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
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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. Pietro Angelo Manganelli

    Why is the pot stirred when no controversy exists?

    November 28, 2013 at 12:01 am |
  2. what1ever

    As a taxpayer I'm outraged that the government won't flush over a million dollars down the toilet every year to appease a bunch of indignant conservative Roman Catholics!

    November 28, 2013 at 12:01 am |
  3. Robert Constant

    The real story is not what is printed above but the recent pronouncement of Pope Francis" The Pope has formally denounced the Republican Party's economic philosophy as it relates to the poor: Pope Francis has released a sharply worded take on capitalism and the world's treatment of its poor, criticizing "trickle-down" economic policies in no uncertain terms.
    In the first lengthy writing of his papacy — also known as an "apostolic exhortation" — Francis says such economic theories naively rely on the goodness of those in charge and create a "tyranny" of the markets.
    "In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world," the pope wrote. "This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting."

    November 27, 2013 at 11:59 pm |
    • Billiam

      Can you substantiate this with any kind of source? For some reason, I doubt it.

      November 28, 2013 at 12:13 am |
      • 40acres

        Don't doubt it. The Catholic Church is already on record condemning Ryan's budget plan. The Republicans are simply heading towards an Un-Christian future.....al in the name of Jesus.

        November 28, 2013 at 12:18 am |
        • Billiam


          November 28, 2013 at 12:22 am |
        • 40acres

          Look it up Bill. There are plenty of references.

          >>>The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is criticizing the House Republican budget authored by Rep. Paul Ryan for cutting food stamps and other assistance programs for the poor.

          In a letter sent to the House Agriculture Committee on Monday, the bishops say the budget fails to meet certain “moral criteria” by disproportionately cutting programs that “serve poor and vulnerable people.”

          A second letter sent Tuesday to the Ways and Means Committee criticizes a provision that makes it more difficult for illegal immigrants to claim child tax credits. The bishops called the credit “one of the most effective antipoverty programs in our nation.”<<<

          November 28, 2013 at 12:27 am |
      • 40acres

        I don't think you should doubt it. The Catholic Church is already on record condemning Ryan's budget plan. The Republicans are simply heading towards an Un-Christian future.....all in the name of Jesus.

        November 28, 2013 at 12:23 am |
        • Billiam

          That is an extremely compelling argument.

          November 28, 2013 at 12:28 am |

    The Vatican is a remnant of the city states that arose during the early Middle Ages and enshrined their monarchs with divine authority. The existence of the "Holy See" is an anachronism at best, and a travesty to victims of pedophilia, victims of the Holocaust and the world's poor. Martin Luther had it right 1/2 a millennium ago.

    November 27, 2013 at 11:50 pm |
  5. Karin

    I wish to not hear or see the Holy See. Be gone Holy See!

    November 27, 2013 at 11:38 pm |
  6. reldra

    There is NO real reason for an entire embassy to the Vatican or Vatican City. Merging it with another is logical.

    November 27, 2013 at 11:34 pm |
    • BUD

      I agree
      . They should be treated the same as any other religion.

      November 27, 2013 at 11:52 pm |
  7. Journey

    I've been trying my best to give President Obama the benefit of the doubt on most matters, but I don't think I can score his overall performance anything other than 0/10.

    November 27, 2013 at 11:29 pm |
    • 40acres

      You obviously have no pre-existing conditions. Why do you think we should have US military personnel in a religious facility? Would you feel the same if we were guarding an Islamic hierarchy?

      November 28, 2013 at 12:32 am |
  8. smdahl

    The State Dept. moves to save money? IMPOSSIBLE. No one on the planet believes that. They've been building $billion embassies and abandoning them in Afghanistan etc.

    November 27, 2013 at 11:28 pm |
    • GaryO

      $1 billion dollar embassies in Afghanistan? Really? Wow! They must have their own nuclear reactors or something, On the other hand, perhaps you're just full of crap.

      November 27, 2013 at 11:48 pm |
    • Bev

      It's just another way for Obama to disrespect any religion except Islam.

      November 28, 2013 at 12:10 am |
  9. frank

    they know the pope is gonna get whacked and they want to "distance themselves" from that.

    November 27, 2013 at 11:27 pm |
    • jarhead333

      Stupid statement. This pope is more well respected, even by non-believers, then any other.

