|(c) Chris Collins Margaret Thatcher Foundation |
John Paul II visited the UK from 28 May – 2 June 1982, at the height of hostilities between Britain and Argentina. What the files now disclose is that the Pope appeared, at the very last minute, to raise the possibility of cancelling his trip to England, Wales and Scotland. Having read the relevant pdf file (here - all page numbers below refer to this link), it is evident that on 15 April (about 2 weeks after the Falklands War began) there was no suggestion at all that John Paul II was considering pulling out of his visit to the UK, but things were about to change...
It was all going so well...
In a telephone call dated 15 April between a Foreign Office official and the Pro-Nuncio to Britain, Archbishop Bruno Heim (see page 80), the latter informed the former that: “he could assure [him] categorically that nobody from the Vatican side had made the slightest suggestion that the visit would be cancelled.” Archbishop Heim also told the official, called Mr Gladstone, that he had personally intervened to stop the Pope from referring to the Falkland Islands as ‘Las Malvinas’ – the politically-charged term favoured by Argentinian nationalists. Heim is reported to have said that John Paul had been “inclined” to use this phrase.
The following day, Monsignor Oliveri, Heim’s deputy, visited the Foreign Office, and chatted at length with Gladstone. During this exchange, Gladstone pointed out that he had noticed an Argentinian Archbishop standing at the head of his nation’s troops during a TV news clip. The Vatican diplomat responded, assuring the British official that “it would be preferable if the Church’s leaders in Argentina had a more detached attitude” to the conflict, and regretted the fact that so many were allied to nationalist elements in that country. Yet, he did raise the possibility – however remote – that the Papal visit might be cancelled, due to the war, though assured the Foreign Office that “[a]t present there was no question of cancellation.”
Did John Paul II try to blackmail Britain?
|Public domain (US Presidential) (source: Wiki)|
In another document (p 52), Gladstone reported that Archbishop Heim had contacted him on 13 May to inform him that the “possibility of cancelling the visit to Britain was now under serious consideration” at the Vatican. In response to this threat of cancellation, Heim had forwarded to Rome all the letters he had received (other files prove this, too) from British Catholics urging the Pope not to indefinitely postpone his trip. He had also forwarded appeals from the Duke of Norfolk and Norman St John Stevas (then an MP, later a peer), amongst others. At the end of the conversation, though, it appears that the Pro-Nuncio had explained to the Foreign Office that Vatican diplomats were “working hard on Galtieri” to try and get him to withdraw his invasion force from British sovereign territory.
Was the Vatican afraid of offending Latin America?
On the same day (p 50), the Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to the Holy See (later Ambassador to the Holy See), Sir Mark Heath, was visited by Archbishop (later Cardinal) Achille Silvestrini – effectively the Vatican’s foreign minister. By that time, it had been reported in the British media – thanks to a rather blundering press conference held by Cardinal Basil Hume (see p 54, in which Hume’s intervention is referred to as “over-dramatized” and where he himself is accused of having “added gloss” to Rome’s position) – that the Pope was about to cancel his trip to the UK. Sir Mark pointed out to Archbishop Silvestrini that such action would be interpreted by the British people as a political move designed by John Paul II to support the Argentinians -- a move that “could do only harm”.
Silvestrini told the UK’s Minister to the Holy See that the Vatican was anxious for the visit to go ahead, as were Cardinal Agostino Casaroli, the Vatican Secretary of State, and Cardinal Hume and the Bishops of England and Wales and Scotland. But, he said, according to Heath: “the Vatican’s problem arose from the attitude of other countries in Latin America which would not be able to understand a visit taking place whilst a state of war existed between Argentina and [Britain].”
"...the visit could not go ahead."
|Silvestrini in 2006 (c) Andreas Carter |
Documents in the files (p 44) show that the original plan had been for John Paul II to make a semi-state visit to the UK, during which he would meet the Prime Minister and other ministers of state. By 17 May, though, it had become clear that it was because of this political element that the Vatican was anxious about the Papal visit.
Downgrading the Papal visit
In a memo (p 48-49) dated 17 May, the Foreign Secretary, Francis Pym, instructed Heath to urgently tell -- before the Archbishops of Liverpool and Glasgow met the Pope at 7.00pm that evening -- the Vatican (at “the highest possible level”) that: “If it would help the Pope to stand by his visit, Her Majesty’s Government would be ready to treat the visit even more than at present envisaged as a purely pastoral event and therefore remove from the present programme most or all aspects of government involvement.” It was further suggested that the planned meeting with the Prime Minister could be cancelled, as could any official government greeting at the airport, and other pre-arranged meetings with ministers. It was suggested that John Paul II should only meet the Queen and those politicians who might be interested in being introduced to him due to their personal Catholic faith.
