THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
The Ups and Downs of
A Bridge Across the Ocean: The United
States and the Holy See Between the
Two World Wars
Luca Castagna, Washington: The Catho-
lic University of America Press, 2014,
hardcover, $49.95, 193 pages.
Reviewed By John Grondelski
U.S.-Holy See relations have certainly
had their ups and downs. Several Amer-
ican consuls served in the Papal States
during the first half of the 19th century,
but the Senate prohibited funding for
representation there in 1867.
Relations were not finally normal-
ized until 1984. In the interim, there
were only informal contacts or the occa-
sional presidential representatives.
Castagna’s pioneering book treats
bilateral contacts during the 25 years,
roughly, between the beginnings of the
First and Second World Wars—a histori-
cally significant swath of time from the
viewpoint of international, domestic
and ecclesiastical events.
Internationally, the interlude brack-
eted by the two world wars saw the rise
of totalitarianism in Germany, Italy and
Russia. Domestically, America’s rise
to world leadership at the dawn of the
20th century led, first, to neutrality and
then to an activist Wilsonian crusade to
“make the world safe for democracy.”
America recoiled from that in its “return
to normalcy” and, later, experienced the
Ecclesiastically, the Catholic Church
in the United States had just ceased
being treated as missionary territory but
still remained devoid of policy experi-
ence or political connections in the
Wilsonian progressivism was also
coupled with a strong nativ-
ist strain: the 28th presi-
dent was as anti-Catholic
as he was anti-black and
cism would color U.S. poli-
tics through the rise of the
second Ku Klux Klan in the
1920s and the Catholic-baiting
of Al Smith in 1928. Catholics
found a place in the political
sun only within FDR’s New Deal
Against this background, Castagna
shows how the Catholic Church, under
Pope Benedict XV, hoped to engage with
the neutral United States to promote
papal peace and arbitration efforts dur-
ing World War I.
The anti-Catholic president, who
had his own visions for world order,
regarded the Church as pro-Central
Powers and, now bereft of territory
following Italian unification, seeking
its temporal interests as a non-State at
the expense of Allied Italy. As active as
the Holy See’s efforts were, they found a
deaf ear in the Wilson White House.
Harding, Coolidge and Hoover,
while doing nothing special to upgrade
bilateral contacts, were at least more
receptive to the Holy See’s concerns.
Herbert Hoover’s election, following a
general campaign filled with anti-Cath-
olic prejudices, left a bitter taste; but
the 1929 Lateran Treaty, establishing
the Vatican City State, ended the
issue of papal territory.
Changes in U.S.-Vatican
relations would await two
new figures in the 1930s.
FDR’s 1932 election, with
heavy Catholic ethnic
support, allowed him to
hawk his New Deal as an
embodiment of Catholic
social teaching. His
growing concerns with
European fascism found
resonance in Eugenio Pacelli, papal
nuncio to Germany and later Vatican
Secretary of State.
Pacelli’s 1936 visit to Hyde Park
paved the way for closer bilateral coop-
eration as war approached and, when
Pacelli became Pope Pius XII in 1939,
provided a personal tie to the White
House. The growing contacts led even-
tually to the unofficial Myron Taylor
mission during the war years.
Castagna weaves diplomatic and
ecclesiastical sources together into this
first book-length treatment of U.S.-Holy
See relations during a critical quarter-
century of world history.
, A Bridge Across
demonstrates how politics,
prejudice and pragmatism all shaped
our contacts with the papacy between
1914 and 1939.
John M. Grondelski is an FSO who has
served in Shanghai, Bern, Warsaw, London
and in Washington, D.C., on the Russia
Wilsonian progressivism was also coupled with a strong
nativist strain: the 28th president was as anti-Catholic
as he was anti-black and anti-immigrant.