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Jan 10 John Paul II & Ronald Reagan

Updated: May 11, 2021

On Jan 10 1984 The United States and the Vatican established full diplomatic relations for the first time in 117 years. This was mainly due to the strength of the relationship between the Polish Pope and the President Reagan. Reagan identified as a 'born again Christian', choosing to follow his mothers path rather than his Catholic fathers because he was stuck by the strength of her commitment. The first Slavic Pope, John Paul II visit to his home country Poland in 1979 had seriously weakened Communism and had made a very positive impact on the Reagan administration.


This strengthening of diplomatic ties caused a bit of consternation in America, and was explained by a spokesman for the Reagan Administration as intended to improve communications at a time when Pope John Paul II has become increasingly involved in international affairs. The first Slavic Pope, had experienced at first hand the lies and corruption of the Communist system as a priest and bishop in Poland. His papal visit to his home country in 1979 had seriously weakened the Communist grip on the country, particularly his pilgrimage to Czestochowa, the Marian Shrine in the South of Poland when millions had turned up to attend mass, at one point during the visit he had addressed the vast crowds 'Be not afraid,' he said. Millions shouted in response, 'We want God! We want God! We want God!' This exercise of soft power against an atheistic communist regime had proved much more effect than any armed uprising and had made a very positive impact on the Reagan administration.

However, the political costs of this should not be underestimated. Anti-catholicism was deep rooted in parts of America although had waned significantly since the 1960’s, as Catholics and Protestants worked together more politically on shared interests. Nonetheless any concordat or political agreement with the Vatican would be treated with suspicion and hostility. Harry Truman in 1951 had floated the idea of re-establishing diplomatic relations and was denounced publicly by his Baptist pastor. John F Kennedy the first Catholic president had specifically promised not the extend diplomatic relations with the Vatican, he was so sensitive of ‘Catholic taint’ and the conspiracy theories that were deeply embedded in American culture. However, Catholics who had an initially found their home with the Democrats where now present and active across the political spectrum.

Under John Paul II, the soft power of the Church had increased dramatically, with the Pope's visit of 129 countries making him one of the most travelled world leaders in history. Two years before, Britain had established diplomatic ties on the eve of the first visit by a Pope to Britain since King Henry VIII broke with the church in the 16th century. John Paul II had built up a strong personal friendship with President Reagan, both had survived assassination attempts within months of each other, both were implacably and courageously opposed to Communism, both shared similarly socially conservative outlooks. President Reagan announced that he would nominate William A. Wilson, a California industrialist and real estate developer and a long-time friend of the President,, to serve as the United States Ambassador to the Holy See. The Holy See is now seen as one of the most important diplomatic listening posts on the circuit


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