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. NotSoFast

    Someone check Sarah Palin, she's probably hyperventilating

    November 28, 2013 at 3:08 am |
  2. NotSoFast


    November 28, 2013 at 3:07 am |
  3. ComeBreakMe

    Oh please...if it's not the republicans, its the democrats, or some other group complaining about every little decision or move made by our government. I am sick of it. These idiots should just be focusing on aspects of the agreement at hand. It offers more security for embassy staff, while at the same time reducing the cost of employing such personnel with little to no effect to the day to day embassy operations as they've gone on for decades.

    November 28, 2013 at 2:06 am |
  4. Chad

    "conservative American Catholics were outraged"

    That's okay, it's their default state.

    November 28, 2013 at 1:53 am |
    • Joe Smith

      Actually, this is a rather pathetic move by the United States. What is $1.5 compared to our $17 trillion debt?

      The USA owes over $17 trillion in debt and the number is still rapidly increasing. To keep that number in perspective, my TI calculator does not let me enter that value as an integer value: that is how big it is. If the interest rate we have to pay on our debt increases by just 1% that is $170 billion a year more we'll have to pay for our debt.

      I did some quick googling and it looks like we are not paying more than 2.5% for our current debt. And so we did this big move to save $1.5 million a year. That is 0.000009% of what our interest payments on our national debt will increase if we have to pay just 1% more per year for our national debt.

      We have a massive problem that nobody wants to address, and we keep making this pathetic tiny cuts that mean nothing given the context of the debt problem we face today.

      November 28, 2013 at 2:52 am |
      • Cedar Rapids

        Sô because it doesn't solve the whole problem we shouldn't do it?

        November 28, 2013 at 4:14 am |
  5. InvisibleInk

    Just for fun, sever diplomatic relations. If I were a lame duck, and my own party hated me, I'd do what ever I wanted to. Who cares who quits over it. I'll always find some zealot to take her place.

    They are going to crucify me any way! So let's have some fun.

    November 28, 2013 at 1:52 am |
  6. IpseCogita

    Seems like for a country that size our embassy ought to be about two or three people at the most. Hardly a point to a whole building, let alone a compound. One largish office ought to be enough.

    November 28, 2013 at 1:36 am |
  7. Dina

    Why does everyone resort to saying live by "Christian values" when there are Jewish values, Hindu values, Muslim values and others.This is