National Government had been more favourably disposed, the Cartel des Gauches was hostile. Herriot, its Radical leader, adopted a secular policy, and as early as 1924 announced his intention of abolishing the Vatican embassy, because, according to his party, he disliked making 'diplomatic genuflexions', held 'a very lofty conception of secularism... [and] wanted to break the links with a spiritual power that claims to be all-powerful'. 1 The move, however, provoked the Right to anger. Canon Desgranges, the deputy for Morbihan, declared that ten years of peace between Church and State had been shattered. 2 The decision was absurd, because Protestant Britain, then ruled by a Socialist government, nevertheless had its diplomatic representative to the Holy See. 3 Eventually diplomatic relations were fully restored.
In 1939, on the eve of war, the state of relations between Paris and Rome, as we have seen, did show small signs of improvement, but the overall position remained unsatisfactory. It was this situation that the Vichy regime sought to improve still further by cultivating closer diplomatic ties, by abolishing the so-called 'penal laws' that inhibited some forms of religious activity, and by seeking a better working arrangement, if not a Concordat, between the State, the French Church and the Vatican.
The Pope, as the Nuncio in Germany at the time, had approved the Concordat with Hitler, regarding that nation, as he still did in 1939, as the main European bulwark against communism. Only as the war dragged on was his opinion modified. One small indication, however,