Catholic jesuit Power in China
The attempt to set up repressive Catholicism in Vietnam via President Diem, was only one of the latest
efforts in the pattern which she had pursued many times on the Asiatic continent. In the past the pattern
had been varied but consistent. In the case of Vietnam a couple of centuries ago, closely knit Catholic
groups cemented themselves into the surrounding non-Christian Buddhist environment. Once well
established they assert themselves over their Buddhist neighbors as independent economic and political
Their assertions required not only bold, religious self confidence, but also the imposition of Catholic
authority upon their Buddhist co-religionists. Such imposition led to punitive legislation, which, when
resisted brought repression, leading in time to the use of brute force.
In the case of President Diem and his Catholic junta they established themselves and their authority first
with gradual legal discrimination against the Buddhist majority. The unrestricted use of terror followed
when the Buddhist population refused to submit. Diem's approach was not just a freak example of
contemporary Catholic aggressiveness in a largely non-Christian society. It has been repeated on the
Asian continent for three hundred years.
In those times of course, there were kings, a ruling aristocracy, with cultural mandarins, the ruling trio of
society, whose acceptance or rejection was paramount. However, the basic pattern of Catholic religious
exclusiveness and aggression, like that exercised by Diem and his brothers, was no mere coincidence.
Without going into too many details, we shall therefore confine ourselves to illustrate one or two typical
instances which occurred in a regional ethnic conglomerate once known as Indo-China.
France's first bid for Asiatic dominions took place as already indicated, in the early 17th century via the
French East India Company. The company's goal was to bring that region into the French commercial
orbit. A less visible, though no less concrete aim, was the propagation of the Catholic faith. This last
objective, although apparently prompted mainly by individual Catholics, was directly inspired by the
Vatican, which backed the French East India Company from the very start.
However having established its first outposts in India, the company soon encountered unforeseen
resistance by the British until the French decided to look to other fields and turned her attention to the
small kingdoms of Indo-China and, in particular, to Siam. The first exploration of the new regions on
behalf of the French East India Company was not undertaken by company officials or French diplomats,
but by Catholic missionaries. These went with the permission and encouragement of the Vatican, under
the pretense of religion, to investigate the commercial, political and strategic resources on behalf of
Jesuit priest Alexandre de Rhodes arrived in Indochina in 1610. A decade later he sent back to the
Vatican and to France a very accurate description of the commercial, political and strategic potential.
French Jesuits were promptly recruited and sent to help him in his double work of converting to
Catholicism and commercial expansion.
Rome and Paris considered these activities as inseparable stepping stones leading to eventual political
and military occupation of these countries.
Alexander de Rhodes, a Jesuit, arrived in Indo-China about 1610, and only a decade later sent a very
accurate description of the possibilities of Annam and Tonkin. French Jesuits were promptly recruited to
help him in his double work of converting those nations to the Catholic faith and of exploring the
commercial potential. These tasks, in the eyes of both Rome and Paris, could not be separated, being the
two most important stepping stones to political and military occupation.
The missionaries were so successful that by 1659 Indo-China was marked as an exclusive sphere of
French commercial and religious activity. Subsequent missionaries extended their dual activities into
Pegu, Cambodia, Annam and Siam. Siam, the most highly developed country of the Indo-Chinese
peninsula, soon became the base for religious, commercial and political activities of both the East India
Company and the Vatican. Their plans were simple: each would contribute to the Siamese subjugation
according to its means; the company through its commerce, the French government through its armies,
and the Vatican through its religious penetration.
When commercial bases and missionary stations had been successfully established, the French
government pressed for an official trade alliance with Siam. Simultaneously the Vatican concentrated on
expanding its spiritual influence, not so much by converting the populace as by focusing upon the
conversion of a single person: the Siamese king himself. If this could be accomplished, Catholic priests
would then attempt to persuade the new Catholic king to admit French garrisons into the key cities of
Mergui and Bangkok upon the pretext that this was in the best interests of the Catholic Church.
In 1685 the French government concluded a favorable trade alliance with its ruler. Two years later the
Siamese king and the ruling elite converted to Catholicism. This powerful Catholic group set out to
dominate not only the governmental machinery, but also use it to exert pressure upon the Buddhist
society. Relentless streams of discriminating regulations were issued against Buddhist institutions and in
favor of the Catholic minority.
Catholic Churches were erected everywhere while pagodas were closed at the slightest pretext or even
demolished. Catholic schools replaced Buddhist ones. Discrimination against the Buddhist majority
could be found at all levels. In no time the Catholics became top citizens to be found wherever there was
power, privilege and wealth.
The Catholic ruling elite, like in Diem's time, turned into a kind of religious political Mafia, identified
with the unrestricted exercise of absolute power which it used and abused without discretion. Resistance
was ruthlessly suppressed by the Church's main supporter, the French, always ready to come to her help
with their gunboats.
Like with Diem, the Buddhist majority finally, after many fruitless protests, organized popular
resistance. This was also ruthlessly suppressed. The measures provoked widespread anti-Catholic
feelings, which in no time swept the whole country. Churches were attacked or destroyed. Catholics
were hunted down and soon the resistance, which curiously started at the royal court where originally
the Catholics had been so welcomed, surged at all levels.
Catholic priests and French officials as well as native Catholics were expelled or arrested until finally all
Catholic activities ceased. In no time the Catholic minority which had acted as the persecutors, became
the persecuted. French commerce ceased entirely and missionary work was stopped. The French-Vatican
bid for the political and religious control of Siam ended in 1688. Result: for a whole century and a half
Siam became practically a forbidden land to both.
At almost the same time the Catholic Church was also attempting to impose herself upon another
Buddhist culture, the largest in the world: China.
Jesuit astronomers in the court of the Emperor of China and two Chinese converts with crosses,
Madonna, and IHS wafer symbol. Jesuit missionaries succeeded in converting a Chinese Empress thus
gaining access to high political influence. As the Vatican began expanding this influence, resistance
increased eventually creating open rebellion. Some of the European nations became involved by
diplomatic pressure, economic measures carried out under the threat of European gun boats off the
Chinese coast. The end result was another major Asiatic nation closed to Western influence and
missionary activity for hundreds of years.
Early in the seventeenth century, Jesuits had managed to penetrate the Imperial Court and convert a
Chinese Empress to Catholicism. This conversion was a major coup for the Catholic Church in her
strategy to impose herself, upon the whole of Buddhist China. Since the Empress was the center of the
Imperial Court, the source of Supreme power, she became the pivot round which the Catholic Church
planned her exercise of mass conversion.
The potential appeared unlimited. The Chinese Empress had become a pliable tool in the hands of the
Jesuits, who manipulated her to implant Catholic influence at all levels. Her piety had turned into a
personal zeal to serve the Catholic Church in everything. She even changed her Chinese name into that
of the Empress Helena after the Roman Empress, mother of Constantine, who had given freedom to
Christianity in the Roman Empire. Indeed, not content with that, she baptized her son with the name of
Constantine to indicate the role which the boy was intended to play in the future conversion of Buddhist
China to the Catholic Church.
Her religiosity soon radically altered the practices and regulations of the entire Court so that Roman
Catholicism seemed to have superseded everything. Conversion to the Catholic Church meant
advancement, privilege, and wealth, not to mention power in the administration and even in the Army.
This Catholic minority grouped round the Empress began to exert such influence that it became first
resented, then feared, and finally opposed by those who wished to maintain the traditional Buddhist
culture of China.
If the Empress and her advisors the Jesuits had contented themselves within the restrictive circles at
court, her religious operations, although objectionable to the Buddhists, might have been tolerated. But
the Empress and those surrounding her set out on a grandiose scheme: the conversion of the whole of
China to the Catholic Church.
They sent a special mission to Rome to ask the Pope to send hundreds of missionaries to help accelerate
the conversion of China to the Catholic Church.
While waiting for the Pope's response, the Catholic minority began implementing this conversion from
the Empress to the Mandarins, to the bureaucratic machinery, and finally to the teeming millions of
Chinese peasantry. The scheme however, encountered wide spread resistance from the beginning.
Persuasion to conform to the semi-official influence of the Catholic Church soon necessitated special
regulations, and later legislation. Opposition was suppressed at first by discriminatory measures, then
arrests, and finally with brute force.
