The Ambassadors REVIEW
US-Vatican Relations: 25
Anniversary and a New President
Thomas P. Melady, Ph.D.
Professor and Senior Diplomat in Residence, Institute of World Politics
United States Ambassador to the Holy See, 1989-1993
United States Ambassador to Uganda, 1972-1973
United States Ambassador to Burundi, 1969-1972
Senior Advisor to the US Delegation to the United Nations General Assembly
President Emeritus of Sacred Heart University
Former United States Assistant Secretary for Post Secondary Education
Timothy R. Stebbins
Graduate Student, Institute of World Politics
Executive Assistant to Ambassador Thomas P. Melady
nited States-Vatican diplomatic relations have matured to a high point of
cordiality since inaugurated 25 years ago. The visit of Pope Benedict XVI
to the United States in April 2008 was in many ways a stunning success.
President Bush made an unprecedented trip to the airport to welcome him upon arrival.
The following day over 10,000 Americans crowded the White House grounds and greeted
the Pope enthusiastically.
Within months of the Papal visit the American presidential elections took place.
Senator Barack Obama, an African-American, made history when he became the 44
President of the United States, succeeding George W. Bush. The past 25 years have
witnessed the development of excellent relations between the two powers. Will that
situation continue with the new President?
Before attempting to answer that question, an overview of US relations with the
Vatican is in order. According to the Department of State’s
on the Holy
See, the United States “maintained consular relations with the Papal States from 1797 to
1870 and diplomatic relations with the Pope, in his capacity as head of the Papal States,
from 1848 to 1868, though not at the ambassadorial level. These relations lapsed with the
loss of all papal territories in 1870.” The long interregnum of no official contact lasted
from 1870 until 1939, when President Roosevelt appointed his special envoy to the
Vatican in the person of Myron C. Taylor.
However, when President Harry Truman tried to appoint a successor in 1951, he
met with a storm of protest, and the post went vacant for nearly 20 years.
John Thavis in his article, “Once Controversial, US-Vatican Relations Mark Silver Anniversary,” published
on January 16, 2009, by Catholic News Service writes that the “traditional argument against US-Vatican
relations was that the Vatican—technically the ‘Holy See’—was first and foremost a church, not a state, and
should not be privileged by a diplomatic presence….[However,] it wasn’t long before most of the criticism
faded. One big reason was that under Pope John Paul II, who was a strong critic of East European
communism, United States and Vatican interests were seen to coincide.”