“So dastardly a crime…” Pope Paul VI’s reaction 50 years ago

VATICAN CITY — After Pope Paul VI heard the news of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, he took the unusual step of letting a U.S. film crew into his papal apartments to record him reading a message of condolences.

Aired by ABC television Nov. 23, 1963 , the papal message in English came the day after the president was killed during an open motorcade in Dallas, Texas.

We are deeply shocked by the sad and tragic news of the killing of the president of the United States of America, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, and the serious wounding of Governor (John) Connally (of Texas), and we are profoundly saddened by so dastardly a crime, by the mourning which afflicts a great and civilized country in its head, by the suffering which strikes at Mrs. Kennedy, her children and the family.

With all our heart, We deplore this unhappy event. We express the heartfelt wish that the death of this great statesman may not damage the cause of the American people, but rather reinforce its moral and civil sentiments, and strengthen its feelings of nobility and concord; [official text cut in video: and we pray to God that the sacrifice of John Kennedy may be made to favor the cause he promoted and to help defend the freedom of peoples and peace in the world.]

He was the first Catholic president of the United States; We recall our pleasure in receiving his visit and in having discerned in him great wisdom and high resolution for the good of humanity. Tomorrow, we shall offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass that God may grant him eternal rest, that he may comfort and console all those who weep for him on his death, and in order that not hatred, but Christian love, should reign among all mankind.

— Pope Paul VI  11/23/63

The pope had met the first Catholic president of the United States only a few months earlier July 2 at the Vatican.

Pope Paul’s papacy had begun just several days earlier on June 21, but it wasn’t the first time the pope had met JFK.


President John F. Kennedy shakes hands with Pope Paul VI at the Vatican July 2, 1963. The pope spoke to the president about race relations, space exploration, world peace and U.S. aid to developing nations. (CNS file photo)

In his speech, the pope recalled first meeting him almost 25 years earlier when the then-20- year-old accompanied his parents to the Vatican for the coronation of Pope Pius XII March 12, 1939.  President Kennedy’s father, Joseph P. Kennedy Sr., was U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain at the time and was appointed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to act as his special representative at the papal coronation.

While President Kennedy’s 1963 visit marked just the third time a U.S. chief executive visited the pope while still in office, there had been another historic meeting a year earlier: when his wife, Jacqueline Kennedy visited Pope John XXIII March 11, 1962.

It was dubbed “one of the longest private audiences” Pope John ever granted. You can read some of the details in this gem I found deep in the Catholic News Service Rome bureau archives. Click on the image to read the whole story.

cns story jackie k

Hat tip to Fr. Joseph Komonchak and his post the other day recalling JFK’s visit to the Pontifical North American College in Rome while he was a seminarian there and first linking to these historic videos posted by HelmerReenberg.

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2 Responses to “So dastardly a crime…” Pope Paul VI’s reaction 50 years ago

  1. Love my Catholic Church it’s god’s gift to be a catholic

  2. Eddie says:

    Pope Paul VI wrote: “We are deeply shocked by the tragic news of the killing of the US president and profoundly saddened by so dastardly a crime, by the mourning which afflicts a great and civilized country…”
    Any killing or criminal act does is horrible and unacceptable, whoever the victim is.
    But was the Pope aware of the crimes of JFK as President and Commander in Chief against the poor, peasant societies of Cuba and Vietnam?
    According to Prof Noam Chomsky, “Kennedy’s invasion of Cuba was outright aggression. He then followed it by a terror campaign – ordering sabotage, bombing of industrial installation including hotels, sinking fishing boats.”
    As for Vietnam, “Kennedy ordered the attack of South Vietnam in 1962, authorising the US Air Force to bomb villages and use napalm…”

    Wonder how Pope Paul would react if he knew? Would he mourn with the poor villagers and condemn Kennedy’s unprovoked attacks against a defenceless people?
    Should we Catholics be carried away by the one-sided adulation of JFK by the mainstream media? There is another less flattering side and it can hardly be brushed aside.

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