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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. mark

    Why not simply ask the Pope, the Supreme Sovereign of Vatican City, if he views this as a negative?

    Well, Conservative American Catholics, because your Sovereign would likely tell you that it's no biggie and to actually LISTEN to him when he says stop all this negative, Holy War stuff! He doesn't want Catholics giving politicians a hard time who support gay marriage or abortion... so do you think he wants American Catholics to get upset about an address change?

    December 8, 2013 at 5:15 pm |
  2. Angelina

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    December 5, 2013 at 6:05 pm |
  3. A Candid Look

    So there are 3 question

    1. Are you an American? If you are then Global Warming and Global Poverty are all your fault

    2. Are you an American Catholic? If you are then the plight of all poor people in the world is directly your fault you are the cause of all evil in the world from pollution of the planet to the suppression of all less fortunate people in the world.

    3. Are you a Conservative American Catholic? If you are there is no room for you at the inn... even your pope hates you!

    December 4, 2013 at 8:30 pm |
  4. Gene

    So, some former ambassadors and conservative American Catholics were outraged. Big freakin deal. What are they going to do, not elect him for a third term?

    December 2, 2013 at 8:02 pm |
  5. former believer

    " 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."
    To deal with them requires a very worldly presence. These people are very wrapped up in status symbols which cost$$$

    December 2, 2013 at 1:25 pm |
  6. A. Reasoner

    Another legacy of Ronald Raygun. We might as well offer equal recognition to Joel Osteen by establishing diplomatic ties with his megachurch. Makes as much sense.

    December 1, 2013 at 1:49 pm |
    • saggyroy

      In other news, the U.S. Embassy at the North pole that serves Santa's toy village was found floating on a break away iceberg.

      December 2, 2013 at 5:56 am |
  7. niknak

    Why would we even waste the money putting an embassy in the Vatican?

    November 30, 2013 at 9:11 am |
  8. Apple Bush

    There is a reverse side to reality; I can see it in my feverish dreams

    The power of the anti-world is as frightening to me as a gun to my temple; exciting and dangerous

    So many possibilities yet so few people willing to climb out from the tall grass to embrace the magnificence of being conscious

    Hiding behind fantasies rather than breathing in the thick air of strangeness

    November 30, 2013 at 7:22 am |
  9. Apple Bush

    Why does god need human beings to spread his word? This is a being that can simultaneously watch, hear or ignore any number of a quadrillion trillion trillion living or inanimate things throughout the universe. This is the all-powerful creator who provided every rule under which we understand our universe. All technology flows from him, yet he can't tell us himself to behave??

    November 30, 2013 at 6:59 am |
  10. Organ

    May we remember that thanks-giving isn’t a day or a celebration. May we remember that the act of giving thanks is a daily commitment, an intentional act of love, a spiritual practice of sorts, and an understanding that we are all a little broken, that we are all desperately in need of grace. The act of giving thanks is gritty and clumsy, awkward and vulnerable, constant and filled with kind truth.

    May we remember that grat|tude is a peaceful appreciation for the absolute privilege of life, with its inherent flaws, messiness, and organized chaos. May we remember that grat|tude isn’t just obligatory thank-you’s for gifts and favors or bold professions of our blessings. Grat|tude is a deeply felt inner truth, a delicate art form to be practiced, and refined over the course of a lifetime.

    As we move further into the holiday season, may we remember that it is a season of grat|tude, abundantly full of the connective fibers of life and the very essence of what it means to be alive.

    November 29, 2013 at 6:37 pm |
    • Oregon

      May you check your assumptions.

      November 29, 2013 at 7:24 pm |
    • .

      May we be saved by useless platitudes and bad prose.

      November 29, 2013 at 7:33 pm |
      • Organ

        Hey, leave Apple Bush out of this.

        November 29, 2013 at 9:18 pm |
        • midwest rail

          His prose is bad, and his poetry is verse.

          November 29, 2013 at 9:24 pm |
        • .

