"The Holy See's action wasn't its first to embarrass the Church in America and elsewhere in the world. In his intense desire to appear neutral, the Pope--to the shock of many Americans--had in the previous year received the murderous Ante Pavelic, the Nazi puppet who had seized power in Croatia. "
From................................... THE AMERICAN POPE
The Life and Times of Francis Cardinal Spellman
By- John Cooney
Pub. by Times Books, The New York Times Book Co., Inc. 1984
ISBN- 0-8129-1120-2 118
THE AMERICAN POPE
As far as Roosevelt was concerned, he received few benefits and a lot of criticism for having done the Vatican the favor of placing a representative there. He lost twice on the Sheil moves. Certain bishops still opposed him. [Roman Catholic "Father"] Coughlin was not only still on the air but also published a pro-Nazi, anti-New Deal magazine, Social Justice.
THE WAR YEARS
According to several accounts, the President decided that since the Catholic hierarchy needed a greater reason than had been put forth to date to silence Coughlin, he would provide it. Roosevelt evidently turned to New Deal supporter Monsignor Francis J. Haas, chairman of the sociology department at Catholic University. He sent Haas to tell Spellman that if Coughlin weren't taken off the air once and for all, the Internal Revenue Service would be ready to look into the personal taxes of each of the nation's Roman Catholic archbishops."
Such a prospect would terrify any archbishop. Millions of dollars flowed through their fingers each year; few, if any, archbishops would emerge unsullied from a tax investigation. Their personal finances were in a vague form. Often, gifts to the Church were given directly to them, and many archbishops used the money for personal as well as Church matters. It was difficult to determine where one such use stopped and the other began. All archbishops spent lavishly. Spellman routinely gave presents to friends in Rome; he knew from his Vatican days that Church officials appreciated expensive gifts. He gave gold watches, grand pianos, tapestries, jewels, and, of course, money to the Pope and other men of prominence. Even the Pope's white-and-gold electric shaver came from Spellman. Besides, Spellman had an unusual payroll that his counterparts did not. He was rumored to have a number of informants in Rome, mostly poor monsignors, who kept him abreast of Vatican political undercurrents in return for the thousands of dollars he gave them as "donations."
Thus, Coughlin went off the air in 1940. In the end, the priest said he had "bowed to the orders of superiors."
Roosevelt had reason to be sensitive about the radio priest. Nineteen forty was an election year and the President had cause to worry about the Catholic vote. Jim Farley had walked out on the President over the third-term issue. Moreover, the Vatican, talking through Spellman, expressed its unhappiness with Roosevelt's trying to meddle in Church politics. The method Spellman chose was one that Roosevelt could easily understand. It was an example of one calculating politician's striking out at another.
Shortly after arriving in New York, Spellman started having private lunches at his residence with prominent guests. They were often businessmen, politicians, diplomats, military leaders, and even entertainers such as Gene Kelly and Loretta Young. Spellman, when dining with a guest who could help him or his Church in the political arena, always had a specialist from his staff at the table to question the person in order to glean as much information as possible. So that people spoke freely, he insisted that such encounters were off the record.
On August 23, 1940, the rule against going public was broken as a warning to Roosevelt. The guest was the Republican presidential candidate Wendell Willkie. Spellman had made it very plain that he wanted Willkie to visit the Powerhouse, even sending a personal emissary to the candidate when he was campaigning in Colorado Springs. After the lunch Spellman told the Republican he could tell the press about their meeting.
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When Willkie made his announcement, the implications were startling. The New York Daily News, considered the newspaper of most of the city's Catholics, prominently printed a story on page two that began:
"At a meeting of deep political significance, Wendell Willkie, Republican candidate for President, was the guest yesterday of Francis J. Spellman, at the Madison Avenue residence of the Vatican's trusted adviser and confidant...."
The story noted frosty relations of late between the Vatican and Roosevelt.
"Willkie's supporters were spreading the hopeful wish last night that Catholic support, long a powerful bulwark of F.D.R.'s political strength, would swerve from the New Deal and give its strength to Willkie," the report stated.
Roosevelt recognized a power play when he saw one. He knew well the respect with which Catholics held their archbishops and that the gesture couldn't be treated lightly. The message wasn't lost on other politicians either. Spellman was a man on whose good side they wanted to remain. The President hastened to neutralize the impression that Spellman had created. Just what he did to placate Spellman wasn't clear. For his part, Spellman probably believed Roosevelt was going to win, and he wanted to stick with a winner. In any case, only five days after the Willkie visit, the President had Spellman to lunch at Hyde Park. The press was told well in advance about the archbishop's coming.
