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. Dilbert's Fan

    When you could only use cash at the Vatican, you know it's mafia run! Except for Francis, the Vatican folks are all corrupted.

    November 27, 2013 at 10:51 pm |
  2. tedD

    Pope Francis could be the Pope who will bring down the capitalist, arrogant, warmongering, stupid, and evil America.

    November 27, 2013 at 10:49 pm |
    • Dilbert's Fan

      The pope has little power over the US

      November 27, 2013 at 10:52 pm |
      • Pietro Angelo Manganelli

        Which is what the USSR thought about Pope John Paul II.

        November 28, 2013 at 12:03 am |
        • Greg

          The pope had nothing to do with with the downfall of the USSR. It had many causes, but the pope was not one of them.


          November 28, 2013 at 2:29 am |
  3. EldRick

    Why on earth do we maintain an embassy and staff to serve the interests of an obsolete european religion at all?

    What a total waste of money!

    November 27, 2013 at 10:47 pm |
    • Bagwhan Shree Rajneesh

      1. It's not a religion. Christianity is the religion to which Catholics belong. Catholicism is a denomination of Christianity.
      2. It's not European. Catholics can be found on every continent and are growing fastest in Africa.
      3. It's not obsolete.

      November 27, 2013 at 11:01 pm |
  4. Underwaterops

    We had an embassy at the Vatican? Doesn't sound economically sound.
    Closing it sounds reasonable.

    November 27, 2013 at 10:45 pm |
  5. Sara

    San Marino, also an independent state within Italy, is about 30 times the size and doesn't even get its own embassy. Anyone whining about this needs some serious perspective.

    November 27, 2013 at 10:44 pm |
  6. Big_D

    I like the new Pope. We have become a country where it is acceptable for people with billions to stand by while their fellow Americans starve. It is morally bankrupt to allow this. Maybe the hard core right should take the time to understand why with all their pias judgement they still are viewed as morally bankrupt because they worship money.

    November 27, 2013 at 10:37 pm |
    • jarhead333

      Really? A right versus left argument? I think it is a misconception that the right does not care about people. Right or left, it does not matter. I do not think the current administration cares about people, just the perception that they do.

      November 27, 2013 at 10:49 pm |
  7. pianofan

    Another faux scandal – and any day now Darrell Issa (helped by Ted Cruz) will announce hearings conducted to discover the real truth behind this earthshakingly important embassy move.

    November 27, 2013 at 10:36 pm |
    • Akira

      Issa was the first one who leapt to mind when I read this.

      November 27, 2013 at 10:42 pm |
  8. jack paulden

    We do not need Papal influence in our PROTESTant Country!

    November 27, 2013 at 10:34 pm |
    • GR

      ah...by the way Jack, this is not a Protestant country... I refer you to the First Amendment. All the following commentators can explain what this means if it's not clear.

      November 27, 2013 at 10:38 pm |
    • Bagwhan Shree Rajneesh

      Catholics are by far the largest Christian denomination in the US. They are 4 times larger than the next closest Protestant denomination.

      November 27, 2013 at 11:05 pm |
  9. Tom

    You really want to increase security in embassies? Take all the people out of them, replace them with video monitors and webcams so they can telecommute from a bunker in Colorado :-).

    November 27, 2013 at 10:30 pm |
  10. Daniel

    Part of Obama's and the left's War on Religion!

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

      You would think as a conservative you would be thrilled with the cost-effective measure.

      Alas, no.

      November 27, 2013 at 10:45 pm |
      • Bagwhan Shree Rajneesh

        Cost savings? You call $1.4 million a cost savings for an administration that's spend $360 million on the Obamacare website? LOL I guess that's Obama math.

        November 27, 2013 at 11:07 pm |
        • what1ever

          You do realize that's 1 million a year, right?

          November 28, 2013 at 12:04 am |
    • Greg

      How is moving a government office a slight against religion? The Vatican has stated that this is acceptable. What a crybaby!

      November 28, 2013 at 3:09 am |
      • Daniel

        The reason I initially said War on Religion is to see what kind of reaction it would garner. Of course this move is not a War on Religion – but that term sounds just as ridiculous in this case as when the left uses it in the so called War on Women slur against Republicans. The term tired, false and disgusting "War on ______" should not have a place in political discourse.

        November 28, 2013 at 3:34 am |
  11. JC

    Why do we have an embassy at the Vatican anyway? We have one down the street for the country of Italy, so why have two? The Vatican isn't a country. It doesn't have a monetary system. It has no military. It's a giant church full of pedophiles and self congratulators. If Obama wants to save money then he can start by eliminating the embassy completely. What's next, an embassy in Salt Lake City?

    November 27, 2013 at 10:20 pm |
    • msadr

      Because the vatican is a sovreign state with it's own rulers. And there is a smaller percentage of pedophiles there than there is in the USA. You really should stop letting the media develop your opinions for you.

      November 27, 2013 at 10:23 pm |
      • Desert Tortoise

        Most Americans are blithely unaware that until the late 1860's the Vatican indeed was a country of some size and it exerted complete political and military control of much of modern Italy. The Vatican controlled a series of city/states known as the
        "Papal States". Bishops and Cardinals were the real power, and they ran the Papal States as harsh dictatorships every bit as oppressive as modern Saudi Arabia. Confession was the Vatican's means of collecting human intelligence. Garibaldi's forces with some French help (after decades of French forces allying with Vatican armies against Italian nationalist forces, finally vanquished the Vatican, freed the Papal States from ecclesiastic rule and unified Italy.

