The Obama administration's plan to relocate the U.S. mission to the Vatican in the wake of the Benghazi attack has been blasted as "an insult to American Catholics" by a former American envoy, according to the National Catholic Reporter
The government is set to move its mission to the Holy See into a separate building on the grounds of the much larger U.S. Embassy in Rome located three miles away. 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.
The Vatican has consented to the move, according to the Reporter. But the decision by the State Department was quickly denounced as a "massive downgrade" in U.S.-Vatican ties by former U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican James Nicholson.
"It's turning this embassy into a stepchild of the embassy to Italy," said Nicholson, a former chairman of the National Republican Committee who also served as Secretary of Veterans Affairs in the George W. Bush administration.
"The Holy See is a pivot point for international affairs and a major listening post for the United States. And to shoehorn [the U.S. delegation] into an office annex inside another embassy is an insult to American Catholics and to the Vatican."
Nicholson was joined in his criticism by four other former envoys to the Vatican — Democrat and former Boston Mayor Raymond Flynn, and Republicans Francis Rooney, Mary Ann Glendon, and Thomas Melady. Flynn, according to the Reporter, claimed that the move reflected hostility to the Catholic Church in general.
"It's not just those who bomb churches and kill Catholics in the Middle East who are our antagonists, but it's also those who restrict our religious freedoms and want to close down our embassy to the Holy See."
The publication Catholic Vote also called the move “an unmistakable slap in the face” that sends a clear message the U.S. does not care about the diplomatic post. However, Ken Hackett, the current U.S. envoy to the Vatican, said the move to new quarters at the larger U.S. embassy will not diminish "the importance of the relationship at all."
In fact, Hackett maintains that U.S.-Vatican relationship hasn't "been better than it is right now in quite a while."
Although the move has been confirmed, it could be more than year before the Vatican arm of the U.S. Embassy in Rome opens for business. According to the Reporter, renovations are having to be made to accommodate Hackett's staff and may not be ready until January 2015.
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