This readjustment and down-scaling of the plans for the Papal visit seemed to work, though John Paul II was still very concerned about the Falklands War (more on his reasons why later). On 22 May, barely a week before the Papal visit, John Paul II sent a telegram to Margaret Thatcher (p 42). In it he wrote: “I urgently appeal to you to act decisively in order to secure an immediate ceasefire that will open the way to a peaceful solution of the dispute.” He also mentioned how war should always be avoided, and how “magnanimous acceptance of reasonable renunciations for the sake of the supreme good of peace” should be encouraged. His message ended with a prayer to God “the Father of all”, asking Him to grant “that sentiments of wisdom and understanding may prevail.”
Thatcher's response to the Papal telegram
Maggie wasn’t having any of it! Her reply to the Pope, sent on 23 May, is superb (p 27-28). In it, she reiterates all that had happened up to that point, saying quite plainly: “The conflict was not of our making.” Agreeing with John Paul that any loss of life is tragic and respecting his message, the Prime Minister wrote that she wanted to reply to the Pope’s telegram: “in the same spirit of frankness and candour” as he had used in his note to her.
Thatcher argued that any ceasefire would have to be accompanied by “withdrawal of Argentine troops”. To do otherwise, she said: “would leave the aggressor in occupation and in the possession of the rewards of military adventure.” The Iron Lady then went on to remind the Pope that:
Our cause is just and that the principles which we uphold are shared and understood by democratic nations, I have not the slightest doubt. Aggression must not be allowed to succeed … Sovereignty cannot be achieved by armed invasion. The liberty which the Falkland Islanders previously enjoyed must be restored. The world has seen too often in this century the tragic consequence of the failure to defend the principles of justice, civilized values and international law. We seek peace with freedom, not peace at the expense of freedom.Later on, during a private meeting with Cardinal Casaroli (see below), the Prime Minister would say that there could not be any “compromise between right and wrong”. It seems Thatcher was more principled than some Vatican officials on this matter of justice.
On 25 May, days prior to the Papal visit, a note (p 25) was sent to 10 Downing Street from the Diplomatic Mission to the Holy See, in which it was stated that the Vatican was happy with the “helpful” offer by the British government to limit its involvement in John Paul’s journey to the UK. It was also reported that it seemed likely that the Pope would react positively to a scaled-down non-political visit, though confirmation as to whether or not the pastoral visit would go ahead would not be forthcoming till the very last moment.
Cardinal Hume promises to monitor the Pope for the Foreign Office
In the meantime, Cardinal Hume had been in discussions with the Foreign Office (p 21 – 23), offering his help in trying to persuade the Pope to continue with his visit. According to an internal Foreign Office document, Hume told high-ranking civil servants on 24 May that: “the Prime Minister’s suggestion to reduce Government involvement in the visit to
It seems that Hume was also keen to assure the Whitehall mandarins that he shared their concerns about John Paul II possibly using his visit to make political speeches (p 22-23). Hume told them that he hoped the Pope would stick to ‘generalities’ in any references to war and asked the men from the Foreign Office to let him know: “what the Pope might say and what themes should be avoided.” The Cardinal also assured the Government that, according to the document: “He himself [would] do his best to monitor in advance the texts of the Pope’s sermons or addresses.” He also dispatched a Government-approved message to John Paul II on 25 May, emphasising that the visit should go ahead to avoid it becoming politicised – i.e. if the Pope were to cancel, it would signal Vatican support for Argentina’s military regime.
John Paul caves in to British diplomacy
All these messages and diplomatic manoeuvrings obviously worked, as John Paul II’s visit to the UK went ahead as scheduled at the end of May 1982. On the evening of 25 May (p 19), the Vatican formally confirmed that the Pope would visit the UK in three days’ time. On the same evening, Archbishop Silvestrini flew out to Buenos Aries with two Argentinian Cardinals, with the purpose of explaining to the Argentinian people that John Paul’s visit to the UK would be purely pastoral in nature, and that all the political elements from the trip had been removed.
