The Foreign Service Journal, November 2011

60 F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L / N O V E M B E R 2 0 1 1 When in Rome… America and the Vatican: Trading Information after World War II Robert F. Illing, History Publishing Comp, 2011, $25.95, hardcover, 260 pages. R EVIEWED BY D AMIAN L EADER Service at the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See is a remarkable stimulus for memoir writing. Three of our recent ambassadors have published accounts of their time in Rome, a fourth manu- script awaits publication, and one even squeezed a (ghostwritten) novel out of his tour. In addition, our WorldWar II chargé d’affaires, Harold Tittmann, wrote a fascinating account from the unique perspective of living inside Vat- ican City under German occupation. This literary productivity presum- ably comes from the extraordinary ex- perience of serving at a tiny mission in an ancient city accredited to a political entity — the Holy See — unlike any other. Robert F. Illing’s America and the Vatican: Trading Information after World War II is an important contri- bution to this growing bookshelf. Notwithstanding the rather mis- leading subtitle, Illing’s book focuses on his service from 1970 to 1975 as the FSO singlehandedly running the Rome office that supported Henry Cabot Lodge as special envoy to the Vatican. (This was a decade before the U.S. for- mally re-established diplomatic rela- tions with the Holy See.) Thus, Illing’s office was “Embassy Vatican” in all but name (and he was its chargé d’affaires). Lodge was a fascinating, intelligent man who knew everyone in Washing- ton. He had access and influence at the Vatican because of his experience and, equally importantly, his access to the White House. As is the case today, the White House was far more inter- ested in the Vatican mission than State was, and Illing dealt directly with many of the key Washington players during the years of Vietnam and Watergate. Lodge visited Rome periodically for a week or two at a time, but otherwise Illing promoted U.S. interests without much supervision. He took full advan- tage of that freedom and flexibility to listen, learn and advocate. His princi- pal interlocutor was Agostino Casaroli, who shaped Vatican relations with Eastern Europe in the years before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Illing also met many of the actors who would play key roles in developments a decade later, including the young Cardinal Wojtyla (later Pope John Paul II) of Krakow. Although Illing writes that the “core function of any diplomatic mission is reporting back toWashington” and de- scribes his role as primarily informa- tion gathering, his account shows that he did far more important work. As is the case with any embassy today, he worked to convince his host govern- ment to support (or at the very least, not oppose) U.S. policies. Since the Vatican influences issues as disparate as Congolese politics and policy on genetically modified organ- isms, Embassy Vatican stays busy. Illing describes his mission’s interven- tions on problems like treatment of prisoners of war in Vietnam, refugees and relations with China before U.S. recognition of Beijing. He cites several instances where his work dissuaded the Vatican from openly criticizing a U.S. action. In addition to his own diplomatic experiences, the book is filled out with accounts of Vatican history and U.S.- Vatican relations. Some of this is very good — he is excellent on Ben Frank- lin’s successful promotion of his friend John Carroll to lead the U.S. Catholic Church after independence (not bad work for a deist!). Other material is of less interest; if you have only five pages to describe the history of the papacy, it’s probably best not to try. Despite those small reservations, this is an important, firsthand account of a largely unrecorded chapter in modern U.S. diplomacy. It is also a B OOKS This book is a useful corrective for those who question the value of diplomatic relations with the Vatican.