That President Taft has made up his mind to follow the custom of the non-Catholic Courts and Governments in Europe, on the subject of the precedence to be accorded to Cardinals in the United States, no matter whether foreign or native, has been strikingly shown by the fact that when he dispatched his principal Aid de Camp, Major Archibald Butt, to Rome, intrusted with purely private letters to Pius X. and King Victor Emmanuel. [Sic.]
The Major made his first call at the Vatican. In fact, the private audience accorded Archie Butt by King Victor Emmanuel at the Quirinal, where he was presented by the American Ambassador, Thomas J. O'Brien, did not follow until a number of days after the interview of the Major with the venerable Pontiff.
As a general rule a non-Catholic sovereign or royal personage calls first on the King and then on the Pope. But in the instance of Major Butt it was quite evident that President Taft was anxious to pay a special personal compliment to the Holy Father, perhaps to atone for the gross discourtesy arising from a foolish misunderstanding to which he was subjected by Col. Theodore Roosevelt after the latter had left office, but was still usurping in a measure the prestige and the honors thereof.
True, Archibald Butt was not specifically sent to Rome on an official mission, and the State Department was in no wise concerned in the matter. Major Butt, despite his looking the picture of health, insisted that his digestion had been completely ruined by the round of political banquets which he had been called upon to attend with the President and thought that a trip up the Mediterranean and a visit to Rome, which he had never seen before, would afford him the relaxation and rest needed to completely repair his constitution.
He obtained the necessary leave of absence, but retained his status and capacity as principal and confidential aid de camp of the President, who availed himself of the occasion to intrust to him a couple of private letters, one to the King of Italy and the other to Pius X.
No one could take exception thereto, since they were not official communications, and did not pass through the State Department, where no record was kept of them. They were just merely letters of the private type that rulers of various countries are accustomed to exchange with one another about personal matters, such as, for instance, condolence in bereavement, and of congratulation on the occasion of any auspicious event, he it public or otherwise.
It is generally understood that the letter from President Taft to the Pope was for the purpose of expressing to him the satisfaction felt in all parts of the United States over the recent elevation of three distinguished American citizens to the Sacred College, and also to recall his pleasant intercourse with the Holy Father at the time when he visited Rome while he was still Secretary of War, in order to settle, in a manner satisfactory alike to the Church and to the American Government, the difficult and troublesome questions regarding the Friars' lands in the Philippines: a problem involving a very large amount of money.
But it is also known that Major Archibald Butt, while at the Vatican, was directed by Taft to discuss, unofficially and privately, with the Papal Secretary of State, Merry del Val, and other leading members of the Sacred College and of the Pontifical Court, the problem of precedence which had arisen in connection with the official rank and status of Cardinals in the United States.
It is perfectly natural that the President should desire to be quietly informed of the views of the Holy See, and more especially of the Holy Father, on the subject. For, whereas in most foreign countries, problems of precedence are determined by statute in this country the entire matter rests with the President.
[Note: The balance of this lengthy article, in which Major Butt is not mentioned again, discusses the precedence given to Roman Catholic Cardinals in various European countries and in the United States, and is irrelevant for present purposes. It has therefore not been reproduced here.]