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  • A Bridge Across the Ocean: The United States and the Holy See between the Two World Wars by Luca Castagna
  • C.S.C. Richard Gribble
A Bridge Across the Ocean: The United States and the Holy See between the Two World Wars. By Luca Castagna. ( Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press. 2014. Pp. xx, 193. $49.95. ISBN 978-0-813-225876.)

The intersection between politics and religion has a long history in the United States, but generally it has been analyzed from an internal perspective, addressing various issues associated with the establishment clause of the First Amendment. In his ground-breaking monograph, A Bridge Across the Ocean: The United States and the Holy See between the Two World Wars, the Italian historian Luca Castagna, writing from a more external perspective, has ably accomplished his stated objective of presenting a comprehensive study of the relationship between the Vatican and U.S. government between the two world wars. Castagna tells his story in a tightly written and richly contextualized narrative that fills a significant lacuna in the scholarly literature.

Through a preface and six chronologically based chapters, Castagna has provided the reader and the historical community, utilizing Roman and U.S. archival resources as well as an exhaustive and rich collection of secondary literature, with an insightful view into a little-known topic. Initially he provides an overview of the relationship between the Holy See and United States in the nineteenth century with its high point during the pontificate of Pope Pius IX when a series of five diplomats represented the United States in Rome. When this relationship ended in 1867, however, a diplomatic blackout between these two entities would last for seventy-three years. Castagna notes that the appointment of the first apostolic delegate to the United States by Pope Leo XIII in 1893—seemingly a breakthrough in the relationship—was not politically oriented, but rather an effort by the Holy See to mend fences with the American hierarchy in the wake of the Americanism crisis.

The first three decades of the twentieth century saw little movement toward the establishment of diplomatic ties between the Vatican and the American government. Castagna makes no secret of Woodrow Wilson’s anti-Catholic prejudice, especially as manifested in his rejection of Pope Benedict XV’s Peace Note of 1917, which was viewed as prejudicial toward the Central Powers. The author uses Warren Harding’s famous words “a return to normalcy” (p. 61), and the statement of the famous immigration historian John Higham that the 1920s brought a return of Anglo-Saxonism and anti-Catholicism, to suggest that the decade did virtually nothing to advance the stock of the United States toward the Vatican or vice versa.

The great breakthrough in Vatican-U. S. relations occurred when Franklin Roosevelt entered the White House in March 1933. Roosevelt’s New Deal that aided millions of “forgotten” people including Catholics, his appointment of two Catholics to his cabinet, and his direct quotes from the 1931 social encyclical Quadragesimo Anno played well with church members. Castagna views the U. S. visit in fall 1936 of Eugenio Pacelli, the Vatican Secretary of State and future Pope Pius XII, as another significant factor in building the bridge between the Vatican and the United States. The common fear of Roosevelt and Pacelli over the rise of [End Page 685] the Nazi-Fascist ideology in Europe, as well as the December 23, 1939, appointment of Myron Taylor as the president’s personal representative to the Vatican, helped to complete the bridge.

Castagna’s monograph is a significant contribution in an area that, save the work of Gerald Fogarty, S.J., has not been fully analyzed. This reader would have appreciated a short epilogue recounting some events leading to the eventual establishment of a U.S. ambassador in 1984, but Castagna’s thorough and insightful scholarship and engaging writing style make this work valuable for scholars, students, and those interested in American Catholic history and church-state relations.

C.S.C. Richard Gribble
Stonehill College
Easton, MA


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