Cardinal Casaroli's overly long visit to Margaret Thatcher
|Cardinal Casaroli and President Regan (foreground) with|
John Paul II (background) -- this image is reproduced
from Find a Grave and assumed to be in the Public Domain
Whitmore went on to report that the “courtesy call in fact lasted 50 minutes and was devoted, at the cardinal’s initiative, very largely to the Falklands issue.” After exchanging civilities and thanking Thatcher for making the visit possible (by agreeing not to meet the Pope), the Cardinal Secretary of State spent a long time trying to explain John Paul II’s position on the Falklands – which seemed to be, from my reading of the text, a justification for the military junta’s invasion.
The Pope's real concern: Communism
It is reported in the letter that Casaroli said the Pope was “deeply concerned that the outcome of the crisis could be the psychological, political and military separation of the whole of Latin America from the Western World … [which] he saw as an ideological entity.” The Cardinal went on to reveal the Pope’s real fear, namely that: “the Soviet Union would take advantage of the situation to create a gap between Latin America and the West.” The implication seemed to be that the Pope, like Reagan, wanted the UK to sacrifice a just cause – the defence of sovereign territory from unjust aggression and invasion – for the sake of the global battle against Communism.
As an afterthought, it would seem, Cardinal Casaroli went on to say that John Paul II’s anxieties concerning the Falklands conflict were also connected to “the loss of life in the South Atlantic.” According to Whitmore's letter, Casaroli went on to report that “[The Pope’s] hesitation about coming to Britain had not been concern with the possible Argentine reaction but how it would be viewed by the British people at a time when so many young lives were at risk and so many families were deeply worried…”.
The Vatican Secretary of State then suggested that defending sovereignty, freedom, and justice were not the only reasons behind Thatcher’s decision to send troops to free the Falklands. Clive Whitmore reported that Casaroli had “heard it said that the Islands had a strategic importance…” -- implying a less than just motive (on Britain's part) for the conflict. He then seemed to suggest that “it would be a blessing” for all involved were it possible to reach a “just and honourable compromise.” Didn’t this man know he was talking with Margaret Thatcher – of the Lady’s not for turning fame!?
In her reply, according to her Private Secretary, the Prime Minister reminded the Cardinal that the British had been “the victims of aggression” and had not wanted to “send forces to the Falkland Islands.” She emphasised that Britain is not a colonial power and that the Islanders, many of whom “went back seven generations”, wished to remain British – just like the people of Gibraltar. She told him that the Falklanders did not want “to live under Argentinian rule” and that “their peace had been shattered”. Britain had to defend “her own people”.
There is quite a substantial amount of interesting material in Margaret Thatcher’s water-tight response – some of which may point to a future resolution to the on-going tension between Argentina and the UK. Suffice to say, though, that the Prime Minister assured Casaroli that “we were not fighting the Argentine in Argentina”, but “[a]ll we were saying to them was ‘Please go home and leave The Queen’s people and The Queen’s territory.’” It was after Casaroli’s assurances that the Pope understood Britain’s position that Margaret Thatcher reportedly went on to say: “there could not be a compromise between right and wrong.”
John Paul II feared the collapse of Argentina's military junta
In a post-Papal visit dispatch from Rome (p 12-13), sent by Ronald Reagan's personal envoy to the Holy See through a British friend of his, Earl de la Warr, it was emphasised by Archbishop Silvestrini that John Paul II wanted to save the military junta in Argentina.
This is why the Pope appeared to be less sympathetic to the British cause during the crisis -- for he didn't want the UK to defeat the military regime, which might herald an end to the Argentine dictatorship and therefore a new pro-Soviet (Peron-type) government. Like the then US President, Pope John Paul's anti-Communist fears out-weighed any concerns he may have had for those British who had been unjustly occupied by a tyrannical regime. Thank goodness, therefore, for Maggie Thatcher's sense of moral purpose: "there could not be a compromise between right and wrong"!
Thatcher's arguments helped a Cardinal see sense
One of the last documents in the file, though it appears as one of the first (i.e. being most recent), was a dispatch from a Foreign Office official giving details about a conversation he had had with Archbishop Heim on 11 June 1982. After discussing John Paul II's then visit to Argentina, which immediately followed his recent successful trip to the UK, the Pro-Nuncio to Britain assured the Foreign Office that Cardinal Casaroli had been won over by the Prime Minster during their long conversation on the evening of 28 May. Heim reported that Casaroli had told him: "After all we should remember that it was General Galtieri who threw the match into the gun power!"
It's good to know that Margaret Thatcher helped Cardinal Casaroli see some sense in this matter.