Former Ambassadors: Vatican Embassy Closure 'Shameful'

Friday, 27 Dec 2013 09:33 AM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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Two former ambassadors to the Holy See believe it will be a "colossal mistake" for the Obama administration to follow through with its plan to close the United States Vatican embassy in 2015.

The United States and the Holy See have built a strong relationship through the embassy, which was opened under President Ronald Reagan in 1984, write Ray Flynn, who served under President Bill Clinton, and Jim Nicholson, ambassador, under President George W. Bush in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece

Francis: Pope’s Hidden Life Revealed.

Reagan opened the embassy with bipartisan support, joining more than 150 other countries in maintaining the diplomatic mission inside the Vatican, a decision that proved crucial, say Flynn and Nicholson.

"President Reagan and Pope John Paul II worked along parallel tracks to accelerate the revolutions of 1989 and the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union," the former ambassadors write. "The U.S. and the Holy See have since built a strong relationship that has had a demonstrable impact on the defense and advance of human rights throughout the world."

President Barack Obama has called to close the embassy and move its functions into a separate building within the grounds of U.S. Embassy to Italy in Rome, three miles from the Vatican, in late 2014 or early 2015. The move is being made as part of new measures to increase security for U.S. diplomatic facilities worldwide following the terrorist attack on the diplomatic compound in Libya last year.

"This would be a colossal mistake," say Nicholson and Flynn, noting that the move has been seen as a "deliberate slap at the Catholic Church and the pope; some may even detect veiled anti-Catholicism."

The ambassadors said that no matter what the administration's motivation may be, moving the embassy away from the Vatican is not in the best interest of the United States.

Further, said Flynn and Nicholson, the State Department has been planning for the past 10 years to close the Vatican posting for budgetary reasons, ever since the State Department bought an office building next to the embassy in Rome.

But now, the Obama administration has added the post-Benghazi security concerns to the "penny-wise/pound-foolish approach" for closing the Mission to the Holy See, the ambassadors write.

"As former U.S. ambassadors to the Holy See, we respectfully suggest that any such security concerns be met by stronger executive leadership in the White House and State Department," say Flynn and Nicholson. "The attempt to use such concerns as an excuse for downgrading the Embassy to the Holy See is shameful."

They note that the Holy See is the embodiment in international law of the Pope's mission, and was founded before modern Italy was born.

"The Holy See plays a unique and often crucial role in world affairs, from John Paul II's pivotal role in the collapse of European communism, to the important achievements of the Holy See in standing up for human dignity and human rights," the ambassadors write. It also plays a part in the "Vatican's 'honest broker' role in international conflicts and in disasters requiring significant and rapid humanitarian aid."

The ambassadors point out that the Holy See plays a role as a diplomatic hub where 175 countries are represented, and moving the embassy will "signal a lack of U.S. governmental respect for such papal influence, and it will not go unnoticed by other countries."

Francis: Pope’s Hidden Life Revealed.

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