Thus, the archbishop and the President were helping each other again as the late afternoon sky darkened over Fordham University on Saturday, October 29, 1940. Excitement swirled through the brisk, autumn air as thousands of people gathered around the open field in front of the school. In the center of the grassy expanse, the five hundred twenty-five members of the university's Reserve Officers Training Corps stood stiffly at attention. They faced a black limousine convertible containing Spellman and Roosevelt. Roosevelt's voice rang over a public-address system as he told the cadets how proud he was that they were learning "how best to defend America." Spellman, who had replaced Governor Lehman in the seat of honor next to the President as soon as the presidential party had arrived, sat smiling.
Roosevelt's presence at the small Catholic college was vivid testimony to the political skills of both men and the high regard that the administration placed on the Catholic vote. Each man got what he wanted. Roosevelt publicly received the archbishop's blessing for his controversial third-term candidacy. In turn, Spellman's influence with the White House was made obvious to political observers across the nation. The archbishop and the President basked in the publicity, as news photographers furiously snapped pictures of them together.
THE WAR YEARS
Soon, the importance of Spellman's domestic role would be forever overshadowed by the one the President cast for him as a key American figure who shaped the international affairs of his nation, his Church, and other countries. More than any other aspect of his career, Spellman's influence as an international power broker contributed the most to his rise and fall as a master politician both in his country and his Church. For the next quarter-century, he was destined to be the celebrated prelate who blessed the crusades of the American empire--a figure who both publicly and clandestinely worked actively to expand his country's influence around the globe.
In March 1942, Spellman was angry. The Vatican cast him in an untenable position with Roosevelt and touched off a wave of anti- Catholic sentiment in the United States. Only four months after Pearl Harbor, a Japanese mission was accredited to the Holy See, an action that caught the archbishop flatfooted. Spellman had to respond in a way that neither offended the Pope nor riled the White House further. Ironically, only three months earlier, Spellman, a staunch patriot, had praised Catholics for being "outstanding in their loyalty to American ideals." Now it seemed to him that he had to start from scratch. He had to face the age-old issue of whether American Catholics owed their allegiance to Rome or to their homeland. He began constantly looking for ways to prove himself- -and his religion--to the President.
The Holy See's action wasn't its first to embarrass the Church in America and elsewhere in the world. In his intense desire to appear neutral, the Pope--to the shock of many Americans--had in the previous year received the murderous Ante Pavelic, the Nazi puppet who had seized power in Croatia.
To his credit, Pius had initially intervened to stop a Pavelic plan to send all the nation's Jews to Germany and thus some people were spared. But the Pope did all too little. The Pavelic regime slaughtered hundreds of thousands of Orthodox Serbs, who refused to convert to the [Roman] Catholic Church, while the Pope remained silent. The archbishop of Zagreb, Aloysius Stepinac, belatedly criticized the government in 1943 for policies that had taken place for several years. Stepinac's role in the reign of terror was questionable and there were [Roman] Catholic priests who had participated in the massacres.11
[ 11- Holmes, Papacy in the Modern World, p.160. The author stated that certain Franciscans participated in the slaughter. ]
Spellman became aware of the Vatican-Japanese agreement only a day before Roosevelt, when he received a memorandum from Rome that outlined the rationale for the controversial step: "....... the presence in the Vatican of missions of various belligerent countries which are at war with each other does not diminish but rather emphasizes the strictest impartiality of the Holy See."12 As Spellman realized, the act could only embitter Americans in general and Roosevelt in particular. The next day Spellman received a letter expressing the President's disgust. Roosevelt said a "great error of judgment was made . . . there must have been a dosen [sic] ways of deferring the
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action, for one reason or another, at this time." The President wearily concluded, "I shall say nothing officially, in all probability, but my heart is torn because it is bound to get out and there will be definitely a bad reaction to thus [sic] unnecessary move."13 Spellman's heart was torn as well. At this stage of his life, he spent his days proving his country and his Church worthy of one another, while the Vatican and Washington looked upon each other suspiciously. The archbishop of New York had to strike a balance between the two.
