Why Have So Many C.I.A. Directors Been Roman Catholics?

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In the May 6 issue of The Catholic Herald, I analyze the history of Roman Catholics in the Central Intelligence Agency:

The United States is a country in which – with the recent exception of the Supreme Court – Catholics have never dominated the highest offices. Only one out of 44 US Presidents has been Catholic. The first and only Catholic Vice President is the current one, Joe Biden. Before John Kerry, the last Catholic Secretary of State was Alexander Haig, who left the post in 1982. Catholics are a rarity in other top positions such as Secretary of Defence.

By contrast, three out of the last five CIA directors have been Catholic: Michael Hayden, Leon Panetta, and the current director, John Brennan. Looking back, a number of Catholics led the agency in critical periods during the Cold War. (There were no Catholic directors in the 1990s.)

I have a few theories about why this turned out so. One is that the CIA’s predecessor agency, the Office of Strategic Services, was founded by the devout Catholic William J. Donovan and may have been something of a haven for anti-Communist Catholics:

Catholic anti-communism in the 1940s and 1950s was at its zenith. Major Catholic organisations such as the Knights of Columbus supported Senator Joseph McCarthy (himself a Catholic) in his quest to purge the US of communist influence. Were young Catholics inspired to take a more activist role in fighting the godless Soviets?

Near the middle of the 20th century, establishment Protestants still treated Catholics with suspicion. Donovan would have been attorney general in Herbert Hoover’s administration had anti-Catholic sentiment not kept him from it. Catholics were more likely to be trusted and accepted within Donovan’s OSS than in other government agencies.

The online version of the article is truncated. To read it in full, subscribe to the magazine or try out its new app.

Just as I suspected, the conspiracy theorists are already starting to appear; they are drawn to such articles like so many dogs to their own feces. Check out the comments section below my piece. One dim soul called Hugh O’Neill has wandered out of his catacomb to lecture me, “the oddly named Mr. Wargas,” on his version of events, which includes the CIA’s assassinating John F. Kennedy. I must call the Department of Justice to get them on this at once!

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