          I'm talking to you, Organ, although bad prose can be shared by many.

          November 29, 2013 at 9:51 pm |
  11. JW

    What kind of Christianity did Constantine form?

    A result of Constantine’s alliance with the bishops was a religion with tenets that were part Christian, part pagan. It could hardly have been otherwise, since the emperor’s goal was religious pluralism, not the pursuit of religious truth. He was, after all, the ruler of a pagan empire. To please both religious camps, he adopted a stance of “conscious ambiguity in his acts and government in general,” wrote one historian.

    While professing to champion Christianity, Constantine kept one foot in paganism. For example, he practiced astrology and divination—occult activities that the Bible condemns. (Deuteronomy 18:10-12) On the Arch of Constantine in Rome, he is shown sacrificing to pagan deities. He continued to honor the sun-god by featuring the deit-y on coins and promoting the sun-god cult. Late in life, Constantine even permitted a small town in Umbria, Italy, to construct a temple to his family and himself and to appoint priests to serve there.

    Constantine postponed his “Christian” baptism until a few days before his death in 337 C.E. Many scholars believe that he held back in order to retain the political support of both Christian and pagan elements within the empire. To be sure, his life record and the lateness of his baptism raise questions about the sincerit-y of his professed faith in Christ. However, one thing is certain: The church Constantine legitimized became a powerful political and religious entiity, one that thus turned its back on Christ and embraced the world. Jesus said of his followers: “They are no part of the world, just as I am no part of the world.” (John 17:14) From this church—that was now worldly—sprang countless denominations.

    What does all of this mean for us? It means that we should not take the teachings of any church for granted but that we should examine them in the light of the Bible.—1 John 4:1..

    November 29, 2013 at 5:57 pm |
    • Jill

      JW, don't obfuscate the primary prenuptials with rasberries. Often, the pertinent cat presents fabled necessities in the parking chamfer. Realize your net precedent. Triangulate! Save the best for the alligators. Ever the bastille notches the orchestra but Wendy is not green and horses will capitulate. Filter out the log from the turnstile and cry prevalently. So there brown stare. Feed your inner walnut and resolve. Subject your lemon to the ingenious door in the presence of snow and animals. Aisle 7 is for the monetary cheese whiz. Faced with the kitchen, you may wish to prolong the sailboat in the cliff. Otherwise, rabbits may descend on your left nostril. Think about how you can stripe the sea.

      Regale the storm to those who (6) would thump the parrot with the armband. Corner the market on vestiges of the apparent closure but seek not the evidential circumstance. Therein you can find indignant mountains of pigs and apples. Descend eloquently as you debate the ceiling of your warning fulcrum. Vacate the corncob profusely and and don’t dote on the pancreas. Next up, control your wood. Have at the cat with your watch on the fore. Aft! Smarties (12)! Rome wasn’t kevetched in an autumn nightie. (42) See yourself for the turntable on the escalator. Really peruse the garage spider definitely again again with brown. Now we have an apparent congestion, so be it here. Just a moment is not a pod of beef for the ink well nor can it be (4) said that Karen was there in the millpond. Garbage out just like the candle in the kitty so. Go, go, go until the vacuum meets the upward vacation. Sell the yellow. Then trim the bus before the ten cheese please Louise. Segregate from the koan and stew the ship vigorously.

      And remember, never pass up an opportunity to watch an elephant paint Mozart.

      November 29, 2013 at 6:22 pm |
      • Barry

        Not sure what you have against cats, Jill, but otherwise, brilliant response. I'd like to buy you a drink sometime.

        November 29, 2013 at 6:29 pm |
      • Maddy

        This is an absolutely brilliant piece of work.

        November 29, 2013 at 11:53 pm |
    • .

      You were soundly thumped last time you posted this.

      You have a poor understanding of any religion that is not your own.

      Don't know what your purpose is, but undermining other Christian religions makes you look kind of ignorant.

      Shhhh.

