Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau caught the country by surprise with his announcement on October 15 of the appointment of Dr. John Robbins as the first Canadian ambassador to the Vatican. Robbins, 66, former president of Brandon University, Manitoba, said he has no formal church connection but admires Bahai and Unitarianism.

“I’m not a Catholic, certainly,” he said, “and I’m not sure that I’m a Protestant.” Robbins said his assignment will place him in “one of the great centers of power and influence—comparable to Washington, Moscow, or Peking.…”

Nine months earlier Trudeau had visited Rome and, on his return, cautiously announced he was considering the Vatican diplomatic link. Reaction was prompt and overwhelmingly against the move. Parliament reported a deluge of mail in opposition, and it was generally assumed there would be no action.

In addition to the grass-roots protest, there was a rare unanimity in the official statements of all non-Catholic denominations, both liberal and conservative. Even Catholic politicians, like Windsor Liberal Mark McGuigan, expressed skepticism.

When he announced the appointment, Trudeau described the Vatican as “the cheapest listening post in the world,” and cited growing Vatican involvement in international affairs as a prime reason for the move.

Protestants have doubted the value of the Vatican as a listening post, however, noting that Canada already has diplomatic representation in Geneva, where the Communist bloc also is represented. Canada is the sixty-ninth nation to recognize the Vatican.


Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.