2 MARCH 1929, Page 14

The League of Nations

The Position of the Vatican State

ALmosr, all that could be said has already been written about the effect upon religion and politics in Italy itself of the recon- ciliation so dramatically brought about by the signature of the Lateran Treaties, on February 10th, between the Holy See and the Italian State. But the international import and conse- quences of this event deserve a more serious examination than they have received in the imaginative speculations of certain English and American journalists.

Among other prophecies, we have had the suggestion that the Pope's sovereignty having now been unreservedly acknowledged by Italy, as it has all along been recognized by many Powers who are States Members of the League of Nations, His Holiness will, as a matter of course, apply for membership of the League. Upon which the most respectable of English Liberal newspapers has taken fright, and Colonel Wedgwood Benn, M.P.. (not un- mindful perhaps of the hidden band of Ku Klux Klan) has gone so far as to ask the Foreign Secretary in Parliament to make British support of the Vatican State's application for a eat at Geneva dependent upon the nihil obstat of Washington. A deal of trouble would have been saved if such writers and politicians had stopped to ask whether at any time since 1918 the Pope had shown the slightest desire to be involved in the affairs of the League. I have the best authority for saying that, while Italy will doubtless fulfil the formality of registering her new Treatiei, when ratified, with the League Secretariat, a move by the Vatican State to join. the League is in the highest degree improbable.


The Pope would, I feel sure, agree with the Editor of the Manchester Guardian that it would be a 'great mistake for him to be a League Member—but for a different reason, which can only be understood if the traditional Roman Catholic conception of the international role of the Papacy is grasped. The whole weight of that tradition at its best is against the Temporal Power of the Roman Pontiff being anything more than inci- dental and auxiliary to. his main function, which is spiritual, paternal, and supernational. Charged with ministering to the souls of his subjects in every nation, he has indeed a great need of independence from any and every Power and of continuous peaceful communications. By the nature of things, peace is the first temporal interest of a world-wide Church.. But the essential - supernational character and, as Roman Catholics believe, unique authority of the Pope are incompatible with membership of a democratic body like the League.

Nor could the Vatican State possibly accept the ordinary obligations of membership with regard to military sanctions, the economic boycott or the defence of territory. The Holy See's value to- the Church and its power for peace would, it is felt, alike be diminished rather than enhanced were the Pope involved in all the political, economic, financial, and technical complications which are inevitable in the daily life of the League of Nations.


Can the Papacy then be relatectin any way to the organization of peace through the League, in view of the strong tradition of Papal peacemaking which survives from the days of un- divided Christendom ; the active contribution of Leo XIII and his successors to the cause of peace in modern times, and the conviction of over three million Catholics of all nationalities that the Pope is the inspired guardian of the Moral Law ? This is a force of which, among others; every statesman who desires to strengthen the League is bound to take account.

Mgr. Borgognini Duca, the able deputy of Cardinal Gasparri, wbo was one of the principal negotiators of the Lateran Settle- ment, on the. Holy See's behalf, told me very frankly in a con- versation at the Secretariat of State that in the present state of the world Papal Membership of the League could, on no account, be contemplated for the reasons given above. (This view will be found to have official confirmation in the . text of the Lateran Treaty, which contains a clause added upon the Pope's initiative, stating that he has no intention of seeking membership in international political conferences.) I then put the 'question whether there were no other way in which the moral support of His Holiness could be given to this most valuable linman experiment in the organization of peace, so that (at any 'rate) the average Roman Catholic would be disposed as a citizen to take his country's obligations under the League more seriously. Would it not be possible, for instance, for the Papal Nundio at Berne to be accredited to the Council of the League, or to League Conferences, as an " observer," somewhat as the American Minister has been from time to time ? Or could not diplomatic relations be set up in some other way between the League as such and the Holy See ?

He replied that if the League were to invite the Pope to help it, he was ready to do so, and that the method suggested was worthy of consideration : but that I could not do better than publish 'the reply which I had received from the Secre- tariat of State when, as an unofficial intermediary, I had first put forward this project in 1923, as this still represented the point of view of his Holiness. The following is a translation of the relevant portions of this letter (Secretariat of State, No. 21837 of August 11th, 1923) :— " I have not failed to examine with the greatest interest the Memorandum which you forwarded to me . . . concerning relations between the League of Nations and the Holy See. The putting forward of the project in question, while it is not at all official, is a welcome act from the League's side and I hasten to express my satisfaction at it. I most add, however, after careful consideration, that the project could only be accepted here in the sense that the Holy See would be at the disposal of the League for matters which come within its proper -sphere ; that is to say in the elucidation of questions of principle in regard to morality and public inter- national law, as also in giving its help to (the League's) relief work where its intervention would be of value to suffering peoples."

Then again the famous Roman review, Civilla Cattolica, at a moment when Spain's original defection from the League threatened to weaken it, published an article (August 21st, 1926) urging Catholics most earnestly to rally to its support :— " Catholics, like all men of good will, cannot remain indifferent before such a great moral issue as that presented by the League, and if there are forces at work for its destruction it is essential that all who love peace should band themselves together in its defence, for the League must not be destroyed, but must be strengthened and improved."

It is a fact that individual Roman Catholics are strongly encouraged by the Holy See to play their part actively as citizens in all that concerns the participation of their respec- tive countries in the varied life of the League.

The above passages illustrate the actual position of the Pope in regard to the League of Nations, as Mgr. Borgognini Duca explained it. The position may be summarized as one of general benevolence towards the League ; disinclination to become entangled in the complications of membership ; willingness to contribute to its relief work and to give advice, if consulted; upon questions of principle ; and, finally, encouragement to Catholic statesmen and citizens of the Member States to play their part actively within the League. I have reason to believe that the accuracy of this summary is not altered by the Italian recognition of the Pope's sovereignty and independ- ence, though this might ultimately make some system of intercourse and consultation between the Vatican and Geneva easier than it was before. There are many—Lord Cecil of Chelwood among them—who believe that such independent collaboration between two world-wide authorities, the one temporal, the other spiritual, but both essentially concerned with the maintenance of Peace, has much to commend it.

Bitt difficulties abound. There are the nationalists, Italian and otherwise, who have no love either for the conciliatory influence of the Church or for the League ; there are the Papists, more Catholic than the Pope, who contemn the League because it does not centre round him ; them is the old- established Protestant suspicion of all things Papal. These are formidable obstacles for those architects of peace to sur- mount who would build a bridge between Rome and Geneva, and bring to the most remarkable adventure of political peace- making which the world has seen reinforcement from the venerable citadel of Catholic Christianity.

Joini ErpsrEmr.