A nuncio (from the Lat. nuntius, messenger) is the diplomatic representative of the apostolic see, that is, Rome, as well as the personal legate of the Holy Father to a civil government. In countries (usually Catholic) where the ambassador of the Holy See is automatically accorded the honorary status of dean of the diplomatic corps, the simple title "nuncio" is used. In other countries, such as the United States where the position of "dean" of the diplomatic corps rests with the ambassador with the longest tenure, the title "pro nuncio" is used. In either case, the duties are the same.
Although the duties of the papal nuncio include both diplomatic representation and internal Church matters, the latter consume a far greater portion of his time. In addition to general monitoring of the situation of the Church, other duties include the nomination and selection of bishops, review and transmission to the Holy See of official government requests, and service as the conduit for official Vatican correspondence with American Catholics and Church officials.
Early History. The history of diplomatic relations between the United States and the Holy See begins in 1779, when John Adams, writing in a nation-by-nation diplomatic survey prepared for the Confederation Congress, speculated erroneously that the Papal States would be among the last to recognize the newly independent United States, even were they to seek such recognition. "Congress," he predicted, "[would] probably never send a minister to his Holiness" because "[he could] do them no service." As for a "catholic legate or nuncio… or in other words an ecclesiastical tyrant," he wrote: "It is hoped the United States will be too wise ever to admit [one] into its territories." The realities of international diplomacy were soon to prove him wrong.
When the Revolutionary War ended, some of the newly independent states were under the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Bishop of Quebec, and the remainder were subject to that of the Vicar Apostolic in London and his vicar in New York. Both bishops had taken steps to distance themselves from the Revolution: the Bishop of Quebec because of what he considered to be the anti-Catholic views of some of the Revolution's leaders, and the Vicar Apostolic of London because of his concern that Catholics in England not be perceived as disloyal to the Crown. So it became necessary, for both political and administrative reasons, for the Holy See to revise the jurisdictional arrangement.
In 1783, an informal diplomatic contact with Benjamin Franklin, then the American minister to the French Court, was made by the Papal Nuncio at Versailles in order to determine the desires of the American government on this issue. If no suitable American candidate could be found, the nationality of the individual soon to be named as America's first Catholic bishop would present a delicate diplomatic issue. The choice of a foreigner, especially a British subject, worried Franklin, and the Vatican's diplomatic note accordingly referred to the alternative of appointing a citizen of a "friendly" nation: an obvious reference to France.
The question posed to Franklin by the Holy See was referred to a committee composed of Thomas Jefferson, Elbrige Gerry and Hugh Williamson. Although the committee declined to offer the pope the requested advice on the grounds that the federal government had no power to involve itself in religious matters, the members did note their respect for the pope as a "sovereign and a state." Mutual recognition, albeit on an informal basis, thus commenced in 1783.
Initial Relations. The first formal relationship began 14 years later in 1797 with the appointment of John B. Sartori as consul to Rome to look after American commercial affairs. This consular relationship continued without interruption until 1870 when the Papal States became a part of Italy. The Papal States sent consuls general to the United States in 1826 and 1895.
The election of Pope Pius IX in 1846 and the resulting liberalization in the government of the Papal States led to considerable debate over the issue of United States-Vatican relations in the American press. Many were opposed, but others who favored his policies, urged a closer relationship. The New York Herald, for example, favored the appointment of a chargé d'affairs or ambassador to the pope "as more respectful to the pope, and more suitable to our dignity and greatness as a people." Thus, when President Polk recommended the creation and funding of a diplomatic mission to the Vatican in his 1847 State of the Union message, the stage was set for formal diplomatic relations at a level short of full recognition. Jacob L. Martin was appointed as chargé d'affairs, and was later upgraded to the status of minister. The Vatican, however, did not reciprocate, and appointed no delegate during the period between 1848 and 1868.
During the Civil War, the American mission served as the locus of successful Union efforts to assure the nonrecognition of the Confederacy by the Holy See: Jefferson Davis' request for papal recognition was met with only an ambiguous reply. Official American diplomatic contact with the Vatican was suspended in 1868 as a result of rumors that American Protestants in Rome had not been permitted to practice their religion. "America," said Congressman Thaddeus Stevens, had no desire to have representation "at any Court or Government which prohibits free worship within its Jurisdiction of the Christian religion." Funds for the legation in Rome were cut off in 1867 to make a point—a point which would have been valid had the rumors of religious suppression been true. Diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the United States were formally terminated in 1871 when President Grant officially recognized the new government of Italy and that the Papal States had ceased to exist.
The first apostolic delegate was sent to the United States by the Holy See in 1893, but he was not accredited to the United States government, and his duties were limited to matters internal to the Church. During the period from 1871 to 1939, American relations with the Vatican were informal, but included such important contacts as the Taft mission to Rome to deal with the Philippines at the close of the Spanish-American War and the many contacts between Woodrow Wilson and Benedict XV during World War I.
Unofficial diplomatic recognition of the Vatican by the United States was reestablished at the outbreak of World War II in 1939 with the appointment of Myron Taylor (13:953c), with the rank of Ambassador, as Franklin Roosevelt's personal representative. After Taylor resigned in 1950, no replacement was named, and personal representatives were sent only for special occasions. This unofficial relationship lasted until 1970 when President Nixon resumed the practice begun by Roosevelt by naming Henry Cabot Lodge as his personal representative. Lodge served in the post from 1970–77. David Walters, appointed by President Gerald Ford, served at the post from 1977–78. President Jimmy Carter's representative was Robert Wagner, Sr., who served from 1978–81, when he was replaced by President Ronald Reagan's choice, California businessman and Catholic William Wilson.
