"The Holy See, on the other hand rushed in to recognize Slovenia and Croatia. Never before had the Vatican taken such a diplomatic initiative. It was hard to deny that this unprecedented move owed something to the fact that these two republics were predominantly Catholic."

From ........ National Catholic Reporter

September 9, 1994

page 34





By Thomas Patrick Melady

Our Sunday Visitor Inc., 224 pages, $19.95

Review By PETER HEBBLETHWAITE - NCR's Vatican affairs writer

At 9:17 p.m. Rome time, on Christmas Eve 1989, just as he was putting on his white bow tie for midnight Mass in St. Peter's, Thomas Melady, U.S ambassador to the Holy See, was called by the State Department. It wanted, indeed demanded, to know why the Vatican was harboring Gen. Manuel Noriega, an international drugs criminal, in its nunciature in Panama.

Melady thought this was hardly the moment to be disturbing Agostino Casaroli the cardinal secretary of state. But he slipped him an informal note during midnight Mass requesting a brief word. Casaroli came along, shook hands and said that he, too, had been watching the news on CNN.

This tells us something about the Vatican and the role of diplomats in the modern world. Both Melady and Casaroli were dependent on CNN for their basic information. It was well ahead of both of them. Diplomats can be cut out by television and fax. Dec.26, Melady could do nothing- It was a traditional holiday in the Curia. In any case, the Vatican was in no hurry. Melady advised Washington that 'the Holy See could not give the impression of caving in to U.S. pressure.'

This motif recurs frequently. It was part of Melady's initiation in the job, the third ambassador to the Holy See after President Reagan's cronies William A. Wilson [1984-86] and Frank Shakespeare [1987-89]. The Holy See does not give way to pressure. Objections are like the hammer on the anvil. They reinforce.

John Paul had a more harmonious relationship with Reagan than with President Bush. The John Paul-Reagan meeting in 1982 settled the fate of Poland and, it seems, of the Sandinistas. Communism was still in Reagan's words 'this evil empire' and in the pope's words in 1984 'this shame of our time.'

Melady alludes to this meeting, which came before diplomatic relations with the United States were established and no doubt contributed to their setting up.

The big ideological clash with Bush came over the Gulf War in January 1991. John Paul wrote Bush stressing 'the tragic consequences which war in the region would have,' and declaring his 'firm belief that war is not likely to bring an adequate solution to international problems.'

Melady had the task of conveying Bush's reply on Jan. 16, knowing the bombing would start the next day. He delivered the letter to Msgr. Claudio Celli, deputy foreign minister, who promised it would be on the pope's desk within minutes.

Melady emerged from the Vatican with a heavy heart. He felt the need to stop and pray in the church of Santa Anna. But then he realized that if he did so his waiting bodyguards would guess that war was imminent. He went his way without pausing. A true diplomat.

Both the Italian left and right quoted the pope in their savage attacks on U.S. policy. The right was more vicious especially in Communion and Liberation publications. 'Il Sabato' said Bush had 'earned the Nobel Prize for war.' Fr. Joseph Fessio abandoned his English language version of '30 Days' in high dudgeon.

Melady had to explain that such publications were not the 'voice of the Vatican.' He found it more difficult to explain away 'Civilta Cattolica', the Jesuit fortnightly, and 'L'Osservatore Romano', which were equally forthright in saying that 'war was no longer a fit means to repair injustice.'

To clear up these 'misunderstandings,' Melady recommended that Bush telephone the pope. It was not a good idea. Bush felt the conversation was 'fractured, i.e. ill understood.' A phone can exaggerate accents, comments Melady. In 1992, after the papal operation, Melady advised Bush to confine himself to 'social amenities.'

But by then the Desert Storm quarrel had long been patched up. Melady is a personal friend of the Bush family- When he was a student at the Catholic University of America, Prescott S. Bush Sr., senator from Connecticut and George's father, provided him with important documents for his dissertation.

Naturally, as friend and ambassador, Melady wanted Bush's papal audience Dec. 8, 1991, to succeed. It did. Bush briefed the pope on the Madrid conference, which prepared the Middle East peace process; religious freedom in Saudi Arabia and Haiti; and the situation in the former Soviet Union.

The meeting lasted more than 60 minutes instead of the scheduled 40. The president said it was 'great.' John Paul paid him the compliment of personally escorting him into the hall where Americans in Rome were waiting. This, says the ambassador, put an end to the notion that there was 'coldness' between the U.S. president and the pope.

Melady alludes many times to the dilemma of having a Catholic represent his country at the Vatican. He steadfastly refused to intervene in properly church affairs on grounds of the separation of church and state.

He tells us, revealingly, that though he thought highly of Opus Dei and approved of the beatification of Blessed Josemaria da Escriva, he kept this thought to himself.

There was one more clash with the State Department before his time was up. The U.S. view was that Yugoslavia should be held together because its breakup would prefigure and announce a comparable disintegration of the Soviet Union as it still was.

Years of trying to chip Yugoslavia away from the Soviet bloc had left the State Department, says Melady, 'infatuated' with the Belgrade government. Besides, Americans with their melting pot theory are not sympathetic to small and doubtfully viable nations.

The Holy See, on the other hand rushed in to recognize Slovenia and Croatia. Never before had the Vatican taken such a diplomatic initiative. It was hard to deny that this unprecedented move owed something to the fact that these two republics were predominantly Catholic.

A contrast was made with the non-recognition of Israel.

But to keep the balance, the recognition of Bosnia-Herzegovina, conventionally described as 'predominantly Muslim,' soon followed. But by the time Serbia was blamed as the 'aggressor' and sanctions were imposed, there was not much difference between the two positions, and the matter was left in the hands of the Europeans.

This was a case where Melady strongly agreed with the Vatican against the State Department's natural instincts. He wonders whether having a Catholic as ambassador is such a good thing. After all, his job is not so much to represent the Holy See to Washington as Washington to the Holy See.

A Catholic ambassador can have divided loyalties.

He does not claim to have exercised any great influence over events and modestly admits that his 'reports made little impact.' As former ambassador to Burundi his expertise might have come in handy a year later. Meantime, his book confirms the advice once given by Sir Alec Randall to a new British ambassador- 'Remember, old boy, you've got absolutely nothing to do in Rome. But keep your ear to the ground and you will find that Rome is a first-rate listening post.'

U.S. taxpayers will be relieved to know how thrifty was their ambassador. For a July 4 reception they bought a large amount of inexpensive American champagne and had the waiters serve it with towels wrapped round the bottles. Consummate diplomacy.