Outside the Court circle and the Catholic minority, the campaign met bitter mass resistance. This
bitterness was nourished by the fact that those who became Catholic enjoyed the most blatant privileges,
while the Buddhists suffered under the most discriminatory laws ever recorded in living memory by the
The campaign reached its most controversial level, when rumors came that the Pope had agreed to send
hundreds more missionaries to help convert the whole country to Catholicism. The news created more
unrest and mass demonstrations which were ruthlessly suppressed. Popular resistance eventually grew to
such intensity that finally the European nations had to intervene to quell the "rebellion" as it was called,
using diplomacy and commercial measures carried out under the menacing presence of European
gunboats off the Chinese coast.
The Catholic Church's attempt to rule and then convert China through a Catholic indigenous minority
ended in total failure; but not without having first created unrest, chaos, revolution, national and
international commotion, in her attempt to impose herself upon a great, unwilling, Asiatic nation.
History of Catholic Aggressiveness in Japan
In the history of Japan we have an even more striking instance of Vatican aggressiveness with profound
repercussions in the world. As in China and Siam, the basic policy was to see that Catholic merchants
and Catholic priests worked together so that both, by extending their own interests, should ultimately
extend those of the Catholic Church.
Contrary to popular belief, when Japan first came into contact with the West she was eager for the
interchange of ideas and commercial commodities. From the first chance landing of the Portuguese in
Japan, foreign merchants were encouraged to call at Japanese ports. Local potentates vied with one
another in opening their provinces to Western merchants. Catholic missionaries were as welcome as the
traders, and set about spreading the Catholic faith in the new land.
Daimyo Nobunaga, sixteenth century military dictator of Japan, welcomed the Jesuit
missionaries who came with the Western traders. Contrary to popular belief, when Japan
first came into contact with the West she was eager for the interchange of ideas and
commercial commodities. Nobunaga granted the Roman Catholics freedom to propagate
their religion, donated them land in Kyoto and promised them a yearly allowance of money.
Soon mission were established throughout the country and converts were mad by the
thousands. Once this religious base was established, the Japanese rulers soon began to
discover that the Vatican was also interested in political and military objectives. This
led to confrontations and eventually open warfare. When the Jesuits were eventually
driven from the land, Japan was closed to all Christian missionary work for centuries.
The Jesuits in Japan
Japanese representation from the 16th century
These missionaries found a powerful protector in Nobunaga, the military dictator of Japan (1573-82). He
was anxious to check the political power of a certain movement of Buddhist soldier-priests, but also held
a genuine sympathy for the work of the "Christians" who were newcomers. He encouraged them by
granting them the right to propagate their religion throughout the Empire. He donated them land in
Kyoto itself and even promised them a yearly allowance. Thanks to this, in no time the Catholic
missions had spread throughout the country, converts were made by the thousands, establishing sizable
Catholic centers in various parts of Japan.
Had the Catholic missionaries confined themselves exclusively to preaching religious principles, it is
likely that Japan would have yielded them tremendous spiritual rewards. But once a Catholic community
was established the juridical-diplomatic-political domination of the Vatican came to the fore. As is
explicit in her doctrines, the Japanese converts could not remain the subjects only of the Japanese civil
authorities. The mere fact that they had entered the Catholic Church made them also the subjects of the
Pope. Once their loyalty was transferred outside Japan, automatically they became potentially disloyal to
the Japanese civil rulers.
This brought serious dangers to both the internal and the external security of the Japanese Empire.
Internally, religious intolerance led to violence against other religions because of the fundamental
Catholic tenet that only Catholicism is the true religion. This, of course meant civil strife.
In the external field, Japanese communities, by following the directives of foreign missionaries, had to
favor not only the commercial interests of Catholic foreign merchants but also the political plans of
Catholic powers intent on political and military penetration of the Orient.
Not many years after the first Catholic missionaries appeared, Japanese civil rulers began to realize that
the Catholic Church was not only a religion, but a political power intimately connected with the
imperialistic expansion of Catholic countries like Portugal, Spain, and other Western nations.
The nefarious tenet of Catholicism that only Catholic truth is right and that error must not be tolerated
began to produce its fruits in newly discovered Japan. Whenever Catholic converts were made and
Catholic communities expanded, Catholic intolerance raised its head. Whenever Japanese Catholics
formed a majority, the Buddhists and members of other local faiths suffered. Not only were they
boycotted, but their temples were closed and, when not destroyed, were seized and converted into
churches. In numerous cases Buddhists were forcibly compelled to become "Christians," their refusal
resulting in loss of property and even of life. Faced with such behavior, the tolerant attitude of the
Japanese rulers began to change.
In addition to this internal strife, the political ambition of the imperialistic Catholic nations began to
present itself in ways that the tolerant Japanese rulers could no longer ignore. The Vatican, on hearing of
the phenomenal success of Catholicism in the distant empire, set in motion its plan for political
domination. As its custom was, it would use the ecclesiastical administration of the Church, together
with the military power of allied Catholic countries. These were eager to bring the cross, the Pope's
sovereignty, profitable commercial treaties and military conquest all in the same galleons.
The Vatican had followed this type of political penetration ever since the discovery of the Americas.
Numerous Popes, including Leo X, had blessed, encouraged, and indeed legalized all the conquests and
territorial occupation by Catholic Spain and Portugal in the Far East. Chief among them was Alexander
V1, with his grant to Spain of all "firm land and islands found or to be found towards India, or towards
any other part whatsoever."  Japan was included in this Papal benediction of Portuguese and Spanish
When, therefore, Japanese Catholic communities became strong enough to support secular Catholic
power, the Vatican took the first important tactical step toward its long-range political stranglehold: the
coordination of the new Catholic communities in Japan as political instruments.
To carry out this policy, in 1579 the Vatican sent one of the ablest Jesuits of his time, Valignani, to
organize the Japanese Church along those lines. Of course for a time Valignani's design remained
screened behind purely religious activities and received enthusiastic support from numerous powerful
Japanese princes, such as Omura, Arima, Bungo, and others. In their provinces he erected, with their
help, colleges, hospitals, and seminaries where Japanese youth trained in theology, political literature,
Once this penetration was deep enough into the religious, educational, and social structures of the
provinces of these princes, Valignani took his next step and persuaded them to send an official
diplomatic mission to the Pope. When the mission returned to Japan in 1590 the situation there had
altered drastically. Hideyoshi, the new master of Japan, had become keenly conscious of the political
implications of Catholicism and its allegiance to a distant Western religio-political potentate like the
Pope. He decided to unite with Buddhism, which owed no political allegiance to any prince outside
In 1587 Hideyoshi visited Kyushu and to his astonishment found that the Catholic community had
carried out the most appalling religious persecution. Everywhere he saw the ruins of Buddhist temples
and broken Buddhist idols. The Catholics, in fact, had forcibly attempted to make the whole island of
Kyushu totally Catholic. In indignation Hideyoshi condemned the attacks on the Buddhists, the Catholic
religious intolerance, their political allegiance to a foreign power, and other real misdemeanors and gave
all foreign Catholics an ultimatum.
Daimyo Hideyoshi ruled Japan during the time when the Jesuit Valignani was organizing the
long-range political stranglehold of the Vatican.
In 1587 he visited the island of Kyushu and found appalling persecution of the Buddhists by
the Catholic community.
He found that the Catholics had forcibly attempted to make the whole island of Kyushu
Condemning the Catholics for their religious intolerance and political allegiance to a foreign
power, he gave them twenty days to leave the country.
Although it took several years to fully expel the foreign Catholics and stop expansion of
Roman Catholicism in the country, the country was ultimately sealed off to any Christian
influence for several hundred years.
They had just twenty days to leave Japan.
Churches and monasteries were pulled down in Kyoto and Osaka in retaliation for the attacks upon the
Buddhists, and troops were sent to Kyushu.
Such measures were only partially successful since the society had been so deeply penetrated. In 1614
all Catholic foreign priests were ordered to be deported once more. The injunction was precipitated by
an even more serious issue. The Catholic missionaries, besides fostering religious intolerance among the
Japanese, had begun to fight a most bitter war against each other.
