The Papacy and American Politics

G. Edward Reid, JD, MDiv, MPH 1


Since the birth of the United States there has been a desire on the part of the Holy See to exchange ambassadors. Accordingly, the timing was calculated. The result is prophetic. The consequences are serious. On January 10, 1984, upon the orders of United States President Ronald Reagan and the “Holy See,” the central government of the Roman Catholic Church, represented by “The Holy Father,” Pope John Paul II, full diplomatic relations were established between these two entities.

“This cordial and cooperative framework did not always exist. In fact it took 208 years for the United States to enter into full diplomatic relations with the oldest international personality in the community of nations” (Thomas P. Melady, The Ambassador’s Story—The United States and the Vatican in World Affairs, p. 41).

In the first few weeks after his election in November of 1980, President Ronald Reagan appointed William Wilson, his friend from California, as his personal representative to the Vatican. Then something happened that changed the course of history in this regard. President Reagan had a private meeting with the pope in the Vatican on June 7, 1982. Many modern historians use this date as the beginning of the “Holy Alliance” between the U.S. and the Vatican. (See my book Even at the Door, p. 232 for more details of this meeting and its aftermath.)

Following this historic meeting with the pope, in the last year of his first term as President of the United States, Ronald Reagan initiated a process for doing what had never been done before—sending a full “ambassador,” not just to the Vatican City State but to the “Holy See”—the central government of the Roman Catholic Church!


From Personal Representative to Ambassador—The Process

President Reagan’s staff, aware of what had happened to potential “ambassadors” in the past, made an extensive study of the subject. This review included looking at section 2, article 2 of the Constitution that defines the president’s authority to nominate diplomatic officials, and the responsibility of the Senate to give its consent. The staff felt convinced that they could defend the proposed ambassadorship with their interpretation of the Constitution. In addition, though the legal situation had not changed (Congress had passed a law in 1868 that had prohibited funding for an embassy to the Vatican), the domestic political climate had changed significantly! Popular Protestant evangelist Billy Graham had stated publicly that he saw a significant difference in the national Protestant attitude. There would still be some opposition, but not of the magnitude of 30 years before.

Ambassador Melady states, “Once he [Reagan] was convinced that the nomination of an ambassador to the Holy See was constitutional and in the national interest of the country, President Reagan approved a move to void the 1868 law which prohibited the expenditure of public funds for an embassy to the Vatican. This action was successful. The relative ease with which this action took place reassured the Reagan White House about proceeding with their project” (Melady, p. 52).

Melady adds these very significant statements: “On January 10, 1984, President Ronald Reagan announced the establishment of formal diplomatic relations with the Holy See. . . . The announcement gave full recognition to the unique international sovereign role of the pope and his government, not only in Vatican City State but throughout the world where the pope and his government exercised their spiritual and political authority. There was no equivocation. The United States was extending full recognition for the first time to the government of the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.

“The announcement implied the acceptance of the international law principle that the Holy See is a bona fide international personality. Thus the announcement by President Reagan acknowledged the papacy as a religious organ with international rights and duties. This was not a qualified recognition of Vatican City State. In previous times it would have caused a firestorm of protest. But it immediately became evident, both in tone and substance, that there had been a major change in domestic U.S. political opinion” (Melady, pp. 50, 53).


Understanding the Holy See

To the average Protestant layman the term “Holy See” has no meaning whatsoever. It is probably not even in common usage among Catholic laymen. The reason for this uncertainty is the unusual “nature of the beast.” It would be best, I believe, to get the definition of the Holy See from someone who ought to know. Back again to Thomas Patrick Melady, a Roman Catholic career diplomat and formerly the official Ambassador of the United States of America to the Holy See. His explanation is as follows: “The government of the United States has diplomatic relations with the government of the Roman Catholic Church; that is, the Holy See.

“The Holy See is the composite of the authority, jurisdiction, and sovereignty vested in and exercised by the pope and his advisers in the temporal and spiritual direction and guidance of the Roman Catholic Church throughout the world. The Holy See, consequently, is a moral entity; in modern terms, it is the central government of the Roman Catholic Church” (Melady, p. 178).

The Holy See is not just the small city-state of 110 acres called the Vatican within the city of Rome, Italy. It is the worldwide body of over one billion Roman Catholic members with the pope at its head. The Holy See has formal diplomatic relations with 174 nations including the United States. This is more than three fourths (76%) of all the nations on earth as recognized as sovereign nations by the United Nations (228). This represents an increase of 29 new nations with full diplomatic relations with the Holy See in the last nine years–an increase of 20%! The Vatican claims that during the pontificate of John Paul II that he tripled the number of nations with full diplomatic relations with the Holy See.


