As always, the busier and more interesting things get, the less time I have to write about them.
But sometimes something comes up that here, you do not even think will be a thing, only to find it exploding the internet on the other side of the Atlantic.
A week ago, the National Catholic Reporter ran a story detailing how five of the former US Ambassadors to the Holy See were upset that the Embassy was being moved. That was the first I had heard of it, and I thought some fo the reactions seemed a bit over the top… but then you cannot expect much from partisan political appointees on either side of the aisle.
Naively, I suppose, I still expect people to read more than headlines. Especially absurd headlines like the following:
- Obama’s call to close Vatican embassy is ‘slap in the face’ to Roman …(Washington Times)
- Obama administration plans to close Vatican embassy in shock move (Irish Central)
- Obama Administration Snubs Catholic Church With Vatican Embassy Downgrade… (LifeNews.com)
- U.S. Pulls Out of the Vatican (Daily Beast)
- Obama to close diplomatic ties with the Vatican (US Finance Post)
- Obama ‘insults’ Catholics in Vatican-embassy shutdown: ‘Massive downgrade’ in relationship with the Holy See (WND.com)
Notice how only one of these misleading leads did not start by blaming President Obama by name?
The facts are simple, and were clear even from the first reports:
- The US is not closing the Embassy to the Holy See
- The US is not pulling out of its diplomatic relationships with the Holy See
- The US is not downgrading the diplomatic status of its relationship with the Holy See (e.g., from Ambassador to Special Envoy, or something)
- The US is not combining the Embassy to the Holy See with the Embassy to Italy
- The US Ambassador is not moving his residence, only the offices.
The US has four places (Rome, Vienna, Brussels, and Paris) with multiple missions in the same city, and in each case there have been moves to bring the separate embassies together physically, while maintaining separate missions, staffs, budgets, and space.
The current US Embassy to the Holy See is in a converted private home near the Circo Massimo, and while I daresay it is a better view than to be had by its big sister on Via Veneto, it is hard to have a larger meeting there than about a dozen people. It would probably make the support staff, the local staff and interns, feel a little less isolated, considering they are a much smaller crew than at US Embassy Italy.
While I can certainly see arguments for the separate location in terms of keeping a clear identity, it seems this has already been a consideration and will be seriously maintained. Rome has three, not two, US embassies: One to Italy and San Marino, one to the UN Food Agencies, and one to the Holy See. The first two are already on the same property, but in different buildings. Adding the third does make sense economically, even if it is a drop in the bucket compared to overall waste… every little bit helps.
It is worth noting that the US Embassy to Italy does double duty to the other micro-state completely surrounded by the Italian Republic, that of San Marino. A pretty obvious contrast between that situation and the proposal for that of the Holy See should put to rest any concerns about this being a move to combine or downgrade the Embassy to the Holy See.
What is interesting, yet unsurprising, to me is the narrative of President Obama being rabidly anti-Catholic, and that this is just one more example of his ‘war on religion/the Catholic Church’. While i certainly find several areas of disagreement, which should be rather obvious, I find this assertion as convincing as the narrative of Pope Benedict being a mean-spirited old man who was only interested in rules and regalia while actively covering up the clergy sex abuse scandal. Both have a powerful hold on the imaginations of large portions of the American population; both are false.
The current and former US Ambassador to the Holy See have the most ‘Catholic’ credentials of any persons to hold the office – not in terms of holiness, spirituality, or personal faith, to which I cannot speak – but in terms of ecclesiastical vocation and formation. Both Ambassador Ken Hackett and Miguel Diaz have given their life in service to the Church rather than to partisan politics: Diaz as a theologian, Hackett in Catholic Relief Services. That sets them out from the pack.
The rest were all partisan political appointees, and whether left or right does not matter. Glendon is a law professor; Rooney an investment banker; Nicholson was Republican Party Chairman; Boggs a democrat congresswoman; Flynn was mayor of Boston; Melady was a career diplomat; Shakespeare was president of CBS; and Wilson was a cattle ranching oil magnate.
This is not to say they were not good Catholics (those who were) or good Ambassadors. I am sure they were. Rather, it is simply that no president until Barack Obama had picked ‘church’ people for the post. People who were chosen specifically because of their devotion to the Catholic Church first, and country second, rather than the other way around.
So, while any change will ruffle feathers, of all the Ambassadors in the post, the most qualified to speak to the real situation of this move, as far as the Holy See and the Church are concerned, are precisely the two supporting the move: Hackett and Diaz.
Bottom line: fear not. The US and the Holy See are as engaged as they ever have been, and signs show the relationship is stronger than ever. Moving to a new building next door to two other US Embassies will not change that.