Vicious quarrels between the Jesuits and the Franciscans had split the "Christian" communities
themselves. These feuds became so dangerous that the Japanese ruler feared they would lead to civil
war. They also saw that civil war could mean the military intervention of the Portuguese and Spaniards
to protect either the Jesuits or the Franciscans.
This involvement of foreign armies could mean the loss of Japan's independence.
Was this fear exaggerated? The tremendous expansion of Catholic Portugal and Catholic Spain was
there to prove that the danger was a real one. The coming of the Franciscans as special envoys from the
already subjugated Philippines in 1593 caused Hideyoshi no end of alarm. The Franciscans ignored the
ban on "Christian" propaganda, constructed churches and convents in Kyoto and Osaka, defying the
authority of the State. To complicate matters, they began violent quarrels with the Portuguese Jesuits.
What at last made Hideyoshi take energetic measures was a small but significant incident.
In 1596 a Spanish galleon, the San Felipe, was shipwrecked off the coast of Tosa. Hideyoshi ordered the
ship and its goods confiscated. The angry Spanish captain, wishing to impress or intimidate the Japanese
officials, indulged in some boasting how Spain had acquired a great world empire. For proof the captain
showed the Japanese officials a map of all the great Spanish dominions.
His astonished hearers asked how it had been possible for a nation to subjugate so many lands. The
Spanish captain boasted that the Japanese would never be able to imitate Spain, simply because they had
no Catholic missionaries. He confirmed that all Spanish dominions had been acquired by first sending in
missionaries to convert their people, then the Spanish troops to coordinate the final conquest.
When this conversation was reported Hideyoshi's anger knew no bounds. His suspicions about the use of
missionaries as a first stepping-stone for conquest was confirmed. He recognized this pattern of cunning
conquest at work within his own empire. In 1597 both Franciscans and Dominicans came under the
imperial ban. Twenty-six priests were rounded up in Nagaski and executed and an order expelling all
foreign preachers of "Christianity" was issued. In 1598 Hideyoshi died, and Catholic exertions were
resumed with renewed vigor until Leyasu became ruler of Japan in 1616 and enforced even more sternly
his predecessor's expulsion edict.
Foreign priests were again ordered to leave Japan, and the death penalty was inflicted on Japanese
"Christians" who did not renounce "Christianity." This persecution took a more violent turn in 1624
under Jemitsu (1623-51) when all Spanish merchants and missionaries were ordered to be deported
immediately. Japanese "Christians" were warned not to follow the missionaries abroad and Japanese
merchants not to trade any longer with Catholic powers. To make certain that these decrees were
respected, all seaworthy ships which could carry more than 2,500 bushels of rice were to be destroyed.
The government decided to stamp out Catholicism in Japan. Further edicts in 1633-4 and in 1637
completely prohibited all foreign religion in the Japanese islands.
At this point Japanese Catholics began to organize themselves for violent resistance. This broke out in
the winter of 1637 in Shimbara and on the nearby island of Amakusa. These regions had become wholly
Catholic, mostly voluntarily, but some by use of forcible conversion. Led by their Western priests, these
Catholic communities began to arm and organize themselves in military fashion to fight against the
The Japanese government, fearing that these Catholic groups might be used by Western Catholic
governments for the territorial conquest of Japan, taxed them to the point of destitution.
The Jesuits, who meanwhile had been preparing for physical resistance, set on foot a Catholic
army of 30,000 Japanese with standards bearing the names of Jesus, Maria, and St. Ignatius
fluttering before them.
They marched against the civil and military representatives of the Japanese government, fighting bloody
battles along the promontory of Shimbara near the Gulf of Nagasaki. Having murdered the loyal
governor of Shimbara, the Catholic army shut itself in his well constructed fortress and held out
successfully against the guns and ships of the Japanese forces. Thereupon the government asked the
Protestant Dutch to lend them ships large enough to carry the heavy guns needed for bombarding the
Catholic fortress. The Dutch consented and the Japanese were able to bombard the citadel until it was
finally destroyed and practically all the Catholics in it massacred. The immediate result of the Catholic
rebellion was the Exclusion Edict of 1639 which read as follows:
For the future, let none, so long as the Sun illuminates the World, presume to sail to
Japan, not even in the quality of ambassadors, and this declaration is never to be revoked,
on pain of death.
The Edict included all Westerners with one exception, the Dutch, who had earned their privilege of
remaining by aiding the defeat of the Catholic rebellion. Nevertheless, even they were put under extreme
restrictions simply because they were also called Christians.
To the Japanese, anything connected with "Christianity" had become suspect of deceit, intolerance, and
The Dutch themselves had to move their headquarters to the tiny island of Deshima, in Nagasaki Bay.
They lived almost as prisoners, permitted to set foot in Japan proper only once a year. The most forcible
restrictions, however, concerned Christianity's religious ceremonies.
The Dutch were not permitted to use Christian prayers in the presence of a single Japanese subject.
The Japanese had become so incensed with anything which even reminded them of "Christianity" that
the Dutch were forbidden to use the Western calendar in their business documents because it referred to
By now Christianity represented in their eyes nothing but the torturous Western device for political and
military domination. When finally the Dutch signed a trade agreement, among its seven points were four
connected with "Christianity:"
1. Commerce between Japan and Holland was to be perpetual.
2. No Dutch ship should carry a Christian of any nationality or convey letters written by
3. The Dutch should convey to the Japanese governor any information about the spreading of
Christianity in foreign lands that might be of interest.
4. If the Spaniards or Portuguese seized countries by means of religious machination, such
information should be given to the Governor of Nagasaki.
In addition to this, all books belonging to Dutch ships, especially those dealing with religious subjects,
had to be sealed in trunks and turned over to the Japanese while the ship was in port. The Dutch, who at
first were permitted to sail seven ships a year, were later restricted to one.
Suspicion of the perversity and cunning of "Christians" became so profound that they even
strengthened the first edicts by new ones. It became a criminal offense for any Christian ship to seek
refuge in a Japanese port or for any Christian sailor to be shipwrecked off the coast of Japan.
To all intents and purposes Japan became a sealed land, "hermetically" closed to the outside world.
It remained sealed about two hundred and fifty years until Commodore Perry, in the middle of the last
century, opened the gates of the Land of the Rising Sun in unmistakable Western fashion—by pointing
against the recluse nation the yawning mouths of heavy naval guns.
1. The Pope's Bull, made to Castille, touching the New World.
2. See The Far East Since 1500 by Paul E. Eckel; Harrap, 1948.
3. It is strange that America, as late as the beginning of the second half of the last century, was tempted
into behaving like the Catholic Church in her dealing with Japan. Suffice to quote the New York Weekly
Tribune referring to the Perry mission. "In this state of things, going thus into pagan realms, it behooves
us not to lose opportunity of laboring for the spiritual benefit of the benighted Japanese. Let not these
misguided men, fighting for their own, perish without the benefit of the clergy."
The conquest of Ireland was accomplished in the same threefold manner as
the impending invasion of Japan by Spain or Portugal:
1. A beachhead was established by the Catholics,
2. civil war and fighting ensued,
3. a foreign army was invited in.
In 1169 A.D. the deposed king of Leinster Dermot MacMurrough invited a Norman/Papal army from
England to help recover his throne.
They never left!!
The Japanese rulers saw through this subtle scheme of conquest and they closed their doors to
outsiders for centuries.
Creation of a Dangerous Alliance
It has frequently been asked what induced the U.S. to be caught in the quicksand of Asian commitments,
with particular regards to the Vietnamese imbroglio.
Explanations have been many, diverse and contradictory. Yet the part played by religion is usually
relegated to the background or obliterated altogether. Being an intangible force, it is generally
disregarded in the context of contemporary problems, where the focus is confined almost exclusively to
economic and military belligerency.
Some of the factors which brought the U.S. into Vietnam have already been examined in the previous
chapters. Certain historical activities carried out by the Catholic Church during the past centuries in
various parts of Asia followed a set pattern similar to that of our own times. Such patterns contributed to
a very great degree to the involvement of the U.S. in the Vietnamese nightmare.
