The problems with an ambassador to the Vatican.

It has been a long time since the National Council of Churches, Eastern Orthodox church, National Association of Evangelicals, Seventh-day Adventists, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and American Jewish Congress have ever agreed on anything. Yet that agreement is exactly what has happened, for each objected when President Ronald Reagan nominated William A. Wilson as the first U.S. ambassador to the Vatican and sent his name to the Senate for confirmation.

Roots Of The Issue

The issue of a Vatican appointment is not new on the American political scene. In 1848 the United States sent its first diplomatic mission to the papal states, located in what is now central Italy. The mission was never popular, however, and in 1867 Congress withdrew the appointment. A Protestant chapel in Rome had been closed, and threats had been made to close an American Episcopal chapel. Other factors as well, both financial and political, affected the decision.

Then, in 1871, the newly united nation of Italy absorbed the papal states. The pope’s control was limited to a small area, approximately one-sixth of a square mile, with almost no political and civic responsibilities. In 1929 the pope and Mussolini struck a deal called the Lateran Accords, in which Vatican City again became a nation-state with a civil government.

In 1939, at the beginning of World War II in Europe, President Franklin D. Roosevelt sent Myron Taylor as his personal representative to the Vatican. He hoped to use the theoretically neutral Vatican as a listening post on European affairs. In spite of protests, Taylor remained there through World War II and on, until 1950.

President Harry Truman then appointed Gen. Mark ...

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