No, The U.S. Isn’t Closing Its Vatican Embassy
A State Department announcement about consolidation of diplomatic posts in Rome has led to the latest round of Obama Derangement Syndrome.
The latest benign government announcement that has turned into an outrage on the right started earlier this week when the State Department announced a consolidation of U.S. diplomatic posts in Rome that includes the Embassy to Italy and the Embassy to Vatican City:
The United States will move its freestanding Vatican embassy into a larger government compound that includes the U.S. Embassy to Italy, a shift that has drawn criticism from former U.S. envoys.
Security and cost savings were behind the move, as the State Department estimates it will save $1.4 million a year by moving from the current building.
It will not downsize any embassy personnel, a State Department official told reporters Monday (Nov. 25). At the time, the official did not have total budget information of both embassies at hand. The U.S. Embassy to the Holy See has seven U.S. diplomatic personnel, and the U.S. Embassy to Italy has 63 diplomatic personnel.
The relocated embassy will be 0.1 miles closer to the Vatican, putting the distance at about 1.9 miles between the two.
Former U.S. Ambassador James Nicholson called the move a “massive downgrade” in U.S.-Vatican ties, turning the Vatican embassy “into a stepchild of the embassy to Italy,” in an interview with the National Catholic Reporter.
Former U.S. ambassadors to the Vatican — Francis Rooney, Mary Ann Glendon, Raymond Flynn, Thomas Melady — also objected.
In the past, the Vatican has insisted that countries maintain embassies to the Holy S ee and to Rome in separate locations, but it hasn’t protested the U.S. relocation. The State Department official said that while the embassies will be located on the same compound, the Vatican embassy will have separate entrances.
Not surprisingly, the comments from these former Ambassadors has caused many on the right to rise up and insist that the Obama Administration has somehow insulted the Vatican and, indeed, every Roman Catholic in the world. For example, here’s how Breitbart’s “news” people covered it in a story that was eventually picked up by The Washington Times:
The Obama administration has decided to shut down the free-standing American embassy to the Holy See. The offices for the Ambassador to the Vatican will be moved onto the grounds of the larger American embassy to Italy, in a separate building.
It looks to some as though the Obama administration is trying to diminish and discredit the Vatican’s role in the world because it’s pro-life, pro-family, and pro-religious freedom values is at odds with the Regime’s pro-abortion, pro-gay marriage stance.
But the current U.S. Ambassador Ken Hackett said, ”I see no diminishing in the importance of the relationship at all.”
Not surprisingly, there’s similar negative reaction from many Catholic news sources here in the United States, including the National Catholic Reporter, and Catholic Vote.Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush got into the act in a tweet that went like this:
Why would our President close our Embassy to the Vatican? Hopefully, it is not retribution for Catholic organizations opposing Obamacare.
— Jeb Bush (@JebBush) November 27, 2013
And, the National Republican Senatorial Committee couldn’t help but use the announcement to try to gain political advantage:
A webpage set up by the National Republican Senatorial Committee contains the ominous headline, “Obama Closes Vatican Embassy.”
“The media is reporting that President Obama plans to close the U.S. Embassy to the Vatican,” the page reads. “This is just the latest anti-religion pursuit of this Administration, a slap in the face to Catholic-Americans around the country that weakens America’s position as a global leader.”
The interesting thing about all of this, of course, is that while conservatives here in the United States spent several days before Thanksgiving Day discussing how this was a slap in the face to the Catholic Church and Catholic Americans, the Vatican itself doesn’t actually seem to mind:
Addressing the growing controversy in Rome, the State Department arranged a briefing for reporters on Monday with an unnamed senior official who said the purpose for the move was to save money and increase security.
A spokesman for the Vatican said the move was well within the Holy See’s requirements for embassies and that relations with the United States are far from strained.
The Rev. Thomas Rosica, a Canadian priest who works with the Vatican’s press office, said the Vatican requires foreign embassies to the Holy See be separate from the country’s mission to Italy, have a separate address and have a separate entrance.
Both Rosica and the senior State Department official said the proposed U.S. move satisfies those requirements.
Rosica also praised Ken Hackett, the new U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, telling CNN that “at this critical time in history, he brings eminent credentials to represent the United States to the Vatican.”
He added there “a very good feeling right now” between the two countries.
Another Vatican official, not authorized to speak on the record about diplomatic relations, told CNN the Holy See understands security concerns are an issue for some countries and this move is “an exception, not the ideal, but not the end of the world.”
The State Department contends the move from a free-standing building to a more secure compound that currently includes the U.S. Embassy and the U.S. Mission to the United Nations is a must following attacks on other American embassies.
The State Department official dismissed complaints that the move was hurting the U.S. relationship with the Vatican, telling reporters the embassy to the Holy See will be much closer to the Vatican and there will be “no reduction in diplomatic staff. There’s no reduction in ambassadors, there’s no reduction in mission.”
The absurdity of this entire controversy is quite apparent once you examine the actual facts here. First of all, while it is true that the move will mean that the U.S. Embassy to the Vatican will not be within the territorial grounds of Vatican City, it’s also true that the current U.S. Embassy to the Vatican is also not located within the grounds of the Vatican. Of course, none of the approximately 80 nations that have diplomatic relations with the Holy See have embassies on the grounds of the Vatican. This is largely because of the fact that the small size of the Vatican’s territory makes locating anything resembling a functioning diplomatic outpost within those boundaries impractical at best. Moreover, the contemplated move would actually put the Embassy to the Holy See closer to the Vatican geographically than it currently is by more than a mile. Second, as noted there’s not going to be any reduction in embassy staff or the rank of the diplomat that will be considered the head of the mission. Finally, as noted above, the Vatican has stated publicly that it has no problem with the consolidation decision that the United States is making here.
The only group that seems offended by what is obviously just an innocuous administrative decision by the State Department that is animated by both a desire to save money and security concerns are people on the American right who have spent the past four and three quarter years being perpetually offended by anything this Administration does. It’s really gotten quite tiresome, and it’s also gotten to the point where, when they do raise legitimate concerns about Administration policy in either the foreign or domestic sphere, they just end up sounding like shrill, biased partisans with nothing of substance to say.