The British Embassy to the Department of State

No. 266


On February 3rd His Majesty’s Minister to the Holy See asked the Cardinal Secretary of State61 whether the German Ambassador62 had been displaying any signs of interest in acquiring accommodation in the Vatican City in the event of the Allies capturing Rome.63 The Cardinal replied in the negative, adding the hope that in such an eventuality Axis diplomatists would not be required to move into the Vatican City. His Majesty’s Minister discounted this hope, saying that he thought they most certainly would be required to move. In that case, the Cardinal replied, His Majesty’s Minister had better persuade some of his colleagues to move out in order to make place for the Axis representatives.

In reporting this conversation to the Foreign Office, His Majesty’s Minister observed that none of the diplomatists now resident in the Vatican City would be in a position, or indeed have any desire, to move out in a hurry, and added that he foresaw difficulties over this question. On the other hand, there would be a certain advantage [Page 1317] in having the Axis representatives outside in Rome rather than within the Vatican City, as their movements would thus be easier to control.
In replying to this telegram, the Foreign Office stated that any Axis diplomatists accredited to the Holy See who were found outside the Vatican City when allied troops enter Rome would be given immediately the alternative either of entering the Vatican City or of leaving Italy under safe conduct. The Foreign Office saw no reason why diplomatic representatives already residing in the Vatican, least of all allied representatives, should move out to make place for Axis diplomatists.
When the above mentioned views of the Foreign Office were communicated to the Cardinal Secretary of State, the latter pointed out to His Majesty’s Minister that His Majesty’s Government and other allied governments whose missions were now in the Vatican City had always claimed that the Lateran Treaty64 provided that diplomatists accredited to the Holy See were to be allowed to maintain their residence in Rome even if other countries were at war with Italy; this contention had always been upheld by the Holy See, which had protested to the Italian Government against the latter’s refusal to abide by Article 12 of the Treaty. The Vatican stated that they Lad explained to the Italian Government that the article in question did not allow of any exceptions or exclude times of war. The Vatican further maintained that His Majesty’s Legation had expressly upheld and defended this interpretation of the Article in a note of 1940.
The British Security authorities feel that, if Axis diplomatists were to be allowed to enter the Vatican City, they might do harm from there; they have suggested that these agents should be given safe conduct home, without option, on the grounds that technically they lost their diplomatic immunity when apprehended outside the limits of the Vatican City. The Foreign Office agree with this suggestion and also share the Security authorities’ objection to leaving enemy diplomatists outside the Vatican City.
The Foreign Office agree with the views of the State Department65 as conveyed to the Minister Resident, Algiers, by his United States colleague66 at the beginning of this month and propose to instruct His Majesty’s Minister to point out to the Holy See that they have overlooked the fact that Article 12 of the Lateran Treaty only established these rights and obligations as between the Vatican and the Italian Government, and not vis-à-vis the rest of the world. The [Page 1318] Italian Government did not carry out their obligations satisfactorily and indeed His Majesty’s Government, in their note of 1940, had deplored the fact that the Vatican had been unable to uphold its rights vis-à-vis the Italian Government. As the occupying power, however, His Majesty’s Government do not consider themselves bound in any way by the obligations set forth in the Lateran Treaty, at any rate insofar as they may conflict with military and Security considerations. His Majesty’s Minister would also point out that owing to the geographical peculiarities of the Vatican City, which make it necessary for many diplomatists accredited to the Holy See to reside outside, His Majesty’s Government is prepared to give to any such agent apprehended outside the Vatican City, as a matter of grace rather than of right, the choice of entering the Vatican City or of returning to his own country under safe conduct.
His Majesty’s Embassy is instructed to ask the State Department whether they concur in the action proposed and also to enquire whether they have been approached in this matter by the Vatican.
The Foreign Office add that if instructions on the lines proposed are sent now to His Majesty’s Minister, the decision involved will doubtless be communicated by the Vatican to enemy diplomatists accredited to the Holy See but that the disadvantages of this must be weighed against the difficulty of concealing our intentions from the Vatican until the last moment and then of facing them with a serious accommodation problem at short notice after the entry of allied forces into Rome. When His Majesty’s Government and the United States Government have reached agreement on this question, it is proposed that appropriate instructions should be sent by the Combined Chiefs of Staff to Allied Forces Headquarters.67
  1. Luigi Cardinal Maglione.
  2. Baron Ernst von Weizsäcker, German Ambassador to the Holy See.
  3. Rome was captured June 4–5, 1944.
  4. For the text of the Lateran Treaty, signed at Rome on February 11, 1929, see British and Foreign State Papers, vol. cxxx, p. 791. For the text of the Concordat between the Holy See and Italy signed at Rome, February 11, 1929, see ibid., p. 801.
  5. See telegram 659. March 2, 9 p.m., to Algiers, p. 1315.
  6. Robert D. Murphy.
  7. Marginal note by Franklin C. Gowen of the Division of Southern European Affairs to Hugh S. Fullerton, Chief of the Division: “5–19–44. I think we should get Tittmann’s views before taking final action. This is a delicate matter. Draft of teleg. to Tittmann attached. F.C.G.”
  8. The aide-mémoire was originally dated May 12 as indicated by an obvious erasure of the “2” and the substitution of a “7”. British references are to May 12.