Introduction. Benedict XV, né Giacomo della Chiesa was Pope of the Roman Catholic Church from 1914 to 1922, having succeeded Pope Saint Pius X. Known as the ‘Pope of Peace’, his policy in World War I was one of the strictest neutrality, and he had the respect of all the belligerents. His efforts to negotiate peace were, however, unsuccessful. During his pontificate France and England once again resumed diplomatic relations with the Holy See. He sent a telegram to King George during the early stages of the negotiations in October 1921 praying for a successful outcome. The King replied, thanking the pope for his good wishes and endorsed them. De Valera, clearly unimpressed that the pope was acknowledging George V as the Supreme authority in Ireland, in turn sent a telegram to the pontiff outlining the position as he saw it. Neither Collins or Griffith approved of the telegram, and the move was subsequently condemned in the The Times. It threatened to damage any chance of a settlement being reached. All documents are reproduced below.
Source. Frank Pakenham, Peace by Ordeal: An Account from first-hand sources, of the Negotiation and Signature of the Anglo-Irish Treaty 1921 (London 1962) 165-166.
Pope Benedict XV to His Majesty King George V
We rejoice at the resumption of the Anglo-Irish negotiations and pray to the Lord with all our heart that he may bless them and grant to Your Majesty the great joy and imperishable glory of bringing to an end the age-long dissension.
His Majesty King George V to Pope Benedict XV
I have received the message of your Holiness with much pleasure and with all my heart I join in your prayer that the Conference…may achieve a permanent settlement of the troubles in Ireland and may initiate a new era of peace and happiness for my people.
President De Valera to Pope Benedict XV
The people of Ireland have read the message sent by your Holiness to the King of Great Britain, and appreciate the kindly interest in their welfare and the paternal regard which suggested it. I tender gratitude. They are confident that the ambiguities in the reply sent in the name of King George will not mislead you into believing that the troubles are in Ireland, or that the people of Ireland owe allegiance to the British King. The independence of Ireland has been formally proclaimed by the regularly elected representatives of the people of Ireland, and ratified by subsequent plebiscites. The trouble is between England and Ireland and its source that the rulers of Britain have endeavoured to impose their will upon Ireland, and by brutal force have endeavoured to rob her people of the liberty which is their natural right and their ancient heritage. We long to be at peace and in friendship with the people of Britain, as with other peoples; but the same constancy through persecution and martyrdom that has proved the reality of our people’s attachment to the Faith of their Fathers, proves the reality of their attachment to their national freedom and no consideration will ever induce them to abandon it.
The Times, October 21 (Leading Article)
Mr De Valera has sent a telegram to the Pope. Towards the Pope himself it is an act of impertinence; and towards the King it is unmannerly to the point of churlishness. What value can attach to Mr De Valera’s assurance that ‘we long to be at peace and in friendship with the people of Britain’ when he deliberately flouts the settled convictions of the British people upon the only terms on which peace and friendship between the British and Irish peoples are possible.?