THERE is a widespread
belief in Rome that the best-kept Vatican secrets are
those that leak out only a day before they should.
Generally, it is said, they are known a week in advance.
Whatever the truth in this, one major activity has been conducted in secrecy f o r several months. This has been Pope Paul's effort to bring about a negotiated peace in Vietnam.
It is now known that the Pope has been working to this end since April last. At that time, instructions were sent out to Papal representatives throughout the world — and particularly in key centres like Washington and London — to make clear that the Pope was willing to use his good offices in any way that might be effective.
Even before April, he had made his intentions known. In
a letter to the Vietnamese Bishops on February 14 he had written: "We are making efforts to have personalities representing various governments approached confidentially, to ask them insistently to contribute towards an honourable and pacific solution to the various international divergencies which cannot but deeply worry us.
"We assure you with all our heart that we shall continue to do all that is in our power both to obtain peace for your dear country and to foster peace throughout the world."
At the time, this was taken to be just another reiteration of the Pope's well-known theme of peace. It was only
much later than it emerged as
the first move in a definite, concrete plan for action.
Pope Paul has obviously been stung by the widespread criticism of Pope Pius XU's alleged inaction on the massacre of the Jews in Nazi Germany and is determined that such a charge could not be made against him in regard to world peace.
In Rome it is believed that the Pope had intended to make a major speech on Vietnam in his Christmas Eve message on December 23, In this he was expected to propose that the Christmas truce in the Vietnam battlefields should be extended indefinitely to alio se peace feelers to be pushed forward.
But the premature leak of
the initiative made by the former Mayor of Florence, Giorgio La Pira, forced him to act earlier. This was why he devoted his speech on the Sunday before Christmas to the Vietnam situation.
The Vatican's intervention is limited in what it can achieve. Basically, all it can do is to make its own diplomatic channels available as an avenue for peace feelers. The Holy See has diplomatic relations with 55 countries. Vatican representatives in these countries were given the task of sounding out feeling on the Vietnam conflict and speeding peace talks.
Vatican diplomats are taking pains to stress that there are no political considerations behind the Pope's efforts. Just before Christmas the Holy See issued a note through. AIsTSA, the Italian news agency.
This pointed out that "the fact that the Pope reminds everyone of their duty to safeguard peace is not to be wondered at, since this is part of his office; just as it is perfectly in keeping that the Holy See keeps up persistent action to encourage any attempts to restore just peace where war is raging or to prevent a local conflict from causing a more widespread one." In New York Mgr. Albert Giovannetti, the Vatican's permanent observer at the U.N., underlined this by saying that "political con
siderations, much less military ones, had nothing to do with the Holy Father's appeal. His one concern is to stop the flow of blood for at least that day on which Christianity commemorates the birth of Him Who was foretold as the Prince of Peace, and whose coming upon this earth was accompanied by the message of peace to men -of goodwill'."
The dangers of intervening in any way, even when no political considerations are involved, were emphasised by some Italian reactions to the Pope's activities. Conservative Italian newspapers, particularly JI Tempo. suggested that the Pope did not understand politics and that the initiatives he supported were dangerous. The police chief of Savona went so far as to prohibit the public reading of the Pope's peace call.
In London, which was one of the main centres of Vatican diplomacy, a careful silence was maintained. Mgr. Liam Carson, secretary to Archbishop Cardinale, the Apostolic Delegate, said no comment could be made. The whole value of the Vatican initiative, he said, lay in its secrecy. If details became generally known, or if it were identified with individuals, it would lose. its effectiveness.
After the failure of the La Pira initiative through premature publicity, the Vatican's determination to shelter behind diplomatic secrecy becomes understandable.