Cardinal Francis Spellman: “The American Pope”
At the cardinal’s requiem mass, held at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, New York in 1967, where he reigned for nearly thirty years, the great and the powerful, as a testimony to his influence and affection, would with thousands of other mourners, pass by his raised coffin as he “lay in state.”
There is an old saying to the asked question: “How do you get to become a cardinal in the Catholic church?”
The answer is threefold.
- You have to be a man.
- You have to be a Catholic.
- Oh, and yes, you need to study and if possible be ordained a priest in Rome.
For the young Francis Joseph Spellman, all of these important criteria would fit and shape his ambition to travel far into his church, which he would serve for so long.
Born on May 4th 1889 in Whitman Massachusetts, the young Francis would be noticed by the local hierarchy and dispatched to Rome for further priestly studies at the prestigious American College.
Ordained in 1916 by Archbishop Pacelli, no less, who would later be known as Pope Pius XII, Spellman would, after a brief period of parish work in the United States, happily return to Rome to function in the potent atmosphere of the Vatican’s Secretary of State’s office and be further domiciled in Rome for seven fruitful and I suspect very happy years.
One interesting item in his clerical CV would be his willing role in 1931, at the suggestion of Pacelli in helping to smuggle from Rome to Paris, the encyclical “Non-Abbiamo Bisogno,” penned by Pius XI as a criticism of fascism. It must have been dangerous for the young American, we are informed, for apparently he was shot at by perhaps agents of Mussolini, in an attempt to prevent this controversial Vatican document from being published. But perhaps it’s just a minor harassment and nothing more.
In 1939 with gathering war clouds on the horizon, the new pontiff Pius XII (the former Vatican Secretary of State, cardinal Pacelli) appointed Francis, archbishop of New York and in 1946 he was awarded the red hat of a cardinal. For Spellman, this must have seemed a wonderful gesture from his friend in Vatican City.
However during the Second World War Spellman, in his new capacity as Chaplain general to the American forces, travelled widely, often visiting dangerous military theatres of action in Europe and the Pacific. He would also certainly galvanize American Catholic support behind FDR in the ongoing war effort. During this busy period he would also journey behind dangerous enemy lines and always, it is claimed, as President Roosevelt’s personal representative.
(With FDR in 1940)
This must have placed him in a unique position of trust and loyalty, but Spellman was much more than a simple parish priest by now, he was the consummate politician.
We also learn from sister Pascalina, special papal aide to Pius XII, the following about his masonic interests too: “She [Pascalina] had learned of a major scandal involving the Knights of Malta, the Holy See’s influential laymen’s organisation, and was determined that the Pope [Pius XII] clean house of the cardinals and others who were running the secret society [Knights of Malta] and turning it into an international money-making racket. Pius was slow to move against the Knights of Malta because several of the Holy See’s leading prelates were involved, including Nicola Cardinal Canali, one of the most powerful members of Sacred College, Bishop Angelo Roncalli, and their other close friend Cardinal Spellman” (p. 331-332).
Later in the turbulent 1960s, he would again offer full allegiance to LBJ and his decisions in the disastrous Vietnam War. This being in flagrant contrast to the exhausting role that Paul VI was trying to take in reaching a diplomatic road to peace!
At this stage, we have to examine the possibility of financial blackmail against this senior cleric in the American Catholic hierarchy, and perhaps the most instantly recognizable to the American public.
Since his death in 1967 several biographers of Francis Spellman have hinted at him being a practising homosexual. Many Broadway chorus boys and others, it is claimed, knew him affectionately as “Franny.”
Indeed many of his fellow Catholic bishops just took it all for granted concerning his sexual activities. Once when Spellman was openly challenged about his predilection for the same sex he would casually remark, “Who would believe it?” Who indeed!
But then the cardinal of New York City always had friends in high places, reaching all the way to the White House! (One also thinks of Cardinal Cody, who also was able to cover up so much of many misdemeanours during his long tenure in Chicago).
Either way, today the American gay and lesbian fraternity claim the late Cardinal Spellman as one of their own!
It certainly was a different and innocent world in the 1940s and 1950s in virtually every aspect of the American way of life.
However by the 1960s “The times they are a changing,” shouted Bob Dylan and boy was this popular mantra about to be chanted all over America!
There was also a deep-rooted division in the Catholic church that resulted in the calling of the Second Vatican Council in 1962 by Pope John XXIII (Angelo Roncalli,) who according to some was a closet Rosicrucian.
So was the council a hidden Illuminati agenda for their bishops and others to shape and re-organize the Catholic church to today’s format? Many still see it that way. Today the plan still seems to be working.
(On a personal note, I do happily remember that in 1962 I was in Paris and was offered the opportunity to meet Vice President Johnson, who was on his way back home to Washington after visiting the pope in Rome, to present him with a Telstar silver paperweight. I do recall that at the time the Vice President had perhaps 2 or 3 bored Secret Service men standing next to him by his gleaming black Lincoln. I was able, with a few American friends, to talk to him outside the imposing UNICEF building. I do remember that he wore a Stetson hat and a long cream raincoat and was very pleasant to me. It was very low key and we all got to shake his hand before he left us. To me, he seemed in no hurry to leave. Then he took out of his pocket a half a dozen inscribed black biro pens with the inscription, “With best wishes from Lyndon B. Johnson.” I kept mine as a souvenir for many years until a fire in the early 1970s destroyed so much of my personal property. I have to admit that I liked him. As I say it was a very different world then.)
