Vatican downplays controversy over U.S. embassy move
November 27th, 2013
02:49 PM ET

Vatican downplays controversy over U.S. embassy move

By Dan Merica and Eric Marrapodi, CNN
[twitter-follow screen_name='danmericaCNN'][twitter-follow screen_name='EricCNNBelief']

Washington (CNN) – When the State Department announced it was moving its Vatican embassy to a compound shared with the U.S. Embassy in Italy, some former ambassadors and conservative American Catholics were outraged.

Former ambassadors to the Holy See said moving that embassy would diminish the stature of the mission and conservative Catholic activists seized on the issue.

Addressing the growing controversy in Rome, the State Department arranged a briefing for reporters on Monday with an unnamed senior official who said the purpose for the move was to save money and increase security.

A spokesman for the Vatican said the move was well within the Holy See's requirements for embassies and that relations with the United States are far from strained.

The Rev. Thomas Rosica, a Canadian priest who works with the Vatican's press office, said the Vatican requires foreign embassies to the Holy See be separate from the country's mission to Italy, have a separate address and have a separate entrance.

Both Rosica and the senior State Department official said the proposed U.S. move satisfies those requirements.

Rosica also praised Ken Hackett, the new U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, telling CNN that "at this critical time in history, he brings eminent credentials to represent the United States to the Vatican."

He added there "a very good feeling right now" between the two countries.

Another Vatican official, not authorized to speak on the record about diplomatic relations, told CNN the Holy See understands security concerns are an issue for some countries and this move is "an exception, not the ideal, but not the end of the world."

The State Department contends the move from a free-standing building to a more secure compound that currently includes the U.S. Embassy and the U.S. Mission to the United Nations is a must following attacks on other American embassies.

The State Department official dismissed complaints that the move was hurting the U.S. relationship with the Vatican, telling reporters the embassy to the Holy See will be much closer to the Vatican and there will be "no reduction in diplomatic staff. There’s no reduction in ambassadors, there’s no reduction in mission."

"The plan is to have the U.S. mission to the Holy See relocate to a building" inside the current U.S. government compound, said the official. "We figure that we will save about $1.4 million a year in lease and operating costs in moving them."

Additionally, the official said the security of the current U.S. Embassy to the Holy See is "not in a building that has the kind of physical security protection that we would like it to have" but that the new building affords diplomats with better security.

For Francis Rooney, the former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See under President George W. Bush, the proposed move is a slight to the Vatican.

Rooney told CNN that a freestanding, separate embassy shows more value to the relationship and that he worries the move will create "a perception among foreign governments and other missions that the United States does not value its relationship with the Holy See."

"It is going to depreciate the prestige of the mission to relocate" he said.

In response to the Vatican's statement that relations between it and the United States are fine, Rooney said the Holy See is "bending over backwards not to disagree with the Department of State’s decision" and that privately "they wouldn't want it to happen."

Not all former U.S. ambassadors to the Holy See agree with Rooney, however.

Ambassador Miguel H. Diaz, who served as Obama's first ambassador to the Holy See, said those who disagree are not basing their opinion on fact and information.

"I firmly believe that these issues have to be based on facts and not politicized in any way," he said. "It is absolutely, 100 percent incorrect, it is absolutely erroneous, to interpret this decision in any way as the intention of the Obama administration to undermine or diminish the relationship between the United States and the Holy See."

He continued: "This was done for security and financial reasons, not in any way to undermine and diminish the importance of the Holy See."

Just as quickly as ambassadors like Rooney and Diaz weighed in, a number of contrastive Catholics began to assail the Obama administration for the move.

"The public perception is going to be a downgrading of the importance of the Holy See," Bill Donohue, head of the conservative Catholic League. "It smacks of an animus."

Donohue and others contend that by moving the embassy into a compound with other embassies, the United States is distancing itself from the Vatican and harming relations. He also finds it hard to believe the Obama administration would make a decision based on security and cost.

