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Relationship between Ronald Reagan and John Paul II


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Relationship between Ronald Reagan and John Paul II

United States and Holy See Relations during Reagan Administration
On the 10th of January 1981, the New York Times published a newspaper article titled US and Vatican Restore Full Ties after 117 Years (Weisman). This article shed more light on the significant role the Holy See has played in international affairs for quite a long time. At the time, both Ronald Reagan and the Catholic Pope John Paul II were at the helm of the two most important offices on earth. This paper seeks to discus the question as to whether these important international relations were as a result of the moral and political friendship witnessed between Reagan and the Pope or as a result of a far greater motive.

The US has always had important diplomatic relations with the Vatican ever since the 24th of January 1893. This was precipitated by the need for the US Administration under Benjamin Harrison to realize an open channel for formal communications with Pope Leo XIII (Nicholson). However, formal bilateral relations between the two high offices were realized more than a century later. This paper intends to investigate the relationship between Ronald Reagan and John Paul II in an effort to find out if their close personal, moral and political friendship had any role in enabling full diplomatic relations. The main mode of investigation will be through conducting in-depth literature review of the available scholarly material on the above stated subject matter. This will begin with a look at the early history of US relations with the High See to the eventual restoration of full diplomatic relations in 1984.
Literature Review

Early history
The very First American Head of State of the American Republic set the ball rolling for the eventual recognition of the full and comprehensive diplomatic relations with the Holy See. In 1788, Benjamin Franklin was posted as the US emissary to Paris where the then Catholic leader, Pope Pius VI sent one of his emissaries to meet the US diplomat (Nicholson). The Pope sent a special request to President George Washington for seeking his approval for the Papal authority to appoint a Bishop to supervise the Roman Catholic Church in the US. The president allowed for the Pope to appoint a bishop of his choice. This precedent is still adhered to date. George Washington agreed to such an appointment as the country had embraced freedom which included the freedom of religion (Casanova 125). This eventually led to Ronald Reagan’s approval for comprehensive diplomatic relations with the Vatican in 1984.
When the US was still a new free country, there was some degree of close contacts with the so called Papal States. This was essentially to allow for economic relations to prosper trade between the US and the Mediterranean (Troy, 63). At the time, the Papal States had superseding authority over the entire regions that made up central Italy. It is important to point out that the relations at the time fell short of recognizing the Holy See as well as its uniquely positioned international personality.
In March of 1797, the US government established consular relations in Rome which at the time was the capital city for the Papal States. In 1826, the Papal States also established its own consulate in the city of New York. It was under the leadership of James Polk that the US sought to extend legally binding recognition of the Papal States thus beginning the appointments of six successive Charge d’Affaires (Nicholson). However, in early 1867, the US Congress saw no need to fund the Rome consulate. This not only led to the closure of the consulate in the same year but also led to the illegality of the earlier recognition accorded to the Pope and the Papal States.

