William A. Wilson, the first ambassador of the United States to the Holy See, was a “pivotal figure” in American-Vatican relations, Supreme Knight of Columbus Carl A. Anderson said following Wilson’s passing.
Ambassador Wilson, a convert to Catholicism, died in California on Saturday at the age of 95.
President Ronald Reagan named Wilson his personal envoy to the Vatican in 1981, a Knights of Columbus press release said. In 1983, when Congress repealed an 1867 law banning the use of federal funds for a Vatican mission, Reagan established full diplomatic relations with the Holy See and named Wilson as the first U.S. Ambassador there.
“The establishment of diplomatic relations following repeal of a blatantly anti-Catholic law enacted shortly after the Civil War was a measure of how much had changed for Catholics in America during the intervening 115 years,” Anderson commented.
Anderson himself served in the White house Office of Public Liaison at the time and participated in events leading to the establishment of full diplomatic relations.
“Bill Wilson was the perfect choice to become America’s first ambassador to the Holy See,” Anderson continued. “He was a close friend of President Reagan, and thus had his complete confidence as he set about the task of getting our first-ever diplomatic relations off on the right foot.
“And he was both a faithful Catholic and a patriotic American who took great care to ensure that those two loyalties were carefully balanced throughout his years as America’s ambassador at the Vatican.”