An historic meeting
From a Special Correspondent in Vatican City
The three-day meeting of Holy See chiefs of mission and top-ranking Vatican Curia prelates, which took place in a Frascati religious house, was historic and may set precedents. But its immediate results are likely to be disappointing for those who await sensation.
It was a low-key meeting, with only 33 of the Holy See's 104 "ambassadors" — Nuncios, Pro-Nuncios, Apostolic Delegates and accredited Observers — present. This represented less than_ one:third of the Holy See's diplomatic representatives in foreign countries.
[he purpose ot the meeting, which the Pope briefly addressed on the Thursday afternoon, was not to question the present direction of Vatican diplomatic approaches but to consider how the papal diplomat may better represent the Pope with the nations to which he is accredited and the local hierarchies of the Church.
Major policy lines were reviewed and discussed, not questioned. For these lines were laid down by Pope Paul himself within months of acceding to the pontificate in June, 1963.
He implemented and strongly supported his predecessor Pope John's initial attempts to establish contact with East Europe and the Soviet Union.
Under Paul the Vatican's "extraordinary affairs" branch of the Secretariat of State was formed into a Council for Public Affairs under Mgr. (now Archbishop) Agostino Casaroli.
Mgr. Casaroli's role was to act as a sort of trouble-shooter in that while one of his major missions was to re-establish Church-State contact with communist East Europe and, if possible, with the Soviet Union, he was also responsible for improving relations in other countries where Catholic priests might be hindered, attacked or persecuted.
EARLY OPPOSITION When Paul initiated his programme of renewing relations with East Europe he encountered opposition from many of the Pope Pius XII era Cardinals such as Eugene Tisserant, Giuseppe Pizzardo and even New York's Francis
Spellman. All these remembered Pope Pius's excommunication edict against all Communists.
But the opposition was rapidly weeded out, and. whether or not there remain "hard-liners"
who disagree with Paul's direction, they are Catholic priests first and implicitly obey Christ's Vicar on Earth.
The present conference, the first, ever, was chaired by Archbishop Domenico Enrici, former Apostolic Delegate to Great Britain and recently named Inspector of Pontifical Diplomacy. This role has not yet been explained.
The first day's talks centred on overall problems. Then the 33 representatives split up into working groups.
Exactly what the subjects on the agenda were, or why working groups were needed to harmonise them, has not been explained by the. Vatican.
But it appears that the Holy See diplomat's position in the countries to which he is accredited, was a major topic.
The Nuncio is in a special position. He does not represent the Vatican City State but the Pontiff as religious leader of the Church — to nations and hierarchies. In many countries the local Churches look upon the diplomat as a type of "papal
spy": this was openly written by Belgian Cardinal Leo Josef Suenens some years ago. •
The Holy See chief of mission does play an important role in forwarding to the Holy See the names of prelates whom he considers best "episcopal material," and this has often led to the local hierarchy charging that the "ambassador" passes over their own suggestions.
Again, the diplomat is expected to be able to interpret not only Holy See Curial feelings and attitudes but those of the Pope himself towards the problems of their Church and countries.
It was for this reason that Congregation prefects in Rome attended the Frascati meeting — to answer these diplomats. questions and seek possibly more direct contact where such questions might arise.
Similarly, the Pope, when addressing the "ambassadors" and speaking with them for 70 minutes on the Thursday, stressed the "personal" representation side of their mission as his representatives.
His talk was reported to have been in generalities rather than in such specifics as arise during the individual private audiences which the Pope has with his diplomats when they report on conditions within their allotted countries.
l-le is reported to have reemphasised that the Church must make its presence felt to an ever-greater extent in mundane affairs which concern the spirit — i.e., the moral attitudes of peoples.
The Vatican is not interested in frontiers as such but in promoting faith. The point was stressed by Paul even before he was Pope, when speaking before the War to Holy See diplomatic ecclesiastics as Substitute Secretary of State.
Since 1960 the Vatican's diplomatic representation has extended from 56 missions to 104.
Under this Pontificate. Church-State relations have resumed with Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Rumania.
There is now full diplomatic recognition between the Vatican and Yugoslavia. In Russia the hierarchies of Rome and the Soviet Union are talking again. China and Albania remain incalcitrant — for the time being.