Her commitment there did not appear directly connected with the U.S. war machine, yet it contributed to
the U.S. debacle. Few in the U.S. identified her interests with those of the U.S. unless they took the time
to scrutinize her unique past history:
This study of historical patterns reveals a formula which the Catholic Church has used for
centuries, namely the identification of her religious objectives with those of a major lay
political power of a given period.
As we have already seen, she used this formula in Asia when she identified herself with the major
powers of those days, Portugal, Spain, and France.
In Europe the formula was applied several times in this century. She identified herself at various
intervals with France, then with the Catholic Empire of Austria-Hungary during the First World War,
and with the right wing dictatorships of Italy and Germany, before and during the Second World War.
She advanced her interests in the wake of these Powers by identifying herself with their economic,
political and war interests.
Since the end of the Second World War and the annihilation of European Fascism she adopted the U.S.
as her lay partner, in the absence of a Catholic superpower. This was prompted by the grim reality of the
appearance of world Bolshevism and the growing military presence of Soviet Russia after World War II.
The menacing reality of these two compelled the Vatican and the U.S. together and in due course forced
them into a veritable alliance known as the Cold War.
As sponsors of the Cold War, the U.S. and the Vatican under Pope Pius XII sealed a concrete alliance
prompted by a genuine terror of Communist expansionism. Their alliance was formulated with the
precise objective of preventing such Communist expansionism from controlling even larger sections of
the emerging post war world. While Washington came to the fore with economic help and armed
contingents, Rome supplied the combat troops with vigorous religious and ideological zeal, the most
important ingredient for a genuine crusade.
We have already described how far Pope Pius XII had gone in his eagerness to stamp out the Bolshevik
nightmare. Thus, the U.S., to fulfill her military role as a superpower, was compelled to fight almost a
major war in the Korean conflict in the fifties, where Catholicism was implanted two hundred years
before.  The Catholic Church in her turn fought with ecclesiastic weapons beginning with the
excommunication of any Catholic who dared to join or to support any Communist movement including
the socialist ones.
The battle had to be fought simultaneously on two fronts; in the European, in Czechoslovakia, Poland,
Hungary and other Eastern European nations, and in Asia, in Korea and the disintegrating Indo-Chinese
peninsula. The political and military collapse in Indo-China and its potential Communist takeover,
double sponsored by Moscow and Peking alarmed the U.S. and the Vatican. The two came together by
formulating a mutual war policy: the taking of military measures by the U.S. and the carrying out of
religious activities by the Catholic Church.
The Vatican's intervention in the growing anarchy of the Indo-Chinese peninsula passed almost
unnoticed by the international community. This gave the church a favorable start to her almost
intangible operations in the region. The silent promotions of her force operated not only directly from
the Vatican with its mobilization of its ecclesiastic machinery in the very midst of Vietnam itself, but
also through the Catholic lobby in the U.S. The importance of the Catholic lobby in American external
policies has often been greatly minimized, when not ignored altogether. Yet it has often steered the U.S.
external affairs to a degree seldom imagined by anyone not consonant with such matters.
Vietnam is a classic example of effective Catholic pressure by pushing America, inch by inch, into the
Vietnamese quicksand. It was the fear of another Korea, somewhere in Asian territory, which pushed the
U.S. towards the Vatican for cooperation in Vietnam. A common objective, the stabilization of Vietnam,
drew the two together. The next step was the formulation of a common strategy in which each partner
had to play a determined role.
Many voices, inside and outside the U.S. alarmed at the drift towards escalating military commitments
warned the U.S. to use prudence. Yet the fear, after France had left, of an ideological and military void
in the region, plus a chronic incompetence of Vietnamese politicians, prompted the U.S. to adopt a
policy of gradual intervention. Pope Pius XII's hysterical visions and fulminations against communism
encouraged Catholics everywhere to support him (and thus the U.S.) in his anti-Bolshevik crusade.
The Catholic politicians of Vietnam, before and after the partition, were mobilized as were certain
Catholic quarters in the U.S. itself. There the most belligerent segments of American Catholicism were
encouraged not only by certain prelates but also by the State Department, and in due course, even by the
CIA, respectively dominated by the Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, and his brother Allen.
Their promotion was paramount, since the two brothers were the most ferocious anti-Communists then
in power, second only to Pope Pius XII. The combination of the diplomatic Cold War strategy of the
State Department with the religious one of the Vatican, created a most formidable partnership. The mass
media with their daily bombardment of sensationalism did the rest.
The Catholic strategy became the most vociferous in their denunciation of the peril of potential take over
by world communism, emphasizing the danger to religion. Even more effective than that was the
personal lobby vigorously operating behind the scenes. The lobby specialized in recruiting the most
influential Catholics or pro-Catholic personalities in the U.S. administration.
The most successful recruiter of them all was a master builder of political intrigues, Cardinal Spellman
of New York whom we have already encountered. Spellman was a personal friend of Pius XII and also
of the two Dulles brothers, although his relationship with them had been purposely minimized. He acted
as a very confidential intermediary between the State Department and the CIA, and the Vatican. The
Dulles brothers sent Spellman to the Vatican to conduct the most delicate negotiations and often used
him to dispatch very personal communications directly and exclusively to the Pope himself. On more
than one occasion, in fact, it was reported that Spellman was charged with strictly oral communication
with the Pope to avoid any written or telephonic devices.
These precautions were taken to lessen the risks of leaks but also to bypass official or semiofficial
records since neither the Vatican nor the State Department trusted ordinary diplomatic channels. The
delicate nature of their communications necessitated such measures, they being very often of the utmost
The three men worked in unison, united by a profound belief that they had been specifically charged by
God Himself with the destruction of God's chief enemy on earth: Bolshevism.
It was this trio more than anyone else, who helped formulate and shape the external policies of the U.S.
in this Vatican—U.S. partnership. And it was this alliance which was ultimately responsible for the U.S.
involvement in the ideological and military Vietnamese imbroglio.
1. For more details, see author's The Vatican in World Politics, Horizon Press, 1960, New York.
2. The Catholic Church was officially established in Korea about 200 years ago. Pope Paul II was
invited by South Korea's President Chun Doo Hwan, to South Korea to celebrate the second century of
Catholicism in Korea, in May 1984.
3. For more details of Pius' excommunication against the Communists, see author's Vatican Imperialism
in the 20th Century, Zondervan, 1965.
The Two Catholic Presidents and a Revolutionary Pope
The role played by Cardinal Spellman in the consolidation of the Vatican-U.S. partnership should not be
underestimated. Without his acting as the privileged ambassador of the Dulles brothers to the Pope, and
visa-versa, the special relationship of the U.S. with the Vatican would never have developed. Thanks to
Spellman, Dulles was able to forge a semi-secretive link with the Vatican and bypass the official
vigilance of the State Department including his statutory reporting to the President and his advisors.
General Eisenhower, essentially a military man, credited any alliance not backed by the big battalions as
unimportant. Thus he had convinced himself that the role of a church in the anti-Communist campaign
was minimal, whether represented by the Vatican or not.
The Dulles brothers did nothing to discourage this belief since it gave them a free hand to pursue their
own ideological crusades and strategic schemes which they had already set in motion.
Spellman, the man with one foot on Capitol Hill and another in St. Peter's at Rome, and with a finger in
most of the problems relating to the Dulles brothers and the Pope, became indispensable to both in
operating the Vatican-U.S. Alliance.
Besides his value in promoting Catholic interests in the domestic fields, he was a kind of genius in his
own right in most other areas such as high finance. Besides making his own archdiocese the richest in
the U.S., he helped to solve certain financial problems for the Vatican itself. But Spellman was at his
best in political, national, and international matters. There his diplomatic intrigues became proverbial.
Endowed with the personal protection of the Pope and that of the Secretary of State, his power of
persuasion on behalf of their joint policies became almost irresistible in the most influential circles of
the U.S. These included diplomatic, financial, and political ones as well as the mass media. Because of
this broad influence, Spellman acted very much like an American Pope. Indeed his archdiocese was
nicknamed the little Vatican of New York.