      November 29, 2013 at 7:13 pm |
      • Ben

        Other deluded sheeple are probably his best recruiting targets, since they are known to be easily fooled. At least he understands his market.

        November 29, 2013 at 7:38 pm |
      • JW

        I'm always willing to try to reason with someone that wants to reason...

        And I post whatever I want, after all this is a belief blog.. Don't like.. To bad... Don't replay and don't read it!

        And no I'm not recruiting. JWs main interest is not to recruit, but to give a witness, that's all.

        November 29, 2013 at 8:08 pm |
        • .

          Your main purpose is to witness? Get real. Your main purpose is to solicit at people's houses.

          Your purpose is to malign other Christians. Your purpose is to misrepresent the Bible. Your purpose is to recruit. Period.

          November 29, 2013 at 8:14 pm |
        • JW

          Talk what ever you want, you won't stop us. Will pass your house and do all the others!

          November 29, 2013 at 9:48 pm |
        • Mrs. Travis

          The good news and the sacred secret was preserved until its appropriate time. It is not a weapon with which to show personal strength nor a strand of pearls to be trampled upon by pigs. Save your gift and give it to one who will cherish it. Let God find us doing His will in good association among those who provide upbuilding of the spirit that we might be happy, not spat upon by workers of lawlessness our faith growing weary. I have wiped my feet that they not return to the. badness nor weigh me down as I move on. God bless you.

          November 29, 2013 at 9:59 pm |
        • JW

          I guess you are right Travis.

          November 29, 2013 at 10:08 pm |
        • Mrs. Travis

          Hugs to you.

          November 29, 2013 at 10:14 pm |
        • JW

          You are a Mrs 😉 big hugs then.. Lol.. Joking! A brotherly hug!

          November 29, 2013 at 10:20 pm |
        • sam stone

          if not to recruit, what is the purpose of your witnessing?

          November 30, 2013 at 6:43 am |
        • sam stone

          "workers of lawlessness" can you be any more fvcking dramatic?

          we simply do not accept your mythology

          does you wiping your feet of us mean we will not see you posting here any more?

          if so, don't let the door hit your behind

          if not, more dramatic blah, blah, fvcking blah

          November 30, 2013 at 6:48 am |
    • Opposing View

      JW… FYI, Constantine did not legitimize the church. Jesus Christ legitimized the church. Without Jesus, there'd be no church. Period and end of story…

      By the way, that bible you're using is of the devil. Try the original King James version for more accuracy...

      November 29, 2013 at 8:15 pm |
      • Tom, Tom, the Other One

        You might try some of the Greek material for more accuracy, Opposing View. The KJV was a tool of the British Crown and its church. Really, all available manuscripts were someone's tool.

        November 29, 2013 at 8:20 pm |
      • HotAirAce

        Why are there so many versions of the alleged word of some unproven god? Seems that any reasonably competent god, even one constructed by man, could keep his cult's messaging straight.

        November 29, 2013 at 8:24 pm |
      • JW

        Opposing- JWs based all their teachings on KJV until the 1950s, so all our teachings are based on the KJV. Maybe you should read the NWT so you can understand the bible properly, since the KJV still uses Old English, a language no one is really able to understand in these modern days!

        November 29, 2013 at 9:41 pm |
        • .

          "So you can understand the Bible better"

          Arrogant. Simply arrogant.
          As if your particular sect is the true one.

          This.
          This is what makes people distrust Christians.

          November 29, 2013 at 11:17 pm |
        • Maddy

          The NWT Bible, or "New World Translation", is published by Watchtower. In other words, he's telling people to buy the Bible used by his sect to validate his version of what the Bible says.

          No thanks.

          November 29, 2013 at 11:29 pm |
        • JW

          Maddy- "buy the NWT bible" lol..

          Your knowledge of JWs is so much, that you even think we sell bibles, lol!!

          Our literature is not for sale, not even bibles. Please get to know JWs and stop listening to what others say about us!