The Catholic church in post-Vatican II moved dramatically to the left and welcomed Marxist ideology under Paul VI. (Just try reading his 1967 letter “Populorum Progressio” it’s very political.) Spellman, perhaps in open disgust at so much of the sweeping liberal Vatican II church reforms, began to promote a hawkish tone concerning the Vietnam War. True in 1961 he had fixed Fidel Castro in his sights for removal, one diplomat remembers: “Spellman’s information about Cuba was better than ours. His intelligence was very, very good.”
Castro would later refer to him as “The Cardinal of the Pentagon, the CIA and the American monopolies.”
To Spellman, all serving US troops in Vietnam were in his opinion “Soldiers of Christ.”
Once to enquiring journalists waiting for him in Saigon on one of his many trips to the country, his reply about whether US military presence was justified was direct and simple: “My country, may it always be right, right or wrong, my country.” Why the man even displayed a picture of himself standing before a fighter plane on his 1965 Christmas cards. Later he would bless air bombers with sprinkled “holy water” before they flew towards the Ho Chi Minah trail on a Pentagon sortie.
By now he was sounding like an American pope! No, not pope Paul VI, but rather like Pius XII. You can just hear him ruminating in the officers’ mess in Saigon in 1965 by arguing: “Now there is a pope and I knew him before he made pope!” And of course, he had!
Later Spellman would happily gather on his frequent overseas trips, assorted intelligence for the CIA and the State Department. In return, he would be invited by LBJ for military briefings and a five-star lunch at the Pentagon. The President was always forward in asking his pet cardinal for his opinions.
Once at an invited prayer breakfast that included amongst others Billy Graham and the cardinal, LBJ asked both of them what he should do next in the Vietnam theatre? Graham was uncomfortably silent.
“Bomb them,” Spellman unhesitatingly ordered. “Just bomb them.” And the President did!
By the mid swinging sixties, Spellman was now known as “The Bob Hope of the clergy.” Why you could even buy a dollar tee shirt at an anti-war demonstration with the words “Draft Spellman Now.” You could even buy a plastic badge with “Spellman’s War” embossed on it, and I can’t help thinking that Spellman loved it, he just didn’t care.
On one occasion a four-star general in Saigon noted: “We hardly count it a war if you don’t come,” he announced in his welcoming speech at the airport when Spellman alighted from a military aircraft. The cardinal, we are informed, just beamed his priestly approval at this accolade.
One also has to wonder what the cardinal and pope spoke about when they were alone in archbishop’s house in 1964. The pope was on a peace mission to New York to address the UN general assembly. Later we are informed he secretly visited the Illuminati room in that dubious building on the Hudson River. Both men by now were openly pursuing different personal agendas concerning this Asian war that some saw as escalating out of control. For Spellman, it was a divine mission to shape American foreign policy. Whatever the cost, in the end, he reasoned, America could and would win.
For pope Paul, now ever desperate to find a final diplomatic solution, began instructing senior papal nuncios, diplomats and others to search for political means to reach a negotiated peace to the Vietnam stalemate. For Spellman this gesture, he reasoned, spelt of a bitter betrayal to the thousands of young soldiers, airmen and others who had died in that war in a far-off country. (Incidentally over 55,000 names are proudly inscribed on the Vietnam War memorial in Washington DC, I haven’t been there myself, but some years ago James did pay a visit to the wall and later stood at the slain Kennedy brothers’ graves in Arlington Cemetery. I do remember him telling me he found it an emotional experience).
But by now the sands of time were running out for this unpopular American war or debacle as some now openly called it. For an exhausted LBJ and the diminutive cardinal from New York, time was also catching up with both of them.
By 1969 a new Republican President was negotiating a diplomatic solution to the war. Previously LBJ had declined his parties’ nomination in 1968 and retired to his ranch in Texas where amongst other things I remember he grew a ponytail!
And for Francis Spellman a priest now for over 51 years, death would reach out claim him in 1967.
At his funeral, the highest and the lowest of American society, journeyed to St Patrick’s Cathedral to pay their final respects to the so-called “American Pope.”And then I suspect they quickly forgot about him.
Today I prefer to remember him as a poet who on a good day could compose a delightful stanza in honour of all things, Mothers Day.
Well, I have to suggest, doesn’t that beat blessing B52 bombers well doesn’t it? I think it does.
Francis Spellman certainly had a naked ambition to be crowned the first American pope in 1958 after the death of John XXIII. I believe he really thought this was within his political grasp, but it was not to be. That dubious future honour may still await one of the American cardinals. But time, we suggest, is running out for the Catholic church.
In Revelation 18:4, God’s voice from Heaven, thunders: “Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.”
That to me is directed at Catholics, The World Council of Churches and assorted financiers of the One World order. Remember: All must be born again (John 3:3-7).
La Popessa, by Paul Murphy and Rene Arlington, 1983
Assorted articles especially, The Irish Echo’s article on Spellman, by Edward T. O’Donnell, 2006
29th March 2006
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