Tags: Middle East | Pope Francis | Steve Malzberg Show | trip | vatican | diplomacy | ties

Ex-Ambassador Rooney: Vatican Ties Cool Under 'Secular' Obama

By Bill Hoffmann   |   Thursday, 29 May 2014 06:44 PM

Relations between the Vatican and the United States have dramatically cooled in the past six years of the Obama administration, according to Francis Rooney, former ambassador to the Holy See under President George W. Bush.

"The coolness towards the Holy See began with the beginning of the administration, because the administration has a pretty secular orientation," Rooney told Dennis Kneale, guest host of "The Steve Malzberg Show" on Newsmax TV.

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"President [Barack] Obama wrote a book where he basically said there are no absolute truths in the modern era, which would tend to say that there's no religion. He just doesn't look at religion as a stabilizing force in society and the Holy See does.''

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Rooney — author of "The Global Vatican," published by Rowman & Littlefield — said other presidents, including Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, strived to maintain a strong bond with the pontiff and made numerous visits to Rome.

"Historically there's a lot of evidence that religion is a very important stabilizing influence in society and is necessary for the long-term creation of a good government and stability," he said.

"[Obama] only just recently made his first state visit … in March, where he sought to leverage some of the Pope's economic and social justice commentaries — perhaps to support his own domestic agenda.

"I'm going to … look forward and hope that now President Obama — and certainly Secretary [of State John] Kerry gets it — that there is a lot of opportunity for common leverage in pursuing common objectives with the Holy See.''

Rooney said the Holy See has played a vital role in international affairs over the years, as well as made valuable contributions to the foreign policy of the United States.

"It transcends just Catholics. The diplomacy based on supporting human dignity, the natural rights of man, and religious freedom is something that should appeal to all countries who want a good government,'' he said.

"The Holy See's uniquely positioned to weigh in in that area because it has soft power resulting from the fact that it's the only clearly recognized entity in the world with no territory.''

Rooney was impressed by Pope Francis' recent visit to the Middle East, which sparked controversy when he was photographed at the West Bank separation wall, which is covered with anti-Israeli graffiti.

"There are some controversial elements to [the visit]. He covered a lot of ground in a few days and he showed that from the diplomatic point of view, the Holy See's got a strong voice," Rooney said.

"You may not always agree with it and certainly there's some in Israel that didn't agree with him stopping at that wall.

"But the fact is he's got [Palestinian leader Mahmoud] Abbas and President [Israeli President Shimon] Peres coming to have a prayer session with him in June and he talked strongly about the need for tolerance and inclusion in the Middle East and the ending of the persecution of all people, Jews and Christians alike — those are important principles that only he can express."

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