24. Memorandum From the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs (Kohler) to Secretary of State Herter 0


  • Cardinal Mindszenty


Our charge d’Affaires in Budapest, Mr. Ackerson, has recently forwarded a letter addressed to the President by Cardinal Mindszenty (Tab D).1 This letter, unlike the Cardinal’s previous letters, is concerned [Page 105] with his situation of refuge rather than his views on conditions in Hungary or on international issues. Mr. Ackerson’s letter of transmittal (Tab E)2 provides some explanatory comments on the Cardinal’s message.

The Cardinal’s letter and Mr. Ackerson’s comments touch upon two background matters of importance: the possibility of arrangements whereby the Cardinal might be able to leave Hungary under safe conduct guarantees; and the question of communication between the Cardinal and the Vatican. The immediate matter of a reply to the Cardinal’s letter also arises.

A US request in October 1958, made at the express desire of the Vatican, that the Cardinal be permitted to leave Hungary under safe conduct guarantees was flatly rejected by the Hungarian Government.3 In October 1959, however, during a discussion of Austrian-Hungarian relations, the Hungarian Foreign Minister orally informed the Austrian Foreign Minister that if the Austrians would submit a specific proposal to the Hungarian Government for the Cardinal’s “release” from Hungary, such a proposal would be seriously considered. We have informed the Austrians that we would welcome an arrangement ending the Cardinal’s refuge in the Legation and permitting him to leave Hungary in safety, provided that such an arrangement was also acceptable to the Vatican and to the Cardinal. The Austrian Foreign Minister has communicated with the Vatican through the Papal Nuncio in Vienna and is now awaiting an expression of the Vatican’s views in the matter. The Austrians have agreed to consult further with us upon receipt of the Vatican’s views.
Although Mr. Ackerson in his letter refers to the “policy of keeping the Cardinal in complete isolation, without any contact even with the Vatican”, we do not feel that this is an accurate statement of the position which the Department has adopted in this regard. We have made it clear both to Mr. Ackerson and to the Vatican (through the Apostolic Delegate here) that the Department is prepared to accept and transmit occasional brief oral or written communications between the Cardinal and the Vatican which are not of a political or ecclesiastical character but relate rather to the Cardinal’s refuge in the Legation or his personal [Page 106] spiritual problems and state of mind in relation to his situation of refuge. This position is consistent with the principle, to which we have also adhered, that it would be neither advisable nor proper for this Government to permit Cardinal Mindszenty to use the American Legation in Budapest as a base for ecclesiastical or political activities. We are firmly convinced that continued adherence to this policy is in the best interests not only of the US but also of the Cardinal himself.
Previous letters addressed by the Cardinal to you and to the President have consisted mainly of expressions of his personal views on the internal situation in Hungary, the Hungarian problem as an international issue, and various aspects of the East-West conflict. It has been our established practice to avoid involving the President or you in direct correspondence with Cardinal Mindszenty on these matters, since any response in such circumstances would be likely to encourage more frequent messages from him and sooner or later might lead to an embarrassing situation. Consequently, we have instructed Mr. Ackerson on each such occasion in the past merely to inform the Cardinal that his letters have been received in the Department or by the White House, as the case may be. We continue to believe in the soundness of this procedure, where the subject matter of Cardinal Mindszenty’s communications to US officials is of a political nature.

In the case of the Cardinal’s present letter, we believe that a somewhat different procedure is warranted because of its special nature. In view of the President’s absence from the country,4 and with the approach of the holiday season, we believe that it would be appropriate in this case for you to send the Cardinal a written message (1) extending season’s greetings to him and (2) reassuring him that this Government will continue to afford him refuge within the premises of the American Legation so long as consideration for his personal safety and freedom requires such refuge. Such a letter would be in line with Mr. Ackerson’s recommendation and would do much to sustain the Cardinal’s morale and contribute to his peace of mind. If you approve, the White House will be informed by a memorandum enclosing copies of the Cardinal’s letter and your reply.


That you sign the attached draft letter to Cardinal Mindszenty (Tab A);5
That you approve the transmittal of your letter to Cardinal Mindszenty under cover of the attached draft official-informal letter to Mr. Ackerson which I have signed (Tab B);6
That you approve the attached draft memorandum to the White House enclosing the original of Cardinal Mindszenty’s letter and a copy of your reply (Tab C).7

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 864.413/12–959. Secret. Drafted by McKisson, cleared with Vedeler, and concurred in by Merchant and Wehmeyer (L/EUR).
  2. Document 23.
  3. Tab E was Ackerson’s letter of November 20, in which he furnished additional comments to those he had made in the November 13 letter by which he transmitted the Cardinal’s letter to the President. Ackerson provided background for some of the Cardinal’s statements and concluded that the Cardinal’s letter was “only one more instance of the misfortune which had necessarily to result from the policy of keeping the Cardinal in complete isolation, without any contact even with the Vatican.” He stated further that he had always felt that the policy was wrong. He strongly recommended that the reply to the letter “should, at the very least, show some understanding for his difficulties and express our continued hospitality until such time as it might be considered safe for him to leave the Legation.”
  4. See Document 13.
  5. Eisenhower left the United States on December 4 for an extended trip which took him to Italy, Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Iran, Greece, Tunisia, France, Spain, and Morocco. Not printed. The attached draft was dated by hand December 11, apparently indicating that the letter as sent to Mindszenty through the Legation in Budapest bore that date.
  6. Herter initialed his approval of this recommendation on December 11. Tab B, a copy of Kohler’s letter to Ackerson, which bears the stamped date December 11, is not printed.
  7. Herter initialed his approval of this recommendation on December 11. Tab C, a memorandum of December 11 from the Director of the Executive Secretariat, John A. Calhoun, to Goodpaster at the White House, is not printed.