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Washington sends reparation for the bombing on Pius XII's refugees

· After much resistance by the U.S. the issue was resolved in 1956 ·

Myron C. Taylor, personal representative of the President of the United States Franklin D. Roosevelt to the Holy See, beginning in 1939, published the correspondence  in 1947 which took place during World War II between the President and Pope Pius XII. Among these letters there was one from 10 July 1943 — 70 years ago! — which announced the landing of  American and British military operations on Italian soil. In August 1943 Taylor received from Harold Tittmann, Charges d’Affaires and his assistant, at the request of the Holy See a detailed description of the Castel Gandolfo estate in order to prepare the appropriate measures to avoid bombing of the papal residence. At the same time the President of the United States assured the Pope that the neutral status of Vatican City and of papal domains in Italy would be respected.

The President’s guarantees were not enough: the Pontifical Villa in Castel Gandolfo which was near the frontline where the Germans were deployed in the Alban Hills. Meanwhile the Allies had landed in Anzio in an attempt to bypass the Gustav line. Two buildings in the papal residence were accidentally hit. The Villa, like a gigantic Noah’s Ark, was home to 15,000 displaced people. It was hit four times: on 2 and 10 February, 31 May and 4 June 1944 and hundreds of people were killed. The Propaganda Fide Villa, also a shelter for refugees, displaced persons and Jewish families, was attacked by airplanes as well on 2, 7 and 10 February 1944. In this case more than 500 people died and the building was destroyed.

According to the Americans, the reason for the attacks was that the the papal territory was “saturated with Germans”. This was untrue. Various documents preserved in the Bureau of European Affairs of the Office of Italian Affairs which can be consulted at the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington allow the reconstruction of the compensation of damage.

When the war ended the Holy See protested and began asking for compensation in 1948. Similar cases occurred in other neutral states including Portugal and Switzerland. However the Holy See was treated differently. The cited documents in Washington show that extensive negotiation was needed in order to conclude the debate, negotiation which took place with constant interest by Vatican diplomats.

Pope Pius XII's indignation was expressed on June 1954 in an audience with Ambassador Taylor. He convinced the American administration to relook at and resolve the issue. On 8 February 1956, the Undersecretary of State Robert D. Murphy and Apostolic Delegate Mons. Amleto Cicognani met and agreed to accept the estimate made by the American military, which amounted to 96,419,935 lira, instead the Holy See’s proposal: 190,956,998. In the end the exchange rate of 1945 was applied instead of that of 1956.




St. Peter’s Square

Feb. 26, 2020