Official Representation. In 1983, at the urging of the Reagan administration, Congress quietly repealed the 1867 ban on appropriations for a diplomatic legation to the Holy See and provided for the establishment of full diplomatic relations. President Reagan appointed William Wilson, who was then serving as the president's personal envoy, as U.S. Ambassador, and the Senate confirmed the nomination on March 7, 1984, thus reestablishing formal diplomatic relations after a lapse of 117 years. The Holy See, in turn, named Archbishop Pio Laghi, who had been serving as apostolic delegate, as pro nuncio, thus transforming the Apostolic Delegation on Massachusetts Avenue in Washington, D.C., into the Papal Nunciature or Embassy. On Oct. 15, 1986, the U.S. Senate confirmed the nomination of Frank Shakespeare, former head of CBS Television Service, as the second American ambassador at the Holy See.
The establishment of full diplomatic relations was the subject of two unsuccessful court cases filed by several religious groups and numerous individuals on the grounds that such an appointment would violate the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. In Americans United for Separation of Church and State v. Reagan, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held that the establishment of diplomatic relations is "one of the rare governmental decisions that the Constitution commits exclusively to the Executive Branch" and that federal courts have no power to interfere. In Phelps v. Reagan, a Kansas Baptist minister alleged that diplomatic recognition of the Holy See was designed by the Reagan Administration to utilize "the ecclesiastical machinery of a specific church… in carrying out its foreign policy, and… to advance Reagan's personal partisan agenda by currying favor with American members of a specific church in an election year." The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit called the arguments "flamboyant" and dismissed the case because taxpayers and citizens have no standing to seek judicial oversight of the president's conduct of foreign affairs.
Bibliography: committee on foreign relations, United States Senate, 98th Cong. 2d Sess., Hearings Nomination of William A. Wilson to be Ambassador to the Holy See (Feb. 2, 1984). americans united for separation of church and state v. reagan, 786 F.2d. 194 (3d Cir 1986), certiorari denied sub nom. american baptist churches in the u.s.a. v. reagan, 107 S. Ct. 314 (1986). phelps v. reagan, 812 F.2d 1293 (10th Cir. 1987). s.w. bettwy, "United States-Vatican Recognition: Background and Issues," Catholic Lawyer 29 (1984) 225. s. w. bettwy and m. k. sheehan, "United States Recognition Policy: The State of Vatican City," California Western International Law Journal II (1981) 1. j. agonito, "Ecumenical Stirrings: Catholic-Protestant Relations During the Episcopacy of John Carroll," Church History 45 (1976) 358–373. m. martin, "United States-Vatican Relations," American Catholic Historical Society Record 69 (1958) 20–55. "The Status of the Holy See in International Law," American Journal of International Law 46 (1952) 308. a. c. rush, "Diplomatic Relations: The United States and the Papal States," American Ecclesiastical Review 126 (1952) 12–27. h. r. marraro, "The Closing of the American Diplomatic Mission to the Vatican and Efforts to Revive It, 1868–1870." Catholic Historical Review 33 (1948) 423–447. l. f. stark, "Was the Papal Consulate in the United States Officially Ended?" Catholic Historical Review 30 (1944) 165–170. w. j. lallon, "The Apostolic Delegation at Washington." Ecclesiastical Review 95 (1936) 576–592. p. laghi, "The True Meaning of Vatican Diplomacy," Origins 13 (May 3, 1984) 769–771.
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The adjective affirming a relation of people, activities, or objects to the apostles, their mission, their actions. It is first found in Ignatius of Antioch (Trall. ) and the Martyrdom of Polycarp. In the patristic age the word serves to represent the relation of origin and similarity of the Church to the twelve and paul (apostolicity). It is applied to the immediate disciples and successors of the Twelve and Paul; from the 3rd and 4th centuries to bishops; from the Middle Ages, religious, missionaries, priests, and lay people are called viri apostolici. Ecclesia apostolica is a Church established by one of the Twelve or their immediate successors; from the 4th century it designates every episcopal see and the whole Church (H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum 3, 43—as a property and a note). In the 6th century, particularly in the West, apostolic is restricted to the papal sphere (cf. 1917 Codex iuris canonici cc.3, 4, 7 etc.). Vita apostolica is, from the 2nd and 3rd centuries on, a life like that of the Apostles, i.e., an ascetic life (Nilus of Ancyra, Ep. 3.26; Patrologia Graeca 79:384), the monastic life (Socrates, Hist. eccl. 4.23; Patrologia Graeca 67:512), from the 6th century on rather the active pastoral life; so also among the sects.
As a noun apostolicus means bishop (Tertullian), in the 6th century pope, and later the receiver of certain papal letters. As early as the 4th and 5th centuries apostolici are heretics; apostolicum, the word of an Apostle (Augustine); later the designation was connected with a creed, a lectionary, letters and decrees of the popes. Apostolica were the official vestments of bishops.
See Also: apostolate.
Bibliography: h. bacht, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, 10 v. (2d, new ed. Freiburg 1957–65) 1:758–759, bibliog. k. g. steck, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart 1:516, bibliog. w. nagel, Der Begriff des Apostolischen in der christlichen Frühzeit bis zur Kanonsbildung (Habilitationsschrift, typescript; Leipzig 1958).
ap·os·tol·ic / ˌapəˈstälik/ • adj. Christian Church of or relating to the Apostles: a simple apostolic life. ∎ of or relating to the pope, esp. when he is regarded as the successor to St. Peter: an apostolic nuncio.
apostolic succession (in Christian thought) the uninterrupted transmission of spiritual authority from the Apostles through successive popes and bishops, taught by the Roman Catholic Church but denied by most Protestants.