300. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Archbishop Angelo Dell’Acqua, Substitute for Ordinary Affairs, Secretariat of State, the Vatican
  • The Ambassador
  • William Sherman, First Secretary


  • Pope’s Visit to India; Khrushchev’s Ouster; Italian Political Situation

We called on Archbishop Dell’Acqua at our request. He apologized for not having been able to receive us sooner, but he had been briefly indisposed because of a cold which he had caught during the recent trip of the Pope to reconsecrate the Abbey at Monte Cassino2—a ceremony which had been virtually rained out by torrential downpours in the region. The Archbishop also added that to complicate matters his car had broken down en route to Monte Cassino and that he had had to “hitchhike” in order to get there in advance of the Pope, whose speech he was carrying. He had succeeded in making it only five minutes ahead of the Pope.

Asked whether he would be accompanying the Pope on his coming visit to India,3 the Archbishop said he believed so. He went on to [Page 637] comment that the Pope’s India visit would be relatively rapid and that the schedule would be extremely heavy. He said he did not understand the irritation of the Portuguese Government over the Pope’s India visit. He, of course, was quite aware of Portuguese sensitivity regarding Goa; however, the place and time of the Eucharistic Congress had been set four years ago, long before Goa became an international problem. The Pope’s visit was purely religious. He was going ostensibly to attend the Eucharistic Congress which is being held in Bombay. However, the Archbishop said the Pope regarded the trip much more as an “ecumenical gesture.” In the Pope’s mind and in the mind of the Church, the fact that he would be consecrating five bishops representing each of the five continents at the Congress, was much more important than the Congress itself. The Pope was also extremely interested in demonstrating that the Church is really the “Church of the poor” that it presents itself to be. To this end the Pope was taking a large amount of aid supplies (the majority of which had been collected and donated through the good offices of Cardinal Spellman) for distribution to the poor. It would be obviously impossible for the Pope to go to a country like India, where the problem of poverty is so great, without taking advantage of the great opportunity offered to demonstrate vividly that the Church is interested and anxious to make its contribution. In addition to Cardinal Spellman’s donations, the Pope had also received donations from many Italian firms and individuals the most recent being a gift of some 20,000 meters of lightweight cotton textiles. Certainly there was no political aspect to this visit, and for this reason the Pope was making it relatively brief and would be there no more than two days at the maximum. The Archbishop had already received a number of requests for the Pope to stop over either en route to the Congress or on his return flight to Rome in countries such as Pakistan and Lebanon. However, these had all been refused. The schedule and organization of the Pope’s visit had not been fully worked out. Monsignor Paul Marcinkus of the Secretariat of State and Monsignor Macchi, the Pope’s private secretary, would be returning from India October 31. They had been sent out to complete the arrangements for the visit.

Asked whether there was any basis to the recent speculation about a possible papal visit to Santo Domingo early next year to attend an international congress on Mariology, the Archbishop said that he did not think there was any likelihood such a visit would take place. He stressed the fact that visits of this type invariably provoked requests to make visits to other places. A visit to Santo Domingo would immediately bring a request from the Philippines, from France and from other countries which would be difficult to refuse once a precedent had been established. Therefore, it was necessary to consider all such proposals extremely carefully with a view to their possible repercussions. The Archbishop said that it was extremely important, of course, to safeguard [Page 638] the health of the Pontiff and not to impose too heavy a burden on him. Traveling of this type was arduous and consumed valuable time which might better be spent otherwise.

Questioned about the recent developments in connection with the ouster of Soviet Premier Khrushchev,4 the Archbishop said that he was extremely worried and concerned. Although he did not think one could yet say that these developments signified the end of the process of gradual rapprochement between the Soviet Union and the West, certainly he believed that there was going to be a temporary halt. He went on to say that he did not believe Russia’s difficulties with Communist China were the primary cause of the Khrushchev ouster. He believed, rather, that the principal cause was a division of opinion on the German question. He had noted a tendency on the part of Khrushchev to move in the direction of accepting a partial solution to this outstanding problem—an attitude that was apparently unacceptable to the rest of the Soviet leadership. The Archbishop had heard, on what he believed to be fairly good authority, that Khrushchev’s son-in-law Alexei Adjubei had during his recent visit to Bonn promised Chancellor Erhard that Khrushchev would not interpose any objection toward West Berlin’s becoming a Land in the West German State. Whether or not this was true, such a development would undoubtedly raise fears among the more orthodox Russians who are still worried about a militarily powerful and united Germany. The Archbishop also said that the fact that Polish Prime Minister Gomulka had been the first of the satellite leaders to approve the Khrushchev ouster was indicative that certain commitments might have been made to Gomulka regarding Germany. Of course, the Archbishop continued, Russia had a considerable fear of China and this fear was justified. The mere fact that China’s huge population so outnumbered Russia’s was sufficient to justify this fear. Though, as a priest, he realized he should not even be thinking in these terms, the Archbishop said that if 200 million Chinese were to be wiped out, China as a political entity could still survive. If Russia were to lose 200 million people, it would no longer exist. The Archbishop did not believe that Khrushchev’s ouster, however, would resolve the Soviet Union’s problems with the Chinese. In fact, it might only make the Chinese more intransigent and demanding. They still certainly continued to claim a considerable part of the Soviet Union’s territory and were not yet backing down on any of their previous stands. The Archbishop felt sure that eventually the Soviet Union must realize its only hope is to get closer to the West.