To add weight to his sponsorship of the U.S. intervention in Vietnam, Spellman eventually was
nominated Vicar of the American Armed Forces, and became a frequent visitor—carried in U.S. military
jets—to the Vietnamese battle fields. When not inspecting the American soldiers, whom he called the
Soldiers of Christ, he moved in the political milieu in his role of an American ecclesiastic, diplomat, and
Spellman, as mentioned elsewhere, had been one of the earliest sponsors of the then unknown
Vietnamese leader, Diem. From the very beginning when Diem went to seek American sponsorship in
the U.S., Spellman persuaded many influential politicians, including Senator Kennedy the future
President, to support Diem in preference to other candidates. He praised Diem for his honesty, integrity,
religiosity, and above all for his dedication to anti-communism. It was this last quality which endeared
Spellman's protégé to the State Department, which finally decided to opt for him.
When Pope Pius XII died in 1958, Cardinal Spellman's operations multiplied as did his lobbying on
Capitol Hill. There rumors were heard about him becoming the first American Pope. Spellman never
scotched the rumors, since he secretly entertained a long standing ambition to the papacy. Indeed he
confidently expected that the cardinals at the forthcoming Conclave would select him as the successor of
Pius XII in recognition of his effective diplomatic anti-Communist efforts, which he had so successfully
conducted on behalf of the deceased Pope and the State Department.
Spellman was a firm believer in the prophecies of St. Malachy, the 12th century Irish prophet, and had
taken such prophecies about the papacy with the utmost seriousness. St. Malachy had characterized each
Pope, from his days onwards, with a Latin tag indicating the basic characteristics of each pontificate. He
had distinguished the successor to Pius XII as "Pastor et Nauta", Shepherd and Navigator.
During the Conclave of 1958, Spellman's papal ambitions became the talk of Rome, encapsulated in a
current joke. Spellman, so the joke went, had hired a boat, filled it with sheep and sailed up and down
the river Tiber in the belief that he was helping the fulfillment of the prophecy.
The result of the election was anything but what Cardinal Spellman had expected. Cardinal Roncalli, the
Patriarch of Venice became the new Pope John XXIII (1958-63).The contrast between Pope Pius XII
and Pope John XXIII could not have been more striking. The partnership between Washington and
the Vatican collapsed almost overnight. Cardinal Spellman was banished almost at once from the papal
antechamber. No longer was he the welcome and frequent messenger from the two most ferocious anti-
Communist Dulles brothers. His sudden banishment from the Vatican was such a personal blow to his
inner pride that he never recovered from it for the rest of his life.
Pope John XXIII (1958-63), who reversed the anti-Communist policies of his predecessor, Pope Pius
XII. He commenced dialogue with the Communists of Europe and signaled Soviet Russia that the
Vatican would be ready to cooperate with her.
He fathered the Vatican II Council and ecumenism.
Although he did not disapprove of the Vietnam War, he scolded President Diem for persecuting the
Buddhists because it threatened his new ecumenical policy of tolerance and cooperation with other
While not disavowing the U.S.-Vietnamese involvement, he secretly cooperated with the Communists in
preparing a future united Marxist Vietnam under Ho Chi Minh.
The State Department was no less shocked and worried at what might follow. The Vatican under Pope
John had completely reversed its former policy. The U.S.-Vatican anti-Communist strategy had crashed
in a matter of days. The result of such unexpected disaster was unpredictable and was bound to force the
U.S. to reshape its own anti-Communist grand strategy from top to bottom.
While the U.S. was considering how to do so, two events of major importance had taken place in
Vietnam and in the U.S. itself. In Vietnam Diem, thanks to his protectors, had become president and had
begun to consolidate his regime with an able mixture of religious motivation and acts of political
ruthlessness. In the U.S., Kennedy, Diem's former sponsor, had entered the White House as the first
Catholic President in American history.
The hopes of Cardinal Spellman were partially and briefly revived.. His dream that a Catholic President
would help to consolidate the Catholic presidency of Vietnam soon came to nothing. While Kennedy
played a waiting game about what to do with his Catholic presidential counterpart in Vietnam, the latter
had started to irk American public opinion with his repressive anti-Buddhist operations.
Kennedy, while succumbing to the Catholic lobby of the U.S. and to the arguments of Spellman, resisted
their pressure to put all the weight of America behind the Catholic regime of Diem. The latter had not
only alienated public opinion in Vietnam and created enmity with the Buddhist population, he had
alienated also public opinion in America to a degree seldom experienced even there. The Buddhist
monks' suicide by fire, had been too macabre and horrifying not to adversely influence U.S. public
opinion against Catholic Diem.
Kennedy was too astute a politician to risk compromising his future career to support the religious
idiosyncrasies of a fellow Catholic president and the silence of the Vatican. Ruthless politician that he
was, he put his political career at home first, and the equivocal policies of his church, embodied by
Diem, second. Kennedy's attitude chagrined Spellman, even though Kennedy, as a palliative to the
cardinal, ordered 16,000 American troops into Vietnam; the first fateful step by the U.S. into the
Vietnamese military bog. The expedition assuaged the most vocal sections of the Catholic lobby in the
U.S., who saw it as a move in the right direction. By now however, the politics of the old U.S.-Vatican
partnership had already radically changed.
Pope John XXIII had promptly begun to steer the church towards a "modus vivendi" with communism,
with the ultimate objective of doing the same with Soviet Russia itself. His motto, contrary to that of
Pius XII and the Dulles brothers, became no more a struggle against communism, but cooperation; not
war, but understanding. While such papal policy was being put into effect, Diem continued to intensify
his repression against the Buddhists of Vietnam with increasingly horrendous results.
Pope John while never openly condemning such persecutions, privately warned Diem to use prudence
and moderation. Not only were the persecutions tarnishing the image of the Catholic Church in the
world at large, and specifically in the U.S., but Pope John himself genuinely believed in conciliation
with non-Christian religious and revolutionary ideologies. The results of such papal credence fathered a
hybrid called ecumenism, an ecclesiastical creature which, more than anything else, characterized his
pontificate, the original inspirer of the Second Vatican Council, from which it emerged.
The harassed Buddhists, encouraged by Pope John's ecumenism, appealed to him to intervene with
Diem. A Buddhist delegation went directly to the Vatican and was received in audience by the Pope.
John gave them words of reassurance and told them that he would do his best to persuade Diem to relent
and to be fair to their religion. The Buddhist delegation went back to Vietnam, but the persecution,
instead of abating, increased violence. Buddhists were arrested, beaten and imprisoned. The world at
large was shaken. So was American public opinion. So was President Kennedy, who threatened to cut
off all aid to Vietnam and to President Diem. But again to no avail.
It might be of interest at this stage, although we have already dealt with it in earlier chapters, to describe
in some detail the sequence of events which pushed the main protagonists towards the edge of the
precipice. It will be seen how the religious zeal and the dogmatic stubbornness of the two brothers,
Diem and the chief of police, prompted them to disregard American and world opinion, the warning of
Kennedy, and the mounting opposition of the Buddhists. This sense of a mission on behalf of
Catholicism inspired them to dismiss the ominous warning of the impending collapse, which was to end
with their assassination.
Meanwhile President Kennedy pressed Pope John through Cardinal Spellman to try to restrain Diem.
There was no apparent result. To show that he meant business, Kennedy took a drastic step and changed
the U.S. ambassador to Vietnam. Then in July, 1963, he sent Diem a personal message via ambassador
Nolting in a desperate effort to persuade Diem and his Catholic brothers, the chief of police, the
archbishop to alter their policies of repression.
Kennedy's efforts were again of no avail. On the contrary, it seemed that instead the head of the secret
police, with the excuse that Red elements had been found among the Buddhists had turned the harsh
discriminatory campaign into religious persecution. Buddhist monks, Buddhist nuns, and Buddhist
leaders were arrested by the thousands. Pagodas were closed and besieged. Buddhists were tortured by
the police. One day another monk burned himself alive in public, to draw the attention of the world to
the Catholic persecution. President Diem, undeterred, continued his policy. The secret police packed the
jails with more monks. A third monk committed suicide by fire, and then another. Within a brief period,
seven had burned themselves alive in public. Vietnam was put under martial law. Troops now occupied
many pagodas and drove out all monks offering resistance. More Buddhist monks and nuns were
arrested and taken away in lorries, including a large number of wounded. Many were killed. Nhu's
special forces, whenever the opportunity arose, went on storming pagodas and monasteries with
submachine guns and grenades to enforce martial law.
