Waugh Appears in Vatican Document Release

The Vatican recently released a large quantity of documentary archives that cover the period at the end of WWII. It is not surprising that much of the press comment on these documents relates to their reflection on the attitude of the Papacy to WWII refugees in general and Jewish refugees in particular. But the Vatican’s notice relating to the release by Johan Ickx also includes this insight, which was  largely repeated in several newspapers covering the story such as La Stampa, (translation by Google with edits):

… there is no doubt that there are small surprises. Who would have thought that the English Captain Evelyn Waugh, the famous author of the novel Brideshead Revisited, would be not only a postman but a source of recommendations for the Holy See on the situation of the Catholic Church in Yugoslavia after the war?

This comes as no surprise to Waugh scholars. Waugh mentions his meeting with the Pope, which took place directly after he left Yugoslavia in February 1945, in his letters and diaries. In this meeting, he discussed the parlous state of the Roman Catholic Church in Yugoslavia. His biographers were well aware of the visit. As described by Selina Hastings:

On 24 February, having obtained the permission of his immediate superior, Major John Clarke, Evelyn flew to Rome to see Pope Pius XII. After several days of wearying interviews with Vatican officials, he was finally granted an audience. “The sad thing about the Pope is that he loves talking English and has learned several elegant little speeches by heart parrotwise & delivers them with practically no accent, but he does not understand a word of the language.” After listening politely to the Pope’s well-intentioned small talk, Evelyn requested that they speak in French. “I left him convinced that he had understood what I came for. That was all I asked.” (Hastings, p. 478, quoting from Diaries, pp. 613-19, Letters, pp. 201-02)

After meeting the Pope, Waugh gathered his thoughts into a detailed report to the British Government about the treatment of the Roman Catholic Church by the Tito regime, which the British were still supporting. It was largely ignored. What might be interesting to learn from the Vatican archives is whether the Church took Waugh’s report more seriously than the Government.

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