According to classified Irish government documents, four Catholic countries made repeated proposals to place Jerusalem under Roman Catholic control in the late 1940s, after the State of Israel was created, to ensure access to the Holy City.
However, the proposals never really got off the ground and were finally dropped after the Vatican made the prudent decision to remain uninvolved and to avoid the risk of “promoting further disturbance in Palestine,” say Irish government documents.
The AFP reported that Spain made the first proposal after the United Nations General Assembly voted in November 1947 to partition Palestine. The UN resolution, which also stipulated that Jerusalem would be established as a "corpus seperatum" under a special international regime, was passed by 33 votes to 13, with 10 abstentions.
Italy and Portugal joined Spain in its proposal, and the three countries solicited Ireland to support the plan. Details of these closed-door talks were revealed recently in documents made public by the National Archives in Dublin.
An Irish foreign ministry file said Spain first approached Ireland in December 1948, after a remark made by Pope Pius XII that suggested international control of Jerusalem and the holy sites should be entrusted to the UN.
The file reveals that Madrid advocated for Spanish, Portuguese and Irish representatives to the Holy See to “make separate and concerted demarches to the Vatican suggesting that, if any form of international regime were to be established in the Jerusalem area, the mandate should be entrusted to Catholic countries."
Spain believed this solution was preferable to UN control, which would not have included the principal Catholic countries in Europe at that time.
The issue was dropped, but it resurfaced in April 1949 when the Italian government called on all Catholic nations, which were not members of the UN, to approach Catholic UN members-nations and propose Catholic control of Jerusalem.
Irish, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese ambassadors held talks at the Vatican, but the conclusion was that non-UN governments acting alone could not do much about the situation.
Irish files said the Vatican was reluctant to make concrete demands, "which might lead to the Vatican itself being saddled with responsibility for promoting further disturbance in Palestine."
The proposal did not go further "due to the reluctance of the Vatican to disclose its hand and the natural disinclination of the four Catholic countries involved to proceed further without the assurance that whatever line they take will have Vatican concurrence," said the Irish government files.