The following comes from a Nov. 23 column by Kathy Schiffer from Patheos.com.
The United States is scaling back its diplomatic mission at the Vatican—making plans to close its Vatican Embassy headquarters, and instead conduct its operations in a smaller building within the walls of the U.S. Embassy to Italy.
The Obama Administration cites “security concerns” following the attack in Benghazi, and claims that they can better protect embassy staff in a consolidated compound. According to government authorities, once construction is completed in 2015, the Vatican Embassy will have a separate entrance and it will be apparent that it is a completely separate operation.
But many Catholics—among them five former U.S. Ambassadors to the Holy See—strongly disagree, calling the plan a “massive downgrade” in U.S./Vatican relations.
Former U.S. Ambassador James Nicholson, who served as Secretary of Veterans Affairs under George W. Bush and as chairman of the Republican National Committee, said, “It’s turning this embassy into a stepchild of the embassy to Italy.” Speaking to National Catholic Reporter’s John Allen, Ambassador Nicholson said:
“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.”
Ambassador Francis X. Rooney, author of The Global Vatican who served as U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican from 2005 to 2008, agrees. ”In the diplomatic world,” Rooney said, “ if you don’t have your own separate space, you’re on the road to nowhere.”
Ambassador Ray Flynn, former Boston mayor and Ambassador from 1993-1997, concurred. Flynn called the relocation “shortsighted” and told the National Catholic Reporter,
“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.”
Ambassador Flynn saw the move as illustrative of the Obama Administration’s broader secular hostility to religious groups, the Catholic church in particular….
Only the two Vatican Ambassadors who were appointees of President Obama—Manuel Diaz and current U.S. Ambassador Ken Hackett—support the Obama Administration’s plan. Hackett has said that he sees no diminishing in the importance of the U.S.’s relationship with the Vatican, and adds that the two governments have enjoyed a better relationship now, during Pope Francis’ papacy, than they have in quite a while. And Ambassador Manuel Diaz (2009-2012) defended the company line, insisting that the security issue was a serious matter and that the move would better enable the government to ensure the safety of U.S. diplomatic personnel. He added that the move would promote collaboration among the three American embassies in Rome, which he saw as advantageous.
To read entire column, click here.