"When you have a track record that is not exactly Catholic-friendly, the people like myself are going to ask what is going on here," he said. "This is the first time in six years this administration has ever been concerned with saving money. I am not surprised they found it at the Vatican."

Chris Hale, who helped run Catholic outreach for Obama's 2012 campaign, said the reaction of conservative Catholics is "another attempt to politicize another issue and create a fight that isn't there."

"This is in no way signaling the administration’s desire to not work with Pope Francis," he said. "I think (conservative Catholics) are concerned with the narrative of Pope Francis being a progressive and they are trying to push any narrative the creates a perceived divide between Pope Francis and President Obama."

In attempt to quell any controversy, earlier on Wednesday, the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See posted on its Facebook page that reports that claim the "embassy to the Holy See is closing, that our Ambassador’s position is being cut, and/or that his residence is moving … are untrue."

The embassy, according to the Facebook post, will make the move in "early 2015."

- Dan Merica

Filed under: Barack Obama • Catholic Church • Pope Francis • United States • Vatican

soundoff (841 Responses)
  1. Apple Bush

    Why do you insult me?

    November 27, 2013 at 9:51 pm |
  2. His panic

    hum! Somebody is in a State of anxiety, hysteria maybe even Panic.:-D 😀

    Those who trust in God and in Jesus Christ God's Son WILL NOT Panic. Animals and people do Panic and are lead to riots and stampedes.

    November 27, 2013 at 9:46 pm |
  3. EdL

    The 'Holy See' says this move will not be the end of the world. This is comforting. Thanks, 'Holy See'!

    November 27, 2013 at 9:25 pm |
  4. allenwoll

    In the first place, the entire business is inappropriate. . It is entirely wrong for the U S government to have any such relationship with any religious body PERIOD ! ! !

    November 27, 2013 at 9:16 pm |
    • Malkavian

      The Vatican (Holy See) is not only a religious body, but it is also a nation/country, that is why we have an embassy.

      November 27, 2013 at 9:29 pm |
      • dcope

        No it's not a nation it's a religious order that has played ruler, warmonger, god etc etc throughout history. it's not a nation whatsoever it's a just a religious order that conducts it'self like a country.

        December 7, 2013 at 10:07 am |
    • oneSTARman

      I think it would be very strange if the United States were to shun the representative of one and a quarter BILLION Catholics.

      November 27, 2013 at 9:30 pm |
      • You are

        wrong. The US shouldn't have anything to do with religion, regardless of how many Catholics there are. Separation of Church and State.

        November 27, 2013 at 9:36 pm |
    • You are


      November 27, 2013 at 9:35 pm |
    • EdL

      Wow! I see allenwoll has borrowed the word period, even capitalized it, from Obama. I wonder if this use has the same validity as Obama's use of this fine word. I suspect this may be the case, being it was capitalized for effect. Obama would like that.

      November 27, 2013 at 9:37 pm |
    • S.M.

      Since it's considered a country, it would have representation, just any other country controlled by a theocracy would have. Doesn't mean our government has to support their religious believes, only that we have a secular interest in maintaining a diplomatic relationship.

      November 27, 2013 at 9:54 pm |
    • msadr

      The Vatican is a state, not a church. You are mistaken.

      November 27, 2013 at 10:28 pm |
    • Sara

      It is, in fact, a country, albeit a tiny one. What is inappropriate is for them to have an embassy when much larger San Marino does not.

      November 27, 2013 at 10:49 pm |
  5. truth

    "When the State Department announced it was moving its Vatican embassy to a compound shared with the U.S. Embassy in Italy, some former ambassadors and conservative American Catholics were outraged."

    The vatican was recently caught money laundering in Italy.

    And the old pope retiring? Just opened a twitter account three months earlier as if he'd be staying a while? But didn't. The reason is that he was served and charged for crimes against humanity, the destruction to small children's lives.