Ten thousand Buddhists took part in a hunger strike in blockaded Saigon, while a giant gong tolled from
the tower of the main Xa Loi Pagoda in protest against the persecutions. At Hue, in the North, monks
and nuns put up a tremendous struggle at the main pagoda of Tu Dam, which was virtually demolished,
while eleven Buddhist students burned themselves inside it.
The Diem government, instead of trying to appease its restless opponents with a policy of compromise,
refused to see the portents. It went on with suicidal assurance and self righteousness. It appealed to both
teachers and students, not with concessions, but with invitations to remain calm and clear-sighted, so
that they might be enabled "to see the truth" concerning "this Buddhist affair." President Diem added
insult to injury by stating that the solution had to be his solution. "I confirm," he said at the time, "that
the policy of the government . . . is irreversible."
But, while President Diem's attitude to the rapidly deteriorating situation was inflexible, the reaction of
his closest associates was of such blind placidity as to border on the incredible. This, perhaps, can best
be summarized by a remark of the vice-president in answer to a reporter who raised the issue of the self-
immolation of Buddhist monks and to the efforts of a young girl student who tried to chop off her arm at
the Xa Loi Pagoda at 10 p.m. on August 12, l963. "I am very saddened," replied the vice-president, "to
see that the cases of self-immolation and self destruction only waste manpower."
Vice-President Tho went even further. "Such acts," he declared, "are not very necessary at the present
time." Thereupon he added what must be the greatest understatement of the century: "They may make
the public believe," he said, "that the Buddhists are putting pressure on the government."  Soon the
U.S. applied even stronger pressure and threatened to cut off all aid to President Diem. Again, to no
avail. South Vietnam's ambassador in Washington, a Buddhist, resigned in protest. President Diem's
brother and his sister-in-law, Mrs. Nhu, scoffed openly at the Buddhist monks who had committed
suicide, declaring that they had used "imported gasoline" to "barbecue" themselves.
By this time the Buddhist leader, Thrich Tri Quang, had to seek asylum in the American embassy to
escape with his life. The American government grew openly impatient. The American State
Department issued an official declaration deploring the repressive actions which the South Vietnamese
government had taken against the Buddhists. "On the basis of information from Saigon it appears that
the government of the Republic of Vietnam has instituted serious repressive measures against the
Vietnamese Buddhist leaders," it said. "The action represents direct violation by the Vietnamese
government of assurances that it was pursuing a policy of reconciliation with the Buddhists. The U.S.
deplores repressive actions of this nature." 
Vietnam was split. The army became openly restive and put up passive resistance, not against the
Communists, but against their own government. Result: The war against the Communist North was
rapidly being lost, since the population at large, upon whose support the struggle ultimately rested,
refused to cooperate.
At long last the U.S., realizing that its strategy in that part of Asia was in serious danger, took action.
The American Central Intelligence Agency, in cooperation with Vietnamese Buddhist elements,
successfully engineered a coup. The extreme right-wing Catholics in the U.S. were no longer at the
center of things as they had been under the Eisenhower administration although ironically they were
now under an administration run by the first American Catholic President. Yet they were still on good
terms with certain top elements of the CIA. Getting wind of what was afoot, they made a last desperate
effort to mobilize the American public opinion in Diem's favor. They sponsored a campaign to counter
the one waged by the State Department and the others who had decided Diem's fate. Madame Nhu, the
wife of the head of the secret police, was invited to come over and "explain" the true situation to the
Madame Nhu came and her first call was upon the principle sponsor of the Diem regime, Cardinal
Spellman. The vast Catholic machinery went in to action to make the campaign a success. Catholic
papers, individuals, organizations and all the vast tangible and intangible ramifications of Catholic
pressure upon the mass media of the U.S. were set in motion.
While the hidden Catholic promotional forces worked behind the scenes, influential Catholics came to
the fore to sponsor, support, and promote Madame Nhu's advocacy of the Diem regime. Clare Booth
Luce, the converted Catholic who, it had been said when she was ambassador to Rome, was more
Catholic even than the Pope himself, acted as press agent, campaign manager and general sponsor of
The reception that President Diem's sister-in-law received demonstrated how Catholics in the U.S., far
from condemning the religious persecutions, tacitly approved of or openly supported them. On the other
hand the American Protestant and liberal segments told Madame Nhu in no uncertain terms that the
persecutions carried on by her husband and brother-in-law were abhorred by the American people.
During a visit to Columbia University, for instance, Madame Nhu was greeted by the students with
catcalls and boos. At Fordham University, however, she had an "enthusiastic" reception from 5,000
Catholic students at the Jesuit school. Madame Nhu was greeted by the students with catcalls and boos.
At Fordham University, however, she had an "enthusiastic" reception from 5,000 Catholic students at
the Jesuit school.
Madame Nhu, wife of the head of the secret police, disdained the suicides by fire as using "imported
gasoline" to "barbecue" themselves. She fiercely promoted the Catholicization of South Vietnam even
after it became evident that the backing of the U.S. was in jeopardy. She then made a promotional tour
of the U.S. to "explain" the true situation to the Americans.
Her first call was upon Cardinal Spellman, the principal sponsor of the Diem regime. The vast Catholic
machinery in the U.S. went into action to make her campaign a success.
Catholic papers joined influential individuals and organizations who came to the fore to sponsor, support
and promote Madame Nhu's advocacy of the Diem regime. After the assassination of President Diem
and her husband, Ngo Dinh Nhu, she retired to Rome in 1964.
The striking difference in her reception by two diverse sections of American youth was significant,
particularly in view if the fact that the 5,000 students with their Jesuit teachers claimed to believe in
religious liberty. The Jesuit reception was even more startling because the Vatican, since the accession
of Pope John XXIII, far from encouraged the Diems in their religious fervor had, as we have already
mentioned, cold shouldered them.  On more than one occasion the Vatican had even asked the
archbishop to stop offering "spiritual guidance" to the president and to the head of the secret police.
These reproofs the archbishop completely ignored stubbornly refusing to believe that the ideological
climate was no longer promoted by John Foster Dulles and Pope Pius Xll.
But while it was true that Pius XII's policy had been greatly modified, it was no less true that Pope John
and President Kennedy had to tread very cautiously in the situation. Although each for his own
particular reasons wished to tone down the super-Catholicity of the Diem dynasty, neither could do so in
too obvious a manner. This was owing mainly to the Asian-American-Vatican policy spun jointly by the
previous American administration, via Cardinal Spellman and Pope Pius XII. The open reversal of the
Dulles-Pius grand strategy could trigger suspicions of pro-communism and of appeasement towards
aggressive communism in Asia—something which had to be avoided, particularly if accusations of such
a nature were made by the powerful Asian lobby in Washington or the American lobby at the Vatican,
not to mention South Vietnam itself.
One major event outside South Vietnam helped to precipitate matters.
Pope John died.
A few days before the downfall of President Diem, the seventh Buddhist monk was self-immolated only
a hundred yards from the Roman Catholic cathedral of Saigon with a United Nations fact finding
President Dim and the head of the secret police, by now totally blinded by their religious blinkers,
isolated themselves from all and sundry in South Vietnam, as they had already done from all outside it.
Diem, now more that ever, lacked any capacity for compromise. Like his brothers, he had no
compassion. His ambassador in Washington, before resigning from his office in protest against the
persecution of Buddhists, summed up Diem and his brothers: "They are very much like medieval
inquisitors," he said, "who were so convinced of their righteousness that they would burn people for
their own sake, and for the sake of mankind, to save them from error and sin." 
That is precisely what made Catholic President Diem think and act as he did. "We must continue to
search for the Kingdom of God and Justice," he wrote, years before he became president, from a
seminary in which he was then living (ironically in the U.S.), "All else will come of itself." 
It came. But with the help of the U.S.
Kennedy and his military advisors had become increasingly anxious about the military effect which
Diem's fanatical antagonism against the Buddhists might have in the general conduct of the U.S. and
South Vietnamese operations. Unless stopped at once, Diem was becoming a most serious obstacle for
the efficient prosecution of the war against the Communist North. His anti-Buddhist campaign, when
added to the mass antagonism which the Northern Catholics had caused following their flight from the
North, was beginning to impede U.S. plans.
