Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Dr. Robert Ventresca


The modern relationship between the Vatican and the state of Israel is rooted in a much deeper history of relations between Judaism and Christianity. In the main, this relationship was fraught with tensions and animosity, as early Christian writers chastised and demonized Judaism, ensconcing a hostility that endured for centuries. The advent of political Zionism in the nineteenth century renewed Roman Catholic fears of a Jewish-dominated Palestine, where religious sites sacred to Catholics would fall under the political jurisdiction of a Zionist state. In 1904, Pope Pius X granted an audience to the prominent Zionist Theodor Herzl, in which he reminded his guest that the Roman Catholic Church could never endorse or support the creation of a Jewish home in Palestine. This was to remain the essence of papal policy on Palestine for decades to come.

This study examines the relationship between the Vatican and Zionism from the Balfour Declaration (1917) to the creation of Israel in 1948, as well as Vatican attempts to constrain the nascent state in the years after its birth. More specifically, it considers the transnational nature of Roman Catholic responses to Zionism and the creation of Israel. The Vatican was supported in its anti-Zionist stance by an international network of national Catholic hierarchies, lay Catholic organizations and an active Catholic press. Leading this international Roman Catholic lobby against Zionism were the Catholic bishops of the United States. From the 1920s through the 1950s, American Catholic leaders had become crucial intermediaries in the relationship between Washington and the Vatican. Speaking as both loyal American citizens and as devout Roman Catholics, the bishops were uniquely positioned to transmit the Vatican’s policy objectives to the American government. The American bishops were also instrumental in advocating Vatican positions on Zionism at the United Nations, evidence of the importance of the American Catholic Church, and its various organs, in disseminating the positions of the Vatican to the international community.

Through an examination of a comprehensive range of primary materials, this study demonstrates that an understanding of the Vatican’s relationship with Zionism and the nascent Israeli state must take into account the transnational Roman Catholic consensus on the future of Palestine, an advocacy led by American Catholics, who represented the leading edge of Vatican attempts to shape the future of Palestine.