740.00119 European War 1939/312: Telegram

Mr. Myron C. Taylor, Personal Representative of the President to Pope Pius XII, to President Roosevelt 8

13. I was called to Rome from Florence on Thursday and have since conferred with the Cardinal Secretary of State Maglione, the [Page 687] British, French, Belgian, Rumanian, Polish and Spanish Ambassadors to the Holy See and of course with Ambassador Phillips. In all quarters the situation of Italy vis-à-vis Germany was represented as uncertain and critical. Ambassador Phillips today seems slightly less troubled than yesterday based, he said, on the reported unpreparedness of Italy to go to war. He is sending a telegram in this regard.

The others were severally of the opinion that there exists at this moment a real danger of Mussolini joining Hitler or engaging separately in aggression in new fields. I had a long and very earnest visit with Cardinal Maglione who sensed the general feeling of uncertainty and again expressed the belief that you should address Mussolini urging him to refrain from action. I raised the point that two other influences were very potent, namely, the King of Italy and the Pope, and asked if in line with “parallel action” for peace the Pope would simultaneously address himself to Mussolini and the King. He promptly asked me to remain here so that he might have time to consult with the Pope and give me a direct answer for your guidance.

Cardinal Maglione expressed the Vatican reaction to your address before the Pan American Conference9 as courageous, timely and excellent. All the Ambassadors to the Vatican whom I have seen expressed enthusiastic approval. It seems to me that the background of the general situation has now been laid down by you so that an immediate communication to Mussolini would be most desirable, timely and is perhaps the best effort you can make with him before the next large phase in the war is undertaken.

I lunched with the British and French Ambassadors to the Holy See and raised the point when [whether?] their Governments could do anything further to persuade Mussolini to refrain from action.

The British replied by referring the question to Lord Halifax10 and gave me in writing the following message from the latter. “Please tell Mr. Taylor that it is undoubtedly a critical moment and I should be very grateful for anything he could advise the President to do with a view to restraining Mussolini from any rash act. It is desirable to disabuse Mussolini of the feeling he is believed to entertain that the Allies aim at destroying the Fascist regime in Italy as well as the Nazi regime in Germany. It would therefore be helpful if Mr. Taylor would suggest to the President that he might impress on high circles in Italy the fact to which I referred in a speech on April 10 namely, that we are in friendly relations with many countries which are governed by an authoritarian regime and that the kind of regime prevailing in other countries is no business of ours.”

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I am to see the British and French again Saturday. Meanwhile they have put their files in order preparatory to possible sudden departure from Rome.

In my first message on arrival here I quoted the Pope as saying that he was not in direct contact with Mussolini.

I am advised, however, that he has channels of communication with both Mussolini and the King which are adequate.

It appears that the remaining action that you can take to make the record complete is to combine your influence which is admitted in all quarters as very great with that of the King and the Pope in order to prevail on Mussolini to remain nonbelligerent.

It is suggested that Mussolini can rise to his greatest height by playing such a role as fits him to work with the Pope and yourself for ultimate peace. I am definitely convinced that such a communication would be timely and helpful and can be so worded as to contain no possibility of harmful results either to our own country, our neutral position considered, nor to yourself. In any event it seems to me to be the only remaining effort you can make at this moment to try to circumscribe the theater of war. It is the general opinion among those with whom I confer that Hitler will make his next move in surprise form before the end of this month and that he will demand of Mussolini, if he has not already done so, definite assurance of his participation or his refusal. It is not impossible that if you follow the course indicated it might lead ultimately to that larger service in the cause of peace which you and nearly every one over here so earnestly desire.

As I was leaving the Vatican Cardinal Maglione most earnestly repeated the need for speed of your action and that at the utmost it should be taken within 2 or 3 days preferably immediately.

  1. Transmitted to the Department by the Embassy in Italy as telegram No. 279, April 20, 11 a.m., referring to the Ambassadors No. 278, April 19, 7 p.m.; it carries this introductory sentence: “The following was not seen by the Ambassador before he left but its contents were discussed with him.”
  2. Apparently the reference is to the address the President made before the Governing Board of the Pan American Union in Washington on April 15, 1940; for text, see Department of State Bulletin, April 20, 1940, p. 403.
  3. British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.