      November 27, 2013 at 11:29 pm |
      • RobM

        The mob allegedly has threatened the pope...actually

        November 27, 2013 at 11:32 pm |
        • jarhead333

          The mob represents the masses?

          November 27, 2013 at 11:39 pm |
  10. mason

    It would be a better world without Vatican, Mecca, or Jerusalem...turn them into world class roller coaster venues

    November 27, 2013 at 11:24 pm |
    • jarhead333

      Why would it be better?

      November 27, 2013 at 11:30 pm |
    • Edmund Blackadder

      Yes because crazy Jews and Catholics are going around blowing themselves up and kidnapping tourists.

      November 27, 2013 at 11:47 pm |
  11. Pat Evans

    Yeah sure... DEAR LEADER is downplaying it too!!! The ANTI CHRIST has come home to roost! He lives at 1600 Penn. ave. !!!

    November 27, 2013 at 11:24 pm |
    • what1ever

      The president lives there, the anti-christ does not.

      November 28, 2013 at 12:01 am |
  12. Nobama

    This administration is antiChristian, antiJewish and antiAmerican. This is merely another step in Obama's grand plan. Just for interest, try to Google his voting record when he was a state senator. Try to find a photo of him speaking in front of an American flag. He doesn't even have one in the Oval Office. He speaks in sound bites & every promise is a lie. I don't have to read a history text on how Mussolini or Hitler came to power and wonder "how did an entire nation become mislead?" I have watched it since the 2008 campaign.

    November 27, 2013 at 11:21 pm |
    • NoMorons

      You are a moron. This country is like this for the last few years because of people like you and some stupid politicians on both sides.

      November 27, 2013 at 11:32 pm |
    • josh

      Ya don't really know much about history, do you? Hitler told the world exactly what he was going to do when in power in his book Mein Kampf. He wrote the book while in prison after his attempted armed revolution in 1925. it was fairly well spelled out what he was going to do and how he wanted to do it.

      November 27, 2013 at 11:34 pm |
    • reldra

      Are you off your meds again?

      November 27, 2013 at 11:36 pm |
    • Jeremy N.

      You speak in contradictions. You criticize Obama for speaking in sound bites but complain that there are no photos of him giving a speech in front of an American flag. Is that how you evaluate the substance and value of politicians public statements? Does it really matter how well his PR rep set up a photo op.? You characterize Obama as being unpatriotic and un-American, then compare him to Hitler, a leader who seized power through manipulation of German citizens via nationalism, patriotism, and xenophobia. Perhaps if we had less people like you in our country our politics wouldn't be so shallow. I'm no Obama fan, but you sir are a boob.

      November 27, 2013 at 11:46 pm |
    • Bev

      Exactly 100% right.

      November 28, 2013 at 12:26 am |
  13. r. Miller

    The Vatican is a cult just like Jonestown. Not a country for they like little boys too much.

    November 27, 2013 at 11:10 pm |
  14. Steve Smith

    So let me get his right. The GOP is all about saving taxpayer money and increasing embassy security. They are wiling to shut down the government and hold up all nominations over those issues. So the State department makes a move to BOTH save money and increase embassy security, and the GOP reaction is that Obama is anti-religion. Hey GOP-how stupid do you think voters are. You don't think the voters see right through your nonsense? No matter what Obama does, you are gong to create a fake issue about it. That is why the GOP has no credibility.

    November 27, 2013 at 11:05 pm |
    • RobM

      One of your posts are black vs white and this one is about Dem vs Rep. Get over the us vs them mentality.

      November 27, 2013 at 11:13 pm |
    • reldra

      TRUTH. The GOP will put a bad spin on anything Obama does.

      November 27, 2013 at 11:38 pm |
  15. CMC

    So we did not respond to the security requests in Benghazi....but now feel compelled to make changes at the Vatican? Really – are there not larger security challenges in other posts?

    November 27, 2013 at 10:59 pm |
    • what1ever

      I'm sure there are... I don't see why that would have any effect on whether we make this change or not...

      November 27, 2013 at 11:58 pm |
  16. John

    The church should not be a state to avoid taxes. As a catholic, the pope, the vatican are irrelevenat. To hell with them all !

    November 27, 2013 at 10:58 pm |
    • CJR

      I think I'm confused, John...