        The problem today is that the Catholic Church still tries to behave like a powerful nation and their Bishops, Cardinals and Popes act like it was 1820, they speak and everyone hops. It is not like that today. The Catholic Church is not a nation state in any meaningful way, it controls no territory and nation states are no longer obliged to pay attention to what Bishops say, much less obey their orders. Why the US wastes a penny of our hard earned or one second of our precious time on this ridiculous arrangement of "diplomatic recognition" is simply beyond me. They are not a nation in any meaningful way. Enough of this silliness.

        November 27, 2013 at 10:42 pm |
      • Christian

        Do you have a brain?

        November 27, 2013 at 10:59 pm |
    • Thomas

      Just because someone touched you in your no no spot and you like it does not make anything you said true. The Holy See is indeed a country and has been longer than a lot of western countries. You're just one more ignorant atheist who thinks they have it all figured out.

      November 27, 2013 at 10:28 pm |
    • Angelo Cabral

      That is where your wrong, the Vatican City is in fact a country.

      November 27, 2013 at 10:28 pm |
      • Desert Tortoise

        If Italy decided that the Vatican was Italian territory there is absolutely nothing the Catholic Church could do about it. At best they are a country in name only. They do not control their land, or their future. They have no resources whatsoever except what Italy allows them to have. It is a nice fiction and nothing more.

        November 27, 2013 at 10:45 pm |
    • Sara

      Ummm...yeah, it's a country. That said, other tiny countries do not generally get their own embassies.

      November 27, 2013 at 10:46 pm |
      • Christian

        The Vatican is only a country for the sole purpose to get away w/ its crimes. As a so called sovereign nation Italy cannot come in and investigate crimes or rumors of crime at the Vatican; that simple folks! Other than that it would be an Italian city, under Italian sovereignty.

        November 27, 2013 at 11:07 pm |
  12. Kermitisgay

    I'm sure it has nothing to do with reports of nsa spying on the Vatican, keep on sheeping, sheeps. Nothing more to see from this I'm sure CNN did some investigating on this and not just releasing White House stuff.

    November 27, 2013 at 10:19 pm |
  13. Itsonlyme

    Clearly this is another Obama plot to try to convert the Pope to Islam just like he's trying to convert all Americans, while at the same time taking away their guns and forcing them to have health care they don't want. Next conspiracy theory?

    November 27, 2013 at 10:13 pm |
  14. Bob Hobbs

    The US wants to consolidate its embassies as a security measure in today's world.
    It means no disrespect to the Vatican!
    The US Catholic population remains strong, with a strong influence on its elected officials.

    November 27, 2013 at 10:07 pm |
    • Desert Tortoise

      You mean the Mexican Catholic Church, that traitorous organization that gives aid and protection to illegal aliens at the expense of the American taxpayer? Is that what you are talking about? Catholics are shameless traitors to America unless you throw the illegal aliens out and stop providing sanctuary!

      November 27, 2013 at 10:46 pm |
  15. Sara

    And another pope story...All pope, all the time.

    November 27, 2013 at 10:05 pm |
    • msadr

      ?? Not really.

      November 27, 2013 at 10:24 pm |
  16. Cut some school lunches

    Who is paying for the Vatican US embassy? It isn't the catholic senators i can tell you that much.

    November 27, 2013 at 10:03 pm |
  17. Polycarp pio

    I am as far right, conservative as a Christian can be, but this diplomatic crap with the Holy see has always bugged me, this is crossing the line between church and state and believe me I have heard all the excuses and reasoning, it is still elevating one church group over another and if the libs truly believe in "seperation" between church and state, where is the outrage???????.. PP

    November 27, 2013 at 10:00 pm |
    • Adeeb

      The Holy See IS separate country from Italy.

      November 27, 2013 at 10:09 pm |
    • Oh no

      Your far right and yet your party continuously crams religion into politics and you blame the liberals? Lol

      November 27, 2013 at 10:09 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      We have a full diplomatic presence in Israel, only a somewhat secular state. We will eventually have one in Iran, even less secular. We have representation at the Vatican, one of the more influential entities in the world. Our diplomatic posture should be oriented towards the real distribution of political power in the world as it is.

      November 27, 2013 at 10:16 pm |
    • msadr

      But the Vatican is a State, not a Church. The Vatican controls the catholic church, which is another matter, entirely. I'm just glad that we Protestants ignore them most of the time.

      November 27, 2013 at 10:27 pm |
      • Christian

        Do your research. The Vatican is a church. You can't separate the two. If it wasn't a way to keep the Catholics crime internal there would be no Vatican.

        November 27, 2013 at 11:11 pm |
  18. Quest ion

    I will be asking some questions, someone should be asking some questions, many questions ought to be asked. The whole thing is very very questionable.

    November 27, 2013 at 9:58 pm |
  19. tc

    Sounds like a non-issue to me. Conspiracy theorists – find a hobby.

    November 27, 2013 at 9:58 pm |
  20. Clear and Present Thinker

    Oh, great! Another non-issue for the anti-Obama whiners to get wrapped up in. This, too, shall pass.

    November 27, 2013 at 9:54 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.