Though angry, Roosevelt wasn't vexed at Spellman. To date, the archbishop had been one of his biggest boosters on the war effort. He couldn't blame Spellman for the insensitivity of Vatican politics. Only the previous fall, Spellman had bucked isolationists within the hierarchy and firmly supported Roosevelt's controversial military draft. On the eve of the first drawing of Selective Service System numbers, the President had once again made a highly publicized trip to Fordham, where he reviewed the ROTC units with Spellman at his elbow. When Roosevelt pulled the first SSS number the next day, he read a message from a rabbi, a minister, and a priest. The Catholic statement--Spellman's--was the most militant: "I do believe it is better to have protection and not need it than to need protection and not have it.
"We really can no longer afford to be moles who cannot see or ostriches who will not see. ...... We Americans want peace and we shall be prepared for a peace, but not a peace whose definition is slavery or death."
The words contained hints of the Cold War warrior that Spellman one day would become, but in 1941 these words were of great encouragement to a President trying to gain support for an unpopular war buildup. The President took such outward displays of confidence into account when settling his debts with Spellman. Through Representative John McCormack, for instance, Spellman asked Roosevelt to help get a shipload of goods through British blockades to the Vatican; Roosevelt saw to it that the mission was carried out." On occasion, the President even involved himself in trivial concerns of the archbishop's. The President dropped a note to Donald M. Nelson, chairman of the War Production Board, telling him to fix Spellman's furnace: "A little bird tells me that the furnace at 51st Street and Madison Avenue, New York City, really does need repairs. It happens to be the residence of Archbishop Spellman, and I hear this repair has been turned down for priority........ Don't say anything about it to anyone, but I really think the Archbishop ought to be kept warm during the winter!"15
THE WAR YEARS
Spellman remained the primary conduit between the Vatican and Washington, despite Myron Taylor's new position at the Holy See. The archbishop, more than Taylor, had the contacts and the instincts to be of help to both the President and the Pope whenever the occasion arose. As war fever swept the country, the demands on Spellman's time increased exponentially. The Pope appointed him military vicar of the armed forces in the United States, a demanding job, and one that Spellman took most seriously. The thirst for military adventure that he had sought when he applied to become a chaplain years before had been postponed, not forgotten. Now, he was the greatest chaplain of them all. Rapidly, he beefed up their ranks and personally toured military bases in North America to understand better the needs of the men who served him.
As his duties escalated, Spellman hired men to help him. He appointed John O'Hara, the former president of Notre Dame, as his auxiliary bishop in charge of the military. O'Hara was a good organizer and administrator, and Spellman liked his conservatism. Though initially reluctant about coming to work for Spellman, O'Hara found himself well rewarded by being made a bishop and given juicy assignments. One of his earliest missions was war-related and bore on Spellman's role as overseer of the Church in Latin America. The task reflected the archbishop's long pent-up nationalism and the level of cooperation he gave to his government.
Shortly after Spellman became archbishop of New York, the archbishop of Colombia, Ismael Perdomo, issued an anti-American pastoral letter declaring that the United States would swallow the whole of Latin America and was funding Protestant missionaries to convert Latin Catholics. The matter was brought to Spellman's attention by the U.S. minister to Colombia, Spruille Braden, who had his hands full with anti-American [Roman] Catholic priests, especially "subversive" Jesuits: "We had a problem in Colombia, which one gets whenever there is a Spanish priesthood in Latin America . . . they were tied in with the Nazis and doing some pretty bad subversive espionage down there." 16
Whether Spellman assisted Braden with the pro-Axis Jesuits isn't known, but his nationalism was pricked by the Perdomo letter. After years of listening to his country downgraded in Rome, Spellman was in a position to strike a blow for America. He turned to O'Hara' an archconservative who had been born in Latin America and spoke excellent Spanish. O'Hara was sent by Spellman to Bogota as a guest of the U.S. embassy. As an emissary of the powerful Spellman, O'Hara had a devastating effect on Perdomo. In Braden's presence, O'Hara humiliatingly censured the Latin archbishop. Anything Perdomo wrote about the United States henceforth had to be shown to Braden before being released. "You're to submit it to the ambassador for his review and approval first before it is to be made public in any way, shape, or manner," O'Hara told him.17
Braden found it strange that an American priest could give orders to a Latin archbishop. Nonetheless, he was pleased, just as he enjoyed O'Hara's making protocol visits with him. "It was good theater," Braden remarked.18 Spellman enjoyed the display even more. The American Church had asserted itself.