    This is the real Pope Francis and the vatican. A huge con as the new pope does zero to expose the crimes because his biggest fear is that only the tip of the iceberg is exposed.

    November 27, 2013 at 9:12 pm |
  6. Thought Purification

    who are these vatican ambassadors? political or religious appointees?

    November 27, 2013 at 9:11 pm |
  7. BB

    The ambassador was fearful for his children's safety from Christian brothers.

    November 27, 2013 at 9:08 pm |
  8. lewtwo

    The real question should be why we have a an Embassy for the Roman Catholic church anyway.

    November 27, 2013 at 9:07 pm |
    • truth

      They are a country of,, a few acres. The previous pope asked to become a sovereign state to be protected from liabilities (ie child abuse)

      November 27, 2013 at 9:23 pm |
      • Karla

        The Vatican has been its own country since before WWII. Mussolini granted them that status, and the Vatican/Pope stayed out of Mussolini and Hitler's business. The Catholic "church" really is a nasty piece of work.

        November 27, 2013 at 9:42 pm |
  9. Thought Purification

    Obama's payback time.

    November 27, 2013 at 9:06 pm |
  10. truth

    wonder what they are hiding now?

    November 27, 2013 at 8:53 pm |
  11. John

    Now, why wouldn't we want more security at a lower cost. Duh, why doesn't the media tell it like it is. How about CBS telling the truth about the Benghazi baloney put out by the woman they just suspended. Never a mention.

    November 27, 2013 at 8:45 pm |
    • truth

      there is already a story on that on CNN

      November 27, 2013 at 9:03 pm |
  12. Dyslexic doG

    CNN's Belief Blog should be renamed the Catholic Blog.

    November 27, 2013 at 8:23 pm |
    • Tom

      Sure seems that way looking at the last several topics. Suprising for a religion that is in such steep decline, but declining it is. And partly because Catholics no longer have such painfully huge families. Most practically ignore Vatican birth control doctrine now, and are barely Catholic, so soon we will see even steeper decline in next gen.

      November 27, 2013 at 8:34 pm |
      • Robert Brown

        God told Adam & Eve to be fruitful & multiply, the he told Noah and his family the same thing. The human family has multiplied pretty good. Maybe God would be ok with it if we chilled on the multiplying just a little.

        November 27, 2013 at 8:43 pm |
      • truth

        and not to forget those disgusted with the destruction to children's lives from the cover ups. No human could stoop as low as these popes, cardinals and bishops to deny children help and put others at risk.

        November 27, 2013 at 8:57 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      Less than three weeks ago it was Billy Graham's birthday and there's been two Judaism related stories in the last two days.

      Having said that, yes, there is a noticable Pope Francis effect. He looks like he really wants to open some windows and let in some fresh air. Is that a bad thing to notice?

      November 27, 2013 at 8:51 pm |
      • truth

        Pope francis should take care of the abused children and their families before running around promoting his version of christainity.

        November 27, 2013 at 9:01 pm |
  13. Akira

    The scandal that wasn't.


    November 27, 2013 at 7:24 pm |
  14. I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

    I can just imagine the manipulated outrage were there to be some kind of attack on the US embassy to the Vatican because some martyr on a mission decided that it was a 'soft target' compared to other US embassies.

    What would the contrived narrative be then I wonder? "Obama Administration prefers not to snub the Vatican and again risks the lives of embassy staff".

    The same people who jump up and down about Benghazi are now complaining that the State Department wants to protect it's own?


    November 27, 2013 at 7:09 pm |
    • Really?

      Are you really such a mindless drone that you're downplaying Benghazi? Holy christ, why are you so faithful to a man (Obama) who doesn't know or care you exist?

      November 27, 2013 at 8:36 pm |
      • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

        Big Fox and 60 Minutes fan are you?

        Did you know Lara Logan is now on a 'leave of absence'?

