Is the the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See about to be terminated? Several prominent news publications in the U.S. say yes, while the U.S. State Department says no. What’s the truth? Regardless of what’s happening, there is undoubtedly plans for the Obama administration to change the way our country does business with Vatican City, the headquarters of the Catholic Church worldwide. At the very least, that fact should cause American Catholics to sit up and pay close attention to the recent developments.
According to media reports, President Obama is going to close the U.S. Embassy to the Vatican. This does not mean that the U.S. Is going to sever diplomatic relations with the Vatican completely, but rather that they are going to relocate offices onto the grounds of the larger American Embassy in Italy. In other words, the new offices will be in a separate building outside Vatican City itself. According to former U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican James Nicholson, the result would be a “massive downgrade of U.S.-Vatican ties”. He told the National Catholic Reporter. “It’s turning this embassy into a stepchild of the embassy to Italy. The Holy See is a pivot point for international affairs and a major listening post for the United States, and … [it’s] an insult to American Catholics and to the Vatican.”
The Obama administration’s spin is that the relocation is being done as a “security measure” in response to last year’s attacks on America’s facility in Benghazi. They also claim it is being done as a cost-savings matter – claiming that abandoning the Villa Domiziana as a separate facility for the U.S. Embassy to the Vatican could save between $600,000 and $1 million annually. The Obama administration says this is necessary with yet another federal budget deficit approaching or topping $1 trillion a year. The State Department claims that no embassy personnel will be downsized during the move.
When it comes to conflicting reports, it seems many American Catholics aren’t buying the Obama administration’s claims that the embassy move will result in “no change” to Vatican-U. S. Relations. Former Boston Mayor Raymond Flynn, who is a Democrat that served as U.S. ambassador to the Vatican under the Clinton administration, said he was outraged by the decision: “[There’s no] diplomatic or political benefit to the United States from the relocation at all” he stated to the National Catholic Reporter, adding: “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.” Many see the move as retaliation by the U.S. Government because the Vatican’s opposition to the Obama administration’s social policies, including abortion, gay marriage, and the health care mandate in Obamacare. In fact, liberal Catholics who support President Obama have even encouraged such action in the past. The radical leftist Washington-based group “Catholics for Choice” has argued that the Vatican should be stripped of its membership in the U.N. because the Catholic Church continues to oppose abortion on moral grounds, for example.
Relocating the Vatican embassy would reverse what was established by President Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II in 1984, when the U.S. opened formal diplomatic relations with the Holy See. Some protestant and other non-Catholic Americans might be confused for the reason of having a “Ambassador to the Vatican”, thinking the terminology means the Pope “gets his own Ambassador” while other religious leaders do not. However, it is important to remember that Vatican City-State is just that – a self-governing, sovereign nation, regardless of its small size. Thousands of people live and work in the Vatican every day, and the headquarters of the Catholic Church has been a self-governing country long before the United States was – even dating back to the 500s. In short, moving the Vatican ambassador’s office to Italy would be similar to moving the Israeli ambassador’s office to New York, and it is disrespectful to the thousands of people who live in the capitol city.
Perhaps there is a decent case to be made that the current facilities used to house the U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican are long overdue for some reforms and upgrades, or even cost-cutting changes. But should the Ambassador’s office be moved outside Rome, placed inside the Italian embassy, and treated as a sub-unit of the Italian government? That seems to be the state department’s position, and it really doesn’t hold much matter.