WASHINGTON, D.C. – Throughout most of its history, Anti-Catholic sentiment in the United States was as American as apple pie, and the prospect of any kind of meaningful cooperation with the Vatican was anathema and politically unnecessary. However, the geopolitical considerations of the aspiring hegemon would demand a more sophisticated relationship with the religious juggernaut, and a different approach to the concept of separation of Church and State.
Few understood this better than Franklin Roosevelt’s Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs (CIAA), Nelson Aldrich Rockefeller, whose father had been funding Protestant missionary projects in Central and South America since the early 1930s to gather intelligence on indigenous communities sitting on valuable resources under the guise of preaching the gospel. But, compared to the Catholic Church, Rockefeller’s religious ploy fell a few centuries short of expertise and state-level infiltration.
As the grandson of Standard Oil’s founder built propaganda networks across Latin America as part of FDR’s “Good Neighbor Policy” initiative, another member of the President’s cabinet was having a brainstorm about recalibrating the emerging superpower’s relationship with Catholicism, and religion in general, to serve the purposes of empire. William J. Donovan, a devout Catholic himself, grasped the value of commandeering the Church’s vast network of priests and assorted members of the clergy in the service of capitalism.
Donovan’s own political aspirations had been frustrated in the past by the prevailing anti-Catholic views of the American electorate, but during a secret meeting with the Vatican’s Apostolic delegate Amleto G. Cicognani in February, 1942, Roosevelt’s Coordinator of Information (CIO) would place Catholicism at the center of American political life, reviving the intrigue that surrounded Western power dynamics since the Reformation by brokering an “unholy alliance” between the burgeoning American intelligence community and the most powerful religious institution on earth.
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