Working Together

So what will the future bring? Ambassador Melady concludes, “I believe that the U.S., as the world’s only superpower, and the Holy See, as the only worldwide moral-political sovereignty, have significant roles to play in the future. Their actions will impact the lives of people in all parts of the globe” (Melady, p. 10). Surely he doesn’t realize how “prophetic” are his words.

Early in his first term as president, George W. Bush named James Nicholson as U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See. Nicholson had been the chairman of the Republican National Committee from 1996 to 2000 and had orchestrated the election of the President. And so this top-ranking politician represented the United States to the central government of the Roman Catholic Church. Inside the Vatican reported in an interview with James Nicholson, “Several times he uses the word ‘convergence’ in explaining the link between the interests of the church and the American government. ‘The values of this [the Bush] Administration and those of the Vatican line up hand in glove,’ he said” (Inside the Vatican, December 2001, pp. 24, 25).

The “Holy Alliance” between the U.S. and the Holy See to bring down the former Soviet Union was a result of the establishment of full diplomatic relations. This continued the “healing of the deadly wound.” But just how much the wound had healed was revealed to the public for the first time in the events surrounding the death of Pope John Paul II. The change of attitude on the part of the United States toward the Vatican surprised even the Vatican!


“And All The World Wondered”


After nearly a decade of declining health, Karol Wojtyla, known as Pope John Paul II, died in his apartment in Rome on April 2, 2005. He had “held the chair of St. Peter,” or “reigned” as Supreme Pontiff for more than 26 years. He was the most photographed public figure of his era, having appeared on the cover of Time magazine a record 16 times.

Newsweek, April 11, 2005, in a special report by Kenneth L. Woodward, noted that “John Paul transformed the See of Peter into a fulcrum of world politics–his politics. The papal voice–his voice–was heard and often heeded in major capitals like Moscow and Washington. Above all he took the papacy–which only a century earlier was locked inside the ecclesiastical confines of Vatican City–on the road. He visited Africa four times, Latin America five, managing altogether an astounding 104 pilgrimages to 129 countries around the globe. In doing so, he transformed the figure of the pope from a distant icon to a familiar face. His face.”

The same issue of Newsweek stated in a picture caption, “All the World His Stage. Under John Paul II, who helped bring down the Iron Curtain, the Holy See gained more political clout than it had enjoyed since the Renaissance.”

When it was announced that the pope had died, the White House released the following statement by President Bush:

“Laura and I join people across the Earth in mourning the passing of Pope John Paul II. The Catholic Church has lost its shepherd, the world has lost a champion of human freedom, and a good and faithful servant of God has been called home.

“Pope John Paul II left the throne of St. Peter in the same way he ascended to it–as a witness to the dignity of human life. In his native Poland, that witness launched a democratic revolution that swept Eastern Europe and changed the course of history. Throughout the West, John Paul’s witness reminded us of our obligation to build a culture of life in which the strong protect the weak. And during the pope’s final years, his witness was made even more powerful by his daily courage in the face of illness and great suffering.

“All popes belong to the world, but Americans had special reason to love the man from Krakow. In his visits to our country, the pope spoke of our ‘providential’ Constitution, the self-evident truths about human dignity in our Declaration, and the ‘blessings of liberty’ that follow from them. It is these truths, he said, that have led people all over the world to look to America with hope and respect.

“Pope John Paul II was, himself, an inspiration to millions of Americans, and to so many more throughout the world. We will always remember the humble, wise, and fearless priest who became one of history’s great moral leaders. We’re grateful to God for sending such a man, a son of Poland, who became the Bishop of Rome, and a hero for the ages.”

Not long after the above statement was released by the White House, President Bush issued the following executive order:

“A Proclamation by the President of the United States of America:

“As a mark of respect for His Holiness Pope John Paul II, I hereby order, by the authority vested in my by the Constitution and laws of the United States of America, that the flag of the United States shall be flown at half-staff at the White House and on all public buildings and grounds, at all military posts and naval stations, and on all naval vessels of the federal government in the District of Columbia and throughout the United States and its territories and possessions until sunset on the day of his interment. I also direct that the flag shall be flown at half-staff for the same period at all United States embassies, legations, consular offices, and other facilities abroad, including all military facilities and naval vessels and stations.

“In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand this second day of April, in the year of our Lord two thousand five, and of the independence of the United States of America the two hundred and twenty-ninth.

“George W. Bush.”

Accolades praising the pope came in from all around the world, including the many nations that the pope had granted diplomatic relations.