After prolonged and painful assessment, Kennedy and his closest associates finally reached the
conclusion that the only way to get rid of the Diem regime was to get rid of President Diem himself.
There have been contradictory reports of how the ultimate decision was reached and by whom. Although
books, and newspapers have described the step by step evolution, in the end it turned out to be a planned
cold blooded assassination of Diem. 
Meanwhile Diem and his brothers, as confident in the righteousness of their actions as ever, continued to
act as if nothing had happened, notwithstanding the ominous behavior of certain American officials. On
the afternoon of November 1, 1963, President Diem had tea with Admiral Harry Felt, Commander-in-
Chief of the American forces in the Pacific, and with Henry Cabot Lodge, the American ambassador,
who hours before had cabled Washington that President Diem's last hours had arrived. Soon afterwards
the plotters set their plans in motion. At dawn the next day their troops invaded the presidential palace.
The president and his brother, head of the dreaded secret police, had gone. A few hours later, however,
they attended mass at the Church of St. Francis Xavier in Saigon and devoutly took Holy Communion.
Upon being discovered there they were promptly apprehended and shot. It was the 2nd of November, the
Feast of All Souls. Their bodies were laid in St. Joseph's Hospital, only a few hundred yards from the
Ax Loa Pagoda, where Buddhist resistance had first lit the spark of revolt which was ultimately to put a
tragic end to President Diem's Catholic authoritarianism. Thus died two most devout sons of Holy
And with them died the political regime they had attempted to impose for her sake upon an unwilling
non-Catholic—even non-Christian—nation Secret Deal Between the Pope and the Communists of North Vietnam
While the doomed Diem-Kennedy plot unfolded like a classic Greek tragedy, a no less fascinating
calamity had been shaping up within the secretive walls of the Vatican. Pope John XXIII, in standard
Vatican duplicity, had secretly contacted Ho Chin Minh, Communist leader of North Vietnam. This step
was taken without the least consultation with either the State Department, Cardinal Spellman, or indeed
anybody else in Rome or Washington.
The Pope presented a simple proposition. The Vatican was willing to reach a kind of "modus vivendi" or
practical compromise with the future Communist leader of a United Vietnam.
The implications of the Vatican move was, to say the least, portentous. Vatican recognition of a future
United Vietnam under Ho Chi Minh, could only mean the acceptance of defeat in South Vietnam and its
eventual absorption into a Communist North. In other words it would mean the recognition of a future
United Republic of Vietnam ruled by the Communists.
Ho Chi Minh, although a Marxist, kept diverse Catholic advisors by his side, including a Catholic
bishop. He accepted the proposal in principle and countered with tempting offers of his own: total
religious freedom in the future United Vietnam, plus special treatment of the Catholic Church, including
favorable educational facilities and frequent financial grants for buildings and the clergy. All this was
carried out in the utmost secrecy, since at the same time the Vatican was loudly reiterating that the
objective of the Vatican-U.S. joint operations in Vietnam was the reunification of the North with the
South under Catholic Diem.
In contrast to his predecessor, Pope John XXIII was a genuine believer in the coexistence of the Church
with communism, both global and regional. He had convinced himself that both North and South
ultimately were bound to come together to form a United Vietnam. But under a kind of communism
peculiarly indigenous to Indo-China.
He had equally convinced himself that the Catholic Church under Ho Chi Minh, would fare well,
because of the traditional role which she had played in Indo-Chinese history and culture.
Such thinking resulted in three important moves:
1. the gradual relenting of the Vatican's official hostility against North Vietnam;
2. the cold shouldering by the Pope of President Diem,
3. the opening of secret negotiations with Ho Chi Minh.
These three were set in motion without breaking the Vatican's public opposition to a total takeover of
Vietnam by the Communists.
Ho Chi Minh began before World War II to maneuver for a Communist Vietnam.
He received help from the U.S. against the Japanese but used that aid to consolidate his hold on the
highlands of Tonkin. In August, 1945, he marched into Hanoi and set up the provisional government of
the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.
A master strategist, he cooperated in the transplanting of nearly a million Catholic North Vietnamese
into the South knowing that the resulting disruption would seriously weaken the Diem regime.
After the election of Pope John XXIII, and the turn of the Vatican away from the Cold War toward
cooperation with Marxism, Ho Chi Minh made a secret deal with Pope John which eventually led to full
control of the country by the North.
The first result of such policies was seen at the Marian Congress held in Saigon in 1959 where the Pope
consecrated the whole of Vietnam to the Virgin Mary. Although this seemed religious in nature it had
evident political implications. Many Catholics and non-Catholics took notice of this including Cardinal
Spellman and his supporters. Their frown became shock, however, when in December of 1960 Pope
John created an episcopal hierarchy, again for the whole of Vietnam.
Not content with this Pope John took an even more ominous step. He created an archdiocese of the
Catholic Church in the capital of Communist North Vietnam itself.
These announcements astounded religious and political pundits everywhere, beginning in Vietnam,
North and South, and in the U.S. However many interpreted the move in a favorable light. They saw it
as the Pope preparing to set in motion the ecclesiastical machinery of the Church, while waiting for the
inevitable take-over of a United Vietnam, under President Diem and his protector the U.S.
In the political circles of Washington these religious moves and comments were judged to be mere
inspirational bravado, and dismissed as such. Their potential implications for the future were dismissed
except by the few who recognized the Pope's gestures as a dangerous exercise of ecclesiastical
brinkmanship. Though disguised under the mantle of piety, it was clear that the Church was no longer
seriously interested in the U.S. military efforts to defend South Vietnam. In other words, the Vatican had
given notice, even if tangentially, that from then onwards it was going to look exclusively after the
interests of the Catholic Church.
Negotiating with the Communists of the North, the Vatican reached a secret agreement with Ho Chin
Minh concerning the freedom of movement of all the Catholics of North Vietnam. These North
Vietnamese Catholics formed the majority of all Catholics in the whole of Vietnam. By this agreement
they were permitted "if they so desired", to emigrate to South Vietnam and to settle under the protection
of President Diem and his Catholic administration.
To avoid giving the impression that the Vatican was conniving with the Communists, however, the
exodus of the North Vietnamese Catholics had to appear to be a flight of religious people apprehensive
of an irreligious regime run by atheists. The image had to be maintained to impress public opinion and
even more to create a worldwide sympathy for the Catholic Church and for President Diem, her staunch
defender against intolerant communism.
Ho Chi Minh was too astute a politician not to see in the request, beside a ruse advantageous to the
Church, also a deal with long range political and military implications for the potential advancement of
his own cause. He reasoned that a mass exodus from the North would greatly embarrass rather than help
the Catholic regime of Diem by increasing the tension which already existed.
The competition for jobs and privileged positions amidst the already harassed Diem administration
would be greatly increased by those coming from the North. Ho Chi Minh saw that this emigration could
only increase the disruption in a government busy harassing its most troublesome majority, the
Buddhists. His calculations proved correct. After a short honeymoon between the Catholics of the North
and those in the South, thousands of the new arrivals asked for repatriation. They demanded help from
the local authorities and then directly from the government of Diem. Even the Catholic Church, though
willing to give out aid, was unable to cope with the problem which grew with each passing day.
The economic situation continued to worsen. The prospect for the new arrivals of any kind of
employment diminished, the lack of money became acute, and starvation made its appearance.The
emigrants began to agitate and create minor commotions which soon degenerated into riots, many of
which were suppressed with the utmost severity. The slogan, "The Virgin Mary had gone South," which
had encouraged the emigrants to follow her to the Catholic paradise of a Catholic administration had
proved to be the siren's call to disaster, both for them and the stability of South Vietnam—just as Ho Chi
Minh had envisaged.
Disintegration of the Vietnam-U.S. Partnership in Vietnam
The Pope John XXIII—Ho Chi Minh agreement initially contained a subtle reciprocal ruse by both
negotiators. It then turned into a double-edged sword threatening the future stability of Vietnam and all
of Southeast Asia.
