740.0011 European War 1939/33609

The Apostolic Delegate at Washington (Cicognani) to President Roosevelt

Mr. President: I beg to acknowledge Your Excellency’s valued letter of March 1, 1944, on the subject of the bombardment of Rome. I transmitted its content at once to His Eminence, the Cardinal Secretary of State, who now informs me that the Holy See has taken cognizance of Your Excellency’s declaration of your “ardent desire that religious edifices and other monuments of our common civilization be saved from damage.”

His Eminence directs me to present to Your Excellency various observations on the subject, and I respectfully transcribe them herewith as they were received.

Up to the present the destruction to sacred buildings and monuments is already enormous and involves losses that rise to many millions of dollars. Quite naturally this destruction is the source of grave concern to the Holy See and it is feared that in many cases adequate means have not been employed to carry out the repeatedly expressed desire of Your Excellency that such monuments and sacred edifices be spared from the devastation of war.

These conditions have been verified also in the most recent lamentable bombardments of Rome in which the large Ostiense station was the military target. Despite the fact that the target area was very extensive and attacked under conditions of clear visibility, two churches and many homes of working people were destroyed. All these latter structures easily could have been distinguished from the objective itself. These raids resulted in the killing of hundreds of innocent persons,—a fact which is the more painful since they belong to a nation already vanquished and which surrendered unconditionally.

The Holy See on its part begs to assure the Allied governments that every precaution is being used and the greatest vigilance employed lest any of the religious monuments of the Eternal City be used for military purposes. The destruction of the Abbey of Monte-cassino, falsely described as a German fortress, has been for the Holy See a sad lesson on the dangers of such erroneous statements. (In [Page 1284] this regard I have recently consigned a memorandum to Mr. Myron C. Taylor).

His Eminence further states that in the judgment of competent military observers a direct attack on Rome is neither necessary nor desirable. The city is situated on a plain, not far from the sea, and has an extensive network of roads fanning out to both the North and South, thus permitting an advancing military force to by-pass it easily. On the other hand house to house combat in the city would entail tremendous losses to both the attacking and defending forces, and of course principally to the innocent civilian residents.

It would appear therefore that to save Rome from such destruction would be in the interest not only of religion and civilization, but would also offer direct military advantage.

It is obvious that the destruction caused in the Italian campaign, and most particularly in Rome, is being made the instrument of widespread German propaganda against the Allies, with resulting distrust and aversion among those very people who might have been expected to follow the Allied standard.

I can assure Your Excellency, on the statement of His Eminence, that the Holy See will continue to make opportune insistence with the German authorities for the same purpose of saving Rome from further destruction.

With the assurances of my highest consideration and of my deep personal regard, I have the honor to remain

Most respectfully yours,

A. G. Cicognani

Archbishop of Laodicea