At the pope’s funeral, kings, queens, prime ministers, and presidents from over 100 nations were in attendance. Prince Charles of Great Britain postponed his wedding in order to attend. For the first time in history a sitting President of the United States attended a papal funeral. Due to security and space constraints, the papacy limited the U.S. delegation to 5 members. The five were President George W. Bush, First Lady Laura Bush, former President George H.W. Bush, former President Bill Clinton, and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. When the U.S. delegation went to St. Peter’s Basilica to view the remains of the pope the day before the funeral, they knelt before the body of the pope in prayer, with hands folded and heads bowed.

Viewing the picture taken by Getty Images of the U.S. delegation kneeling before the pope, is to be struck by how obviously the prophetic picture of Revelation 13 is coming into focus. With an estimated four million visitors to Rome, which included many trainloads, and over 700 passenger buses and hundreds of cars just from Poland alone, the pope’s funeral was the largest ever conducted in the history of the world. It was also estimated that over two billion people watched the event on television. The estimate was a result of the fact that between 3:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. eastern time on April 8, 2005, the pope’s funeral was almost all that was on television!

The publication Inside the Vatican produced a special commemorative issue in memory of John Paul II. The 100-page full-color document featured the life, the pontificate, and the final journey of the late pope. It featured prominently the U.S. Presidents kneeling before the pope, and noted that “many of the world’s most powerful political leaders gathered to pay their last respects to the spiritual figure of John Paul II, whose body lay before them during the funeral in a simple wooden coffin. Five kings, four queens, and at least 70 presidents and prime ministers were surrounded by their entourages, with many of the women wearing black lace head coverings or black hats as a sign of respect. Some analysts considered it the largest gathering ever of world leaders.”

The fact that the U.S. Presidents and the largest gathering ever of world leaders attended the funeral is not just evidence of the formation of an image to the beast; it is also a fulfillment of Revelation 13:3, “And all the world marveled and followed the beast.” The KJV puts it: “And all the world wondered after the beast.”

This “kneeling” gesture by the U.S. delegation was noted by Bishop Renato Boccardo, now governor of the Vatican City State, who organized the pope’s funeral. “‘When they all knelt in front of the pope, I thought, those who are leading the world, they are kneeling in front of this poor man,’ he says. ‘He didn’t have military forces or money or power, but those who are leading the world, are here recognizing the “grandezza” (the greatness) of the man’” (Inside the Vatican, August-September 2005).


Voting Precincts

For an interesting insight, visit the Roman Catholic Glenmary Home Missioner’s Web site at <>, whose mission it is to establish the Catholic Church in rural America. They have a goal of being the predominant religious group in each county in the United States. On the Web site they have maps of the U.S. showing how many counties are already predominately Catholic. There are presently 3,143 counties, parishes, or independent cities in the United States. These are all political subdivisions or voting precincts. According to the “Glenmary” group presently the Roman Church is predominant in 1,259 counties, which is a full 40% of all the counties in the United States! This is why it is so essential to “win the Catholic vote” in order to be successful in national elections!


The Supreme Court Controversy

When Supreme Court Associate Justice Sandra Day O’Connor announced her retirement, President George W. Bush nominated John G. Roberts to succeed her. At the time of this writing the Senate confirmation hearings are just beginning. It is the opinion of most court observers that Judge Roberts, who is a devout Roman Catholic, will be confirmed. Our Sunday Visitor reported in its August 14, 2005 issue that, “if confirmed by the U.S. Senate, John G. Roberts will be the fourth Catholic presently on the U.S. Supreme Court. This would mean that, at the moment, almost half of the justices are Catholics [four out of nine]. He would join fellow Catholics Scalia, Kennedy, and Thomas.”

There could even be a fifth Catholic nominated when ailing Chief Justice Rehnquist retires or dies. 2The President has said that since the Hispanics have now become the largest minority in the U.S., he is considering nominating a Hispanic man or woman to the Supreme Court. A high percentage of Hispanics are at least nominally Catholic, so if the President makes good on his consideration there could be a fifth and deciding Catholic vote on the court. The President has indicated that his first choice for the Hispanic nominee would be Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. However, some believe that Gonzales is not confirmable by the Senate.

The constitution of the Supreme Court may be significant when the Sunday law that will be encouraged by the pastors and urged by the people is enacted by a Congress that wants to stay in the good graces of the people and keep their seats. It is very likely that some group would challenge a Sunday law as being unconstitutional. If the case is brought before the Supreme Court and the majority is Catholic, it is quite likely that they would find a way to support the law.

Some have said that many of the Catholic senators and Congress members are more liberal in their philosophy and vote. They point to leaders such as John Kerry and Ted Kennedy as being pro-abortion in contradiction to Catholic teaching. It is interesting to note that both of these senators, in order to keep in the good graces of the church, spent considerable time and money to have the church annul their marriages to their first wives so that they could remarry and stay within the membership of the church. There is, in fact, growing pressure on Catholic congressmen to vote as Catholics or face disciple or even excommunication.