Strained relations between the US and the Holy See
According to Nicholson the reunification of Italy by Garibaldi during the same period and the virtual incarceration of Pope Pius IX positively impacted on the decision by the US to fail to recognize the Pope and the Papal State (Casanova 125). The earlier agreement was based of territories under the rule of the Pope and as such, the pope’s unique role among the Catholic faithful and the Holy See’s international personality remained obscured to the US governments.
Furthermore, there came into being the spreading of a rumor supposedly instigated by the American protestant faithful active in the US Congress. The rumor revolved around the residential Protestant worship services at the American Charge d’Affaires in Rome (Nicholson). As the Protestants attendance grew in numbers, they were forced to rent out a building. The rumor had already begun spreading on the effect that it is the Pope who had expelled the Protestants from within the walls of Rome. As much as the Minister and the Secretary of State sought to dispel the rumors, Congress went on to deny future funding of the Rome consulate (Casanova 125). Successive US administrations had to contend with sending personal representatives of US presidents as channels of communication between the Papacy and the US administration.
It is important to note that the 19th and 20th Century immigrations of Europeans to America led to a situation which only saw the unprecedented increase in the number of Roman Catholic faithful in the US (Nicholson). The Catholic Church in the US grew in influence, populace, wealth and influence such that the Papacy could not ignore it but rather encouraged its growth. During this period, a number of politically astute Catholic Bishops stationed in the country sustained unofficial diplomatic communication channels between the Catholic Church and successive US administrations.
During the First World War, the relations between the US administration and the Papacy suffered a major blow. This was because the then US Catholic Bishop was Cardinal Gibbons James. He was a member of the US Hierarchy and strongly supported to advance peace on the European continent (Casanova 125). This led to frequent clashed with President Woodrow Wilson, a man known for his sharp anti-Catholic inclinations.
The Lateran Treaty
The Italian government and the Holy See entered into an accord under the Lateran Treaty in 1929 (Nicholson). This effectively served to guarantee that Vatican City was a sovereign city and further guaranteed the Holy See’s international personality. This enabled for the Papacy to have the right to realize bilateral relations with other sovereign countries. The treaty paved way for the future realization of comprehensive diplomatic relations with the US.
The Great Depression presented on of the most disturbing times in US history. The US Catholic Church and the administration under Roosevelt sought to find solutions for a wide range of domestic issues (Nicholson). These presented mutual concerns such that the two entities sought to collaborate towards a common goal. President Roosevelt earned some good degree of success in the implementation of the New Deal policy. This led to greater collaboration with the Church. However, some smaller sections of the Church in the US were against Roosevelt’s ideals and as such tended to push the President to interfere with Church’s independence in the appointment of clergyman in the US (Casanova 165).
The Second World War
Communism, Fascism and Nazism grew into a growing threat for the US administration to promote universal peace, a position similarly held on to by the Vatican. This slowly progressed into a situation which led to an all out War which the Vatican had so desperately tried to ensure Italy was not pulled into it (Nicholson). Unfortunately, Italy as is with other parts of Europe was sucked into the War which threatened to disseminate the Roman Church architectural masterpieces all over Europe and more so in Italy and the Vatican. The Allied forces of Italy and Germany however declared war on the US in 1941 a situation which expounded on the City’s greatest fears.
After the Axis forces fell to the Allied forces, a new and older threat remained. Communism was seen as a threat to the Vatican as well as the US as it not only strongly denounced capitalism but also perceived Christianity as the fuel driving capitalism (Nicholson). During the Cold War, the US presidents were closely watched by political interests who served to ensure that the state and the church remained eternally separated.
The first Catholic president of the US was JF Kennedy and as much as he sought to further reiterate on separation of church and state, the public feared that the Vatican had the ability to influence presidential functions (Dunbabin 114). During this time, the church was perceived as just any other religious organization. President Johnson took over after Kennedy was assassinated and held onto Kennedy’s beliefs on separation of the church and the state. Nixon is considered as the other president who worked towards improving the relations between the Vatican and the US administration. President Gerald Ford is said to have worked closely with the Holy See towards curbing drug trafficking, offering social and economic assistance to needy nations, as well as religious challenges evolving in Czechoslovakia and Poland (Dunbabin 114). It is noted that he perceived this to be in the national interests of the US. Jimmy Carter was elected as US president in 76 and sought to further work on former president Lodge ideals towards relations with the Papacy (Nicholson). It was during his tenure as American President when Pope John Paul was elected to head the Vatican in 78. After Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan was elected as the US president in 1980.
The Friendship of Reagan and John Paul II