Spellman and his supporters had watched the development of the whole affair with a sense of impotent
outrage and ideological affront. This new papal dialogue with the Communists trespassed into the field
of practical politics and threatened the whole grand strategy of President Diem and the U.S. military
efforts in the region. Their bitterness however, soon was mollified by the sight of hundreds of thousands
of North Vietnamese Catholics fleeing from an atheistic regime. In the long run this would be beneficial
to the cause of Diem.
After the rivulets of emigrations had turned into a veritable human flood, the Pope came out with a
masterstroke of religious emotionalism. He invoked the Virgin Mary and then solemnly dedicated the
whole of the Vietnam personally to her. In this manner the Virgin Mary became at one stroke the official
protectoress of all Vietnamese North and South, whether Catholics or not, including President Ho Chi
Ho Chi Minh had other cause for rejoicing, however, as he watched the hundreds of thousands of North
Vietnamese streaming southward. As he had earlier envisioned, instead of alleviating the chaotic
conditions in the South the new arrivals only increased the mounting confusion there a hundredfold. The
migration, besides proving an astute political move for Ho Chi Minh, set a precedent of great
importance. The pattern became a formula successfully exploited during and after the war. Following
the U.S. withdrawal from the region the united Marxist Vietnam created a politically inspired "migratory
wave" characterized by the world media as "the boat people."
Hundreds of thousands of these refugees were encouraged and even helped to "escape" mostly by sea.
While thousands drowned, hundreds of thousands were received by the West, the largest portion
becoming guests of the U.S. This exodus turned into a long range victory for the Catholic Church. After
having suffered a crushing defeat with the fall of Diem and then of South Vietnam, importation of the
Catholic migrants into the U.S. helped to increase her battalions in pursuit of the Church's final
objective: to become the most powerful church in America.
Meanwhile the inter-Vietnamese conflict between North and South was being intensified, the slippery
escalation leading towards a full U.S. military involvement. In 1963, Pope John XXIII, the father of the
Vatican Council II, died. Yet, as he put it, he had opened the window to the wind of change. Soon after
his death, this wind of change turned quickly into a veritable hurricane in the swing towards world
His successor Paul VI, who only a decade before had been exiled from the Vatican by anti-Communist
Pius XII for his extreme left wing views, went even further than John in appeasing communism. 
Soon after his election, in fact while the U.S. was still heavily involved in her conflict in Vietnam, Paul
Vl made the first tentative offer to Moscow. This offer was labeled by the present author the Vatican-
Moscow Alliance in a book by that name.
The political results of the Vatican-Moscow Alliance was spectacular and concrete. Eastern Europe with
its large Catholic population was pacified in a very short time in its struggle between the Catholic
Church and their militant Communist regimes. Priests, bishops, and cardinals who until then had been
systematically persecuted, arrested and imprisoned were released. Churches were opened and the clergy
and the state began cooperating. To the chagrined surprise of the U.S., who was waging her vigorous
Cold War against Soviet Russia and her satellites, the two former mortal enemies now began
In Europe the effect of the Vatican-Moscow Alliance was spectacular but in Asia caution had to be
exerted. There, as the U.S. was escalating an increasingly ferocious war, the Catholic Church began to
retreat as imperceptibly as she could, trying to avoid giving any formal shock to her ideological
American partner. Not only must she avoid upsetting the U.S., but also not offend the patriotic
susceptibilities of the American Catholics who had supported the Vietnam War. Many of them had done
so in the belief that it was not only their country which had supported it, but also their Church,
preoccupied with opposing the devil incarnate, world communism.
The process of the Church's withdrawal was as subtle and imperceptible as it had been grossly overt in
Europe. It was hardly noticed also because the American Church formally went on supporting the war as
if the former Vatican U.S. partnership was still functioning.
This general impression was given daily substance by the frequent and much publicized trips to the
Vietnamese front by the Vicar of the American Armed Forces, Cardinal Spellman. Although persona
non grata at the Vatican, he was a genuine supporter of the war and acted as if Pope Pius XII was still
conducting the Cold War with the Dulles brothers.
The cooling of the Vatican-U.S. Alliance, in spite of Cardinal Spellman's efforts, finally became
apparent even to the Pentagon. As the political void in Vietnam became increasingly felt at every level,
military pressure was substituted to fill that void. If the Vatican-U.S. anti-Communist crusade was
weakened by Pope John XXIII's winds of change, the attitude of Pope Paul VI gave the final blow to its
very existence. Thus the new policy of the Vatican had become a major contributor to the ultimate
defeat of the U.S. in that region.
With the assassination of Diem and the fall of his regime Catholics both in Vietnam and in the U.S.,
although continuing to support the prosecution of the war, were no longer a major factor in its conduct.
In 1964, after Diem's elimination, Vietnam was governed by increasingly incompetent presidents,
generals and a corrupt amalgam of political-military puppets dancing to the tune of an ever more
bewildered and confused American administration.
After Kennedy's initial send off of the first 16,000 troops into Vietnam, the U.S. slid ever more swiftly
into the abyss By 1965 President Johnson had imprudently crossed the fatal "advisory limit" to military
aid and authorized a gradual escalation against North Vietnam—the beginning of a full fledged war.
Following mounting massive air operations against the Communists of the North, the U.S. dispatched an
increasing number of combat troops fully entering into the land war which she had tried to avoid a few
years before by supporting a Catholic dictator in the recently partitioned South Vietnam on the advice of
the Catholic lobby in Washington.When Pope Paul VI finally died in 1978, only one year after Vietnam
had become a united Marxist nation, the chapter of the Vatican-Washington-Vietnam Alliance came
officially to a close.
Pope Paul VI greeting Soviet President Podgorny at the Vatican January 30, 1967. This was the first
meeting ever held between a Pope and a Russian Communist head of state. The encounter culminated in
the new policy of Paul VI of full cooperation with Soviet Russia and the Communist satellites of Eastern
Europe. Results of this policy were soon seen in Poland, Rumania and Hungary. The formerly
persecuted clergy in those countries were freed and partial freedom was granted for religious activities.
Thus Paul VI fathered the Vatican-Moscow Alliance, which undermined the anti-Russian strategy of the
U.S. in Europe and Asia. This alliance became an important factor in the final defeat of the U.S. in
The same year a new Pope, hailing from Poland, a Communist country and a satellite of Soviet Russia
succeeded him (1978). The new Pope, John Paul II, initiated at once an even more ambivalent policy
toward Soviet Russia and world communism. He has sponsored an ambiguous kind of radicalism,
though disassociated from that of Soviet Russia, yet openly encouraging social unrest and ideological
conflict in both the West and the East. The unrest and revolution in Communist Poland and in Central
America are the most striking examples of his policy.
Meanwhile the history of the tragedy of Vietnam terminated when the new Marxist nation, the United
People's Republic of Vietnam, was made to spin along the orbit of the great Asian giants, Soviet Russia
and Marxist China, as another Red satellite.
For the U.S. however, the bitter aftermath of an unimagined military defeat had become a national
humiliation unmatched since the War of Independence. A timely reminder to the still idealistic young
America that her eagle, as a symbol of national might, should avoid the example of the legendary
rapacity of the imperial eagles of the great superpowers of yore. In the future she had better instead
identify herself with the legendary dove, as the harbinger and the keeper of peace. 
By disregarding the counsel of the Founding Fathers to exert the utmost prudence when dealing with
world problems, the U.S. became embroiled in unpredictable misadventures and uncalculated calamities.
Ignoring the maxim of the Monroe Doctrine, she trespassed into the military quicksand of the Asian
conflict, and was caught in the vortex of a major global political military turbulence which she had never
expected, first in Korea in the fifties, and then in Indo-China in the sixties and the seventies.
This she did reluctantly, even if imprudently, in the pursuit of an unreachable chimera. The
encouragement of interested allies who prompted her to go for the chase. Chief amongst these was the
Catholic Church, determined since the end of the Second World War to promote her own religious and
ideological schemes of expansionism in the wake of American political power.
The imprudence of a vigorous superpower like the U.S., associating herself with an aggressive religious
crusader like the Catholic Church will yield as it did in the ancient and recent past, not dreams, but
nightmares. And in the case of the Vietnamese tragedy the nightmare became the greatest traumatic
politico-military misadventure experienced by the U.S. since the American Civil War. A lesson and a