          November 30, 2013 at 9:04 am |
        • Des

          JW, we already know your deadly cult too well. You and your cult are disgusting and dangerous, and your frantic attempts to market your crazy cult here are despicable.

          November 30, 2013 at 10:13 am |
        • JW

          Des- "deadly cult" lol

          Is that the joke of the year??

          November 30, 2013 at 10:39 am |
        • Des

          JW, we already know your deadly cult too well. We have already shown that to be the case in prior responses to your posts here. You and your cult are disgusting and dangerous, and your frantic attempts to market your crazy cult here are despicable.

          November 30, 2013 at 1:28 pm |
      • JW

        Opposing- Jesus did not create the RCC... Jesus didn't use idols, nor he made Popes...

        November 29, 2013 at 9:52 pm |
        • .

          This is what talking about. You are gratuitously slamming other Christians.
          Shame. On. You.

          Read Mathew 7 for what Jesus says about people like you.

          November 29, 2013 at 11:10 pm |
        • Maddy

          I noticed this particular trait exhibited by many where Catholics are concerned.

          The "No True Scotsman" syndrome.

          November 29, 2013 at 11:34 pm |
        • sam stone

          Isn't that what theists (particularly christians) do on these blogs? pat themselves on the back about how they have the correct view of god? gopher is a great example of this, so is larry of arabia

          November 30, 2013 at 6:58 am |
      • Opposing View

        JW… In my post, I said nothing about the Jehovah Witness faith, nor did I mention the RCC. So I have no idea why you assume that I did. Nonetheless, I will straighten out a few points you made:

        For starters, you may not realize this but the Jehovah Witness religion is of the devil. It was founded in 1870 by a man named Charles Taze Russell. It was founded because Russell disagreed with the apostles and with what they had wrote. Therefore, Russell branched off and started his own teachings from the basement of his home. He would later write the Jehovah Witness bible. And that is how the Jehovah Witness religion was founded. Bottom line – anyone who disagrees with the apostles is of the devil, and it cannot be otherwise. The scriptures are very clear on this (see Galatians 1:9 KJV). You cannot modify the scriptures and remain of God...

        Despite what you say, Charles Taze Russell did NOT agree with nor follow the KJV. Else he never would have had reason to write the Jehovah Witness Bible. The mere existence of the Jehovah Witness Bible is a statement of disagreement. The NWT, as well as most other English translations available today, are of the devil. Those translations were written for the very same reason Russell had – because the authors of those translations disagreed with the way the KJV was written. You cannot disagree with the scriptures and remain of God...

        Lastly, I never said that Jesus created the RCC. The RCC is of the devil. And the Pope is of the devil as well. The real true church started prior to the formation of the RCC. The real church of Jesus Christ started on the Day of Pentecost with the apostles in the upper room in Jerusalem. Whereas, the founding of the RCC didn't occur until about 100 years later (after the last apostle had died)…

        November 30, 2013 at 1:50 am |
        • EU nation

          Opposing- I don't know where you got that about that CT Russell didn't follow the teaching of the apostols... But it's a lie. The church of the Pentcost, again... Was not idol worshiper, nor trinitarian. The trinity is taught not only in the RCC , but in the Evangelical and Pentecostal church's.

          November 30, 2013 at 3:16 pm |
      • HotAirAce

        Nothing better than a believer hissy fight – my god is better than your god, my babble is better than your babble. And neither side can provide any actual evidence for their most fundamental,belief – that any god exists. Peanuts, popcorn, get your cold drinks!

        November 30, 2013 at 3:10 am |
        • Science Works

          Like a 3 ring circus – good entertainment until the beast breaks out and tries to shove it into public schools and gov.

          November 30, 2013 at 6:57 am |
      • sam stone

        it's always fun watching the faithful argue who has the correct view of god

        November 30, 2013 at 6:53 am |
        • Martin

          Hilarious stuff. Especially when the jw's jump into the mix. Quite the wingnut sect.

          November 30, 2013 at 10:19 am |
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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.