        November 27, 2013 at 8:47 pm |
      • John

        Why did CBS suspend the woman who made up the Benghazi cover up.

        November 27, 2013 at 8:47 pm |
      • dcope

        down playing 9/11 was worse but hell nobody's complaining about it are we?

        December 7, 2013 at 10:11 am |
  15. HotAirAce

    Does the USA maintain ambassador level relationships with all religious cults? Why do they have any at all?

    November 27, 2013 at 6:53 pm |
    • Bender Bending Rodriguez

      Because the Vatican is a country.

      November 27, 2013 at 7:00 pm |
      • HotAirAce

        The only reason the RCC's headquarters cult clubhouse is considered a country is because of a treaty between Mussolini and the Pope-A-Dope in power then so that he would not bad mouth Mussolini.

        November 27, 2013 at 7:19 pm |
        • Bender Bending Rodriguez

          Where are you getting the information that the Pope agreed not to badmouth Mussolini from? It doesn't say that in the following link. http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/mussolini_roman_catholic.htm

          If what you're saying is correct, then it doesn't make sense that the Church would collide with the dictator afterwards.

          November 27, 2013 at 8:01 pm |
        • HotAirAce

          Part of the treaty required the RCC cult to maintain strict neutrality.

          November 27, 2013 at 10:44 pm |
        • Bender Bending Rodriguez

          That doesn't mean that they couldn't criticize Mussolini as they would clearly do years later, especially when he created the anti-Jewish laws.

          November 27, 2013 at 11:18 pm |
        • Bender Bending Rodriguez

          That doesn't mean that they couldn't criticize Mussolini as they would clearly do years later, especially when he created the anti-Jewish laws. V

          November 27, 2013 at 11:20 pm |
  16. Bender Bending Rodriguez

    The Catholic church is the largest charitable organization in the United States.

    November 27, 2013 at 6:26 pm |
    • EvolvedDNA

      Gladly giving away other peoples money.. how much did it send to the Philippines,one of the largest catholic populations, from its own wealth to assist with the aftermath of the hurricane?

      November 27, 2013 at 8:22 pm |
      • Bender Bending Rodriguez

        The Vatican gave $150,000 on the 11th on this month.


        November 27, 2013 at 8:56 pm |
        • EvolvedDNA

          Thats all? the largest population of Catholics and they send 150,000. so cheap they spend more than that on gold rings..

          November 28, 2013 at 11:33 pm |
    • EX Catholic

      It is in fact an Organization a Politico-religious organization with financial and social interests in the world. NOT a church much "The Church" of God. It would be interesting to know ALL the crooked details of how they get hold of all that money.

      November 27, 2013 at 9:53 pm |
      • Bender Bending Rodriguez

        You sound like a 9-11 troofer. Do you have any articles from reliable sources that backup you narrative that everyone in the Catholic Church is corrupt.

        November 27, 2013 at 10:39 pm |
        • dcope

          History says they're corrupt read a book seriously. The church started out with the men of cloth going to war with each other over which parts of the bible they agreed with or didn't. The wealth comes form the many wars throughout history that this church sponsored. Might I add this is the same church that would extort Royal families. It's simple the church represents 0 in the form of being Holy. I won't argue with anyone but look up the Book called Christ a history of Christianity.

          December 7, 2013 at 10:18 am |
      • Bender Bending Rodriguez

        It's also funny how you jump off from the topic that was being discussed.

        November 27, 2013 at 10:40 pm |
  17. Reality # 2

    The Vatican continues the Christian con. We should no longer be part of it by shutting down our embassy now, jump starting the closure of all Vatican embassies. Enough is enough !!

    November 27, 2013 at 4:45 pm |
    • truth

      agreed. FYI: vatican was recently caught money laundering in Italy.