The Archbishop also expressed his concern over the possible increased influence of the military in the Soviet Union. He was dubious [Page 639] as to how much influence the military has in determining Soviet policy but was sure they played a role—particularly when it came to questions involving the defense and security of the Soviet Union. For this reason, any controversy concerning Germany might mean that the military would be more in the picture than otherwise. With regard to personalities, the Archbishop agreed with the Ambassador’s tentative estimate that the current Soviet leadership must be considered interim. He had a feeling that perhaps in the second phase of the post-Khrushchev period Podgorny might emerge as the principal leader. He believed that Mikoyan was perhaps too old and that Suslov had been on “too many sides of too many questions.”

The Archbishop felt that one of the unfortunate facts concerning the Moscow events was that the Italian press had been completely remiss in not pointing out to the Italian people that it is a defect of the Communist system which has produced this crisis in Moscow and not faults of individual leadership. The system is the thing that is wrong. It does not provide for democratic transfer of power. Instead, the press, even the right-wing press, had concentrated on the events themselves and tendentious interpretations, rather than on their significance to Italians who are faced with the threat of a large internal Communist Party. Even the DC5 newspaper Il Popolo had failed miserably to make this point which is so important particularly now during the pre-electoral period. It demonstrates a general lack of responsibility on the part of the press—and what was worse, a throwing away of a God-given opportunity. Along the same line, the Archbishop remarked that the government had shown great lack of foresight in scheduling the appearance of the Bolshoi Opera at Milan during the month of November. When the cultural exchange program was first agreed upon it was known that elections would presumably be held this month and, regardless of the artistic quality of the Bolshoi Opera, it was not in the interests of democracy in Italy to be showing Russian cultural achievements to enthusiastic audiences when Italians are voting.

The Archbishop was, frankly, disgusted with the way the campaign for the administrative elections was shaping up. No work whatsoever has been done and there has been little or no definition of the issues involved. The DC party, as usual, was relying on the Church to do all its dirty work and doing little or nothing itself. (On the past four occasions when the Ambassador had seen Archbishop Dell’Acqua the latter has made the same complaint, i.e., that the Party expects the Church to do everything and is not prepared to carry its share of the load.) The Archbishop said the Church, nevertheless, would continue to do what it could. He said he would tell us in great confidence that [Page 640] it had already been decided to convene the Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI) so that the Italian Bishops could make some statement concerning the elections prior to the vote on November 22. In addition, they would do all they could through Catholic Action and its subordinate organizations. He said, however, that the Church could not continue to do this indefinitely, that it was criticized constantly for taking too direct a role in Italian politics, and that the job was essentially one for the political parties and not for the Church. The Church was anxious to help, but not to assume the responsibility which was properly that of the politicians.

The Archbishop continued saying the DC is now desperately weak. Although he has great respect for Mr. Moro’s intellectual and moral qualifications, he regrets that Moro never seems to be able to give the impression he is taking initiative of his own, or has a program to present to the Italian people which he intends to carry out. Instead, in whatever he does, he manages to give the impression that he has reluctantly been forced into it by pressure from somewhere else in the government or from the outside. This is precisely what the Italian people do not need.

The Archbishop also was emphatic in his criticism of the left-wing Christian Democratic La Base faction which he called stupid and scandalous. Now, of all times, the Archbishop said, the DC needed a “unitary” (i.e., composed of all factions) Directorate, but both at the recent National Congress and subsequently at the National Council Meeting the constitution of such a directorate had been prevented by the La Base group. A unitary Directorate, the Archbishop believed, would not only give the DC greater bargaining power with its coalition partners but would also give the people greater confidence in the Party and in the Government. As it is, they have now only the impression of weakness.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Italy, Vol. 2. Confidential; Eyes Only. Drafted by Sherman on November 5.
  2. October 24.
  3. The Pope planned to attend the International Eucharistic Congress December 2-5.
  4. October 16.
  5. The Italian Christian Democratic Party.