390. Memorandum of Conference With President Eisenhower0


  • The Pope
  • Cardinal Tardini
  • Msgr. Samore
  • Lt. Col. Vernon Walters

The President said how pleased and honored he was to have this opportunity to meet the Pope during his visit. He had undertaken this trip to a part of the free world which was extremely important.

He did not expect any new treaties or agreements to result from his trip but if anything could be done to advance the cause of peace, he would feel that it had been worthwhile. As he approached the end of his term as President, he felt that his efforts, which earlier might have been thought by some to be politically inspired, might now perhaps be more effective.

He was also visiting a number of countries in the Middle East which needed “shoring up.”1 The only desire of the American people was for peace and friendship in liberty. He felt that freedom could exist only where there was respect for the spiritual values and a belief in Almighty God. This had always been the basis of our government. In fact in our Declaration of Independence it was stated that “All men are created equal and endowed by their creator....”2 If this is not accepted, then all that is left are material things. If a man is only an intelligent mule and can be dominated by force, then why not do it. This has never been the belief of the American people.

The Pope then said that he was very happy to see the President again. He quite agreed with what the President had said about peace and justice. This was the teaching of the gospel and this was what the Church sought to do. The American people had always shown their great respect for spiritual values.

The President said that free government must be based on belief in an Almighty Creator. Several of the countries he was about to visit were [Page 885] Moslem countries and, consequently, shared with us a common belief in God. He hoped this would help him in the message he was carrying. Peace was essential. We just could not afford to have a war with the tremendous weapons of destruction which now exist.

Peoples all over the world know that they do not have to live in poverty, hunger, and disease and their urgent desire for a better lot was one of the great problems of our time. We wanted to do everything that we could to assist them towards this better life. He was convinced that the Pope himself and the Papacy were two of the greatest spiritual forces in the world.

The Pope smilingly upheld that he could not do much in the way of a military contribution but that there were some spiritual forces and energies that he could mobilize around the world to support these noble aims. He said that he had always had great respect for the President before but that now that he knew what was in the President’s heart and what his purposes were, his respect was even greater than before. He only regretted his inability to speak English and he was endeavoring to correct this by taking English lessons. Recently, there had been celebrated the 100th anniversary of the foundation of the North American College and more than 70 American bishops had attended together with large numbers of priests and laity and he had been deeply impressed by them. He prayed that God would bless the great American people. He knew that Americans not only had a high standard of living and great technical skills but were also a people of deep faith and high spiritual values.

The President said that several of the American cardinals were close friends. Cardinal Mooney was also a golfer and he had often wanted to play with him but never had been able to do so. The Pope said that Cardinal Mooney had died recently in Rome.3 The President said that Cardinals Spellman and Mclntyre were also friends of his. He had also met Cardinal Cushing4 a few times but did not know some of the newer cardinals but he could assure the Pope that they were greatly beloved and respected in the United States. The Pope said he was most happy to hear this.

The Pope said that it was curious that the President had started out as a soldier and had become President and that he had started out as a sergeant and had become Pope. The President laughed and said that he felt that his having been a soldier might perhaps be helpful to him in driving home how important it was to preserve peace. The fact that he knew the horrors of war gave added force to his words. The Pope [Page 886] agreed and said that he did indeed feel that this was so. The President then said that this was also true in the case of the Pope who had come from the field of Diplomacy to the Papacy.

The Pope recalled that he had seen the President at the funeral of Marshal De Lattre de Tassigny.5 He stated that the President had followed the bier on a long walk across Paris on a bitterly cold day. He himself had been in the comfort of the Diplomatic stand but he had noticed that at the end of the ceremony, of the four great soldiers around the bier, only the American was still straight and upright. Now that he had talked to the President and knew the noble purpose of his trip, he realized that this uprightness in the physical sense reflected an inner and spiritual uprightness in the President.

The Pope then said that the story of how he became a sergeant was quite amusing. He was in the Army and he came up for an examination for sergeant. In the oral and written part of the test he had no difficulty and, in fact, was praised by the examining board. However, when he came to the practical part of the test he had some difficulty. He was asked to prepare his platoon for an assault. He called them to attention and gave the order to “fix bayonets” and then as was the custom in the Italian Army during the days of monarchy cried, “Avanti Savoia” (Forward Savoy). However, instead of leading his platoon, he just stood still and watched. Had it been a real attack instead of a test, he would have been a sitting duck and would undoubtedly been killed before he could have done anything with his platoon. However, the board was in a good mood that day so they made him a sergeant anyway.

The President said that this recalled another amusing story. His brother, Milton, was the President of Johns Hopkins University. One of his predecessors had been a great friend of Cardinal Gibbons.6 This president of Johns Hopkins had a very precocious little daughter who used to listen to her father and Cardinal Gibbons talking. One day she received the Cardinal alone in the absence of her father and she asked him whether he believed in the infallibility of the Pope. The Cardinal thought for a minute and then said that he had been received by the Pope who had addressed him as Cardinal “Jibbons” so that perhaps papal infallibility did not extend to pronunciation. The Pope laughed heartily and said that it definitely did not extend to pronunciation and his efforts to learn English were proof thereof.

The Pope said that he understood that the President was accompanied by his son and daughter-in-law. He had a bond in common with the President’s son because his name was also John. He said that he [Page 887] intended to refer to this in the little talk he would give when the remainder of the President’s party were introduced. The President said that he himself had been legally named David Dwight Eisenhower but his mother had always called him Dwight and when he had gone to West Point, he had listed himself as Dwight David Eisenhower and had always been known that way since. Now John’s son was called Dwight David II.

The President then asked the Pope who John XXII was and when he had reigned. The Pope said that John was the name used by the largest number of Popes. John XXII had lived in the 14th century. He had been one of the early Popes at Avignon. He had been a very intelligent and energetic man and had done much to revise the juridical system of the church. However, he had been a little “loose” in the handling of money where his relatives were concerned and so had not left such as good memory as a Pope.

Pope John then thanked the President for calling on him and wished him success on his mission. He said that now that he had an opportunity to talk with the President and of knowing the noble purposes of his mind, he would pray for the success of his trip and added, “I will always remember you in my prayers.”

The President thanked the Pope again for the opportunity of calling on him and the private talk then concluded as other members of the President’s party were introduced in to the Pope’s study.

Vernon A. Walters7
Lt. Colonel, U.S. Army
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 711.11–EI/12–659. Secret. Drafted by Walters. The meeting was held at the Vatican. President Eisenhower visited Italy December 4–6 during his 11-nation good will tour. Regarding his meetings with Italian leaders, see Documents 260 ff. A meeting with Pope John XXIII was arranged at the President’s initiative. Documentation on the Eisenhower visit to the Vatican is in Department of State, Central File 711.11–EI, and ibid., Italian Desk Files: Lot 68 D 436.
  2. During his December 3–23 trip, Eisenhower also visited Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkey, Greece, India, Morocco, France, and Spain.
  3. Ellipsis in the source text.
  4. Edward Cardinal Mooney, Archbishop of Detroit, died on October 25.
  5. Archbishop of Boston.
  6. January 16, 1952.
  7. James Cardinal Gibbons, Archbishop of Baltimore.
  8. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.