Awaiting White Smoke

The “conclave” has been described as a blend of prayer, piety, politics, and intrigue. “When the white smoke cleared over the Vatican on April 9, 2005, German theologian Joseph Ratzinger had been elected to replace Pope John Paul II as supreme pontiff of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics” (World, April 30, 2005).

Cardinal Ratzinger was for 24 years the prefect [director] of the Office of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith–formerly known as the Office of the Inquisition. His nicknames coined by fellow Catholics include, God’s Rottweiler, The Pope’s Enforcer, The Panzer Cardinal, and so forth. His strict adherence to Catholic theology cost many people their jobs. For example: “Ratzinger helped spearhead a church investigation that culminated in the 1979 revocation of Swiss theologian Hans Kung’s license to teach Catholic theology. Largely responsible for inspiring the Vatican II reforms, Kung was fired because of his works challenging papal infallibility” (U.S. News & World Report, May 2, 2005, p. 36). So we know what his attitude will be regarding papal infallibility.

We have known that “The papal church will never relinquish her claim to infallibility. All that she has done in her persecution of those who reject her dogmas she holds to be right; and would she not repeat the same acts, should the opportunity be presented? Let the restraints now imposed by secular governments be removed and Rome be reinstated in her former power, and there would speedily be a revival of her tyranny and persecution” (The Great Controversy, p. 564).

In a surprise to many, Benedict XVI has named an American cardinal to take his place as the Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He is San Francisco Archbishop William J. Leveda. At first blush it appears to be another link between the U.S. and the Vatican.

Only a few weeks after the election of Pope Benedict XVI, The Washington Times reported in its May 30-June 5, 2005 National Weekly Edition, “The Second National Catholic Prayer Breakfast on May 20 [2005] rallied local faithful with moving speeches from President Bush and Colorado Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, both of whom praised Pope Benedict XVI and politicians who adhere to Catholic doctrine. ‘Catholics and non-Catholics alike can take heart in the man who sits on the chair of St. Peter because he speaks with affection about the American model of liberty rooted in moral conviction,’ Mr. Bush said to 1,600 guests at the Washington Hilton.

“Roman Catholic voters were crucial to Mr. Bush’s re-election last year: 52 percent chose him over Massachusetts Democratic Sen. John Kerry, a Catholic, who garnered 47 percent of their vote.

“Archbishop Chaput told the audience that faith should affect ‘our political decisions,” adding that ‘Catholics must work to keep religion from being banished from public discourse because our bigger task is to help renew American public life by committing ourselves ever more deeply to our Catholic faith and acting like we really mean it.’”

With the “Religious Right,” consisting of conservative Catholics and evangelical Protestants, getting much more deeply involved in American politics, it should be of real concern to those of us who value religious liberty. For we are told, “Any movement in favor of religious legislation is really an act of concession to the papacy, which for so many ages has steadily warred against liberty of conscience. Sunday observance owes its existence as a so-called Christian institution to ‘the mystery of iniquity’; and its enforcement will be a virtual recognition of the principles which are the very cornerstone of Romanism. When our nation shall so abjure the principles of its government as to enact a Sunday law, Protestantism will in this act join hands with popery; it will be nothing else than giving life to the tyranny which has long been eagerly watching its opportunity to spring again into active despotism” (Maranatha, p. 131).

I will conclude this article with two relevant quotes from Ellen White.

“I have been shown that Satan is stealing a march upon us. The law of God, through the agency of Satan, is to be made void. In our land of boasted freedom, religious liberty will come to an end. The contest will be decided over the Sabbath question, which will agitate the whole world” (Evangelism, p. 236).

“While the Protestant world is by her attitude making concessions to Rome, let us arouse to comprehend the situation and view the contest before us in its true bearings. Let the watchmen now lift up their voice and give the message which is present truth for this time. Let us show the people where we are in prophetic history and seek to arouse the spirit of true Protestantism, awaking the world to a sense of the value of the privileges of religious liberty so long enjoyed” (Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 716).




1. G. Edward Reid is the Stewardship Director of the North American Division. He is an ordained minister and licensed attorney. This article is based on his new book, Sunday’s Coming–Second Edition. Italics and bolding supplied by the author for emphasis.

2. In fact, Chief Justice Rehnquist did die on September 3, very shortly after this article was submitted; and, in a historically rare move, President Bush nominated John Roberts, not now merely as a new Associate Justice but as the Chief Justice! Roberts was sworn in on September 29. Ed.