      November 27, 2013 at 9:07 pm |
  18. Slim


    November 27, 2013 at 4:16 pm |
  19. palintwit

    Drinking Everclear from mason jars is doing to the tea party patriots what drinking that fire water did to the injuns. Shootin' everything in sight and boinking their cousins. It just made 'em go plumb crazy ! Good thing them injuns didn't have nascar or Chick-fil-A !

    November 27, 2013 at 3:07 pm |
    • palintwit

      *~*~*~mY FanTAsy*~*~*~

      “Driver, please stop for a minute at that middle school. I want to stretch my long legs,” said Sarah from the backseat of her stretched limo.

      “Yes mam, Mrs. Palin,” stated her English driver, Geeves.

      Sarah looked hot in her power suit. The sound of Fergie’s “Clumsy” came from the school.

      “Whutz going on in there, Geeves?” Sarah asked.

      “It appears to be a middle school dance, mam,” responded her trusty showfer. “Would you care to attend?”

      “Yes,” the gorgeous milf-type replied. “I am a little lonely tonight, and I have a feeling I might meet someone special there.”

      Sarah went into the dance. Everyone made a big deal about her and asked for her autographs. They knew her mostly from the election and had not seen her in everything else she had done, especially not “Sarah Palin's Alaska” fourteen times. palintwit pushed out his crotch to get her attention. But Sarah did not even notice him as she walked past him and his Uggs from last year.

      “My name is Sarah,” she declared cutely. “Whutz yours?”

      “palintwit,” retorted the man.

      “Why are you alone?” she questioned, her dark hair flowing like a dark river.

      “Why are you alone?” he flirted confidently.

      “Because me and Todd broke up,” she rejoined. “But I cannot understand why you are alone. Your such a pretty man.”

      She was right. He was pretty in a very subtle way that not everyone understood at first, just as his mother told him. “Since U Been Gone” started playing. “This is my favorite song,” said Sarah.

      “It is my favorite too,” answered back palintwit. “I always try to request it on the radio but I can never get through.”

      “I am friends with the DJs and I will request it for you next time. Would you care to dance?” she queried.

      Sarah took palintwit by the hand and they slow danced. He felt he could stay in her arms 4EVA. The chaperone Mr. Burlick the Earth Science teacher did not enforce the twelve-inch rule because he saw how important this was to palintwit and to Sarah. At that moment she decided to give palintwit an “A.”

      “I am so glad I requested my driver to stop here” uttered Sarah. “I want to tell you that you are very different from the Alaska men I have met, but in a good way."

      The song ended. “I guess this is the end,” whispered palintwit quietly.

      “It doesn’t have to be,” reacted Sarah. “Would you care to be my date for my movie pre-mere in Hollywood that I am driving to now?”

      palintwit nodded because they did not need words. They held hands and walked through the crowd, and a Creationist looked at him jealously through his flowing dark hair.

      Geeves opened the door for them. As they drove off Sarah inquired “I hope we are not followed by the poparozi from the Entertainment Weekly, but do not be surprised if you see your picture with me in there next issue. Would you care to be in my new movie? Its a romantic comedy about a famous politician who marries a small town-man and he becomes a famous politician as well.”

      “Yes,” palintwit spoke.

      They Frenched, and Geeves passed back a bottle of Crystal for them to celebrate with.

      “Geeves, you are the best,” Sarah concluded. “After palintwit, of course,” Sarah added.

      November 27, 2013 at 4:39 pm |
      • Honey Badger Don't Care

        You need to do a google search for "Who's Nailin' Pailin". Great movie. I think they made a part 2 and 3 also.

        November 27, 2013 at 4:46 pm |
  20. Trace

    Making a mountain out of a molehill. The Vatican has no objection, so what is the bloody problem!
    Idiots who want to feel slighted at the drop of a hat.
    Guess what? It isn't about "image" it's about keeping our Ambassadors safe.
    Anyone who has an objection to that should put themselves in harms way to protect their "image".
    Ignorant hyenas!

    November 27, 2013 at 2:58 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.