Karol Wojtyla was a Polish priest who later came to be christened as John Paul II. He is known to have had deeply rifted relation with the then Soviet Union. The Pope is accredited with annoying Soviet Poland by agitating for worldwide support towards the Lech Walesa Solidarity Labor movement (Flamini 25). This movement eventually led to the crumbling of Communist Poland. Ronald Reagan also had a deep dislike for communism and went so far as to term it an “Evil Empire.”
The two heads of state first met in 1972 in Europe prior to their attaining high offices. This meeting is said to have led to an enduring friendship. After the election of Wojtyla as Pope, Reagan wrote an article where he described the Pope’s victory as a victory against communism USSR (Jeffers 112). After Reagan became president, the US administration strove to work dedicated towards realizing full and comprehensive diplomatic relations with the Holy See. This culminated with the meeting of the two leaders in 1982 aimed at fostering relations between the two different entities.
Reagan understood that to defeat communism in Eastern Europe would realize peace, freedom and new opportunities not only for the eastern bloc of Europe but for the world too (Weigel). This implies that Reagan perceived John Paul II as a close ally and more importantly a friend. Religion such as the Catholic faith suffered significant challenges under Communism and being a Polish native, the pope was well aware of these challenges (Hamilton). President Reagan saw that the Pope had great influence on the millions of oppressed people in the greater USSR and as a trusted friend could help demolish the USSR.
President George Washington played a significant role in ensuring that the Catholic Church fell under the auspices of the Holy See. He ensured towards the constitutionally accepted maxim of separation of the church and the state. This led to the establishment of the first American consulate in Rome in 1797 (Jeffers 112). Successive governments worked to foster close relationships based on economic and political importance of Mediterranean Europe to American capitalist objectives.
However, these relations suffered significant setbacks with the unification of Italy and call by Congress to deny the consulate funding on the basis of the dissolution of the Papal States. The 19th as well as the 20th centuries saw a great influx of European immigrants into the US of which a great number were of the Catholic faith (Nicholson). This led to the growth in numbers, in wealth and influence of the Catholic Church not only to the Holy See but to the American administration as well. The First World War, the Great Depression and The Second World War created rifts between the US and the Holy See. This is because the Holy See sought to engage the political wing of the US administration towards ensuring for international peace, human development and better administrative policies (Nicholson).
Based on the principle of the separation of the state and the church, one can clearly note that the US administration from the First President to Ronald Reagan had no interests in engaging the church other than to further its own capitalist objectives (Wald and Allison 26). In many times when they were at loggerheads, it is because opposition from Protestants and anti-Catholic administrators had served to ensure the Catholic Church stayed subdued.
There was also the aspect of all American administrations to strictly adhere to the American Constitution. The two only joined forces in an attempt to realize trade cooperation during the tenure of the Papal States. When the Lateran treaty came into force, it allowed for the eventual fruition of the territorial integrity of the Holy See (Weigel). Reagan closeness to Pope John Paul II and their common interests in Eastern Europe led to the realization of comprehensive diplomatic relations with Holy See. The American Foreign policy has for a long time called for non interference in the matters of religious bodies. As such, politics and religion seem strongly divided unless towards the development of human values.
This paper has intensively looked into the relations of the US with the Holy See. The US Constitution’s founding fathers called for the freedom of American people in thought, religion, and deed. The separation of the church and the state sought to ensure that religious institution did not translate to a biased perception of the articles contained in the American Constitution. It is however important to clarify that it is indeed the close moral and personal relations between Ronald Reagan and John Paul II led to the eventual restoration of conclusive diplomatic relations with the High See towards a shared goal.

Works Cited
Casanova, José. Public religions in the modern world. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011. Print.
Flamini, Roland. “peter and caesar.” World Affairs 177.2 (2014): 25-33.
Dunbabin, John Paul Delacour. The Cold War: The great powers and their allies. London, UK: Routledge, 2014. Print.
Hamilton, William. “Pope John Paul II and the collapse of communism.” Central View. 4 Apr. 2005. Web. 9 Dec. 2014. <>.
Jeffers, H. Paul. Dark Mysteries of the Vatican. New York, NY: Citadel Press, 2010. Print.
Nicholson, Jim. “The United States and the Holy See: The Long Road.” 30 Giorni Magazine. 2004. Web. 9 Dec. 2014. <>.
Troy, Gil. Morning in America: How Ronald Reagan invented the 1980’s. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2013. Print.
Wald, Kenneth D., and Allison Calhoun-Brown. Religion and politics in the United States. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 2014. Print.
Weigel, George. “President Reagan and Pope John Paul II.” The Catholic Exchange. 25 Jun. 2009. Web. 9 Dec. 2014. <>.
Weisman, R. Steven. “U.S. and Vatican Restore Full Ties after 117 Years.” New York Times. 11 Jan. 1984. Web. 9 Dec. 2014. <>.