      November 27, 2013 at 11:06 pm |
  17. vertas

    At one level I know it's not a huge deal...but at some point you'd think the Obama Administration would stop being at least so seemingly anti-Christian just to give us some variety.

    November 27, 2013 at 10:56 pm |
    • BUD

      Anti Christian by giving billions to israel?

      November 27, 2013 at 11:55 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      How is this antichristian in any way?

      November 28, 2013 at 4:11 am |
  18. Tom

    Right-wing extremists are really a weird group of people.

    November 27, 2013 at 10:56 pm |
  19. Steve Smith

    The right wing wackos will resort to any lie or story in their racist hatred of Obama. Why can't the right wing just "man-up" and admit it dries them nuts that a black man is president. Lets face-that is what is fueling the passion. IF it was just a disagreement over taxes, size of government, policy , etc. =, that can all be worked out. It always has before. The GOP is just plain racist in their hatred of Obama and everyone knows it. Yes, go ahead and accuse me of using the "race card" and protest with all your righteous indignation, except you know I am right.

    November 27, 2013 at 10:54 pm |
    • RobM

      Except Obama isn't 'Black' he is bi-racial. Mama's white daddy is Black....

      November 27, 2013 at 11:03 pm |
    • Your Dad

      Actually, you're wrong. And embarrassingly stupid, to boot.

      November 27, 2013 at 11:13 pm |
      • RobM

        How so? Is his mother not white and father black?

        November 27, 2013 at 11:15 pm |
      • RobM

        Ahhh... you know I can't even wait for your mindless response. I'll just say it now Obama himself was the first president to check the 'multiracial' box for the 2000 census.

        But what doe's he know about his own race, right?

        November 27, 2013 at 11:21 pm |
    • Nahhapeni

      People like you are whats wrong with the world. Yes you are pulling the race card when its not relevant at all. Obama is a failure and a fraud of a president...Let me just list a few reasons people hate Obama that have no reason to do with race. 1.Extension of drone war 2. Extension of war in Afghanistan 3. ObamaCare failure after spending over 300 million on the website and awarding the contract to a classmate of Michelle with out holding the contract to the lowest bidder. 4. Benghazi 5.not closing Guantanamo 6.Basically continuing many other policies from the George W. Bush presidency that Barack promised to "Change" but never did. People don't hate Obama because he is black. They hate him because he proved that he is just another politician out to profit for himself and those around as much from the system as they can while leaving the average American out to dry.

      November 27, 2013 at 11:20 pm |
      • aaronkreag

        I agree. Obama is as much white as black. He was also elected the first time at least by a very wide margin and white majority. Hatred for him is not racial. Its because he is a liar. He committs treason. He has done far worse than Nixon or Clinton and still not impeached. He is a socialist, against capitalism, a closet muslum sympathizer. He is responsible for: Benghazi, IRS scandel, Fast and Furious, supporting Al queda, robin hood communist healthcare nonsense.....heck I can go on and on. Now we are talking about troops in Afghanistan indefinitely. Isnt this the guy that campaigned on pull out of the middle east? This guy is catagorically the worst POTUS in history. Its just a shame that he is part African. At this point Kenyans arent claiming him either and are insisting he was borin in Hawaii.

        November 27, 2013 at 11:48 pm |
        • Cedar Rapids

          Heck you do go and on.
          Enough on the nonsense hyperbole.

          November 28, 2013 at 4:13 am |
    • reldra

      They will. They hide their racism and insecurities...but not well. More fillibusters than ALL presidents put together. HIstory records this and it looks horrendous for the tea party and the Republicans.

      November 27, 2013 at 11:43 pm |
  20. Phil in Rock Hill

    First, yes I'm Catholic. 1.4 million savings is an insignificant number. "Increasing security" in Italy is pretty lame reason given the relationship we have with Italy. Personally, I think this diminishes the relationship between the US and the Holy See.

    November 27, 2013 at 10:53 pm |
    • RobM

      It's not insignificant. The move wont strain diplomatic capabilities in anyway beyond people being sour over the move. It's just stupid to spend 1.4 million when you can save 1.4 million.

      November 27, 2013 at 11:06 pm |
    • Gary

      Perhaps the "Holy See" should just grow up and get over it. After all, the RCC is a church pretending to be a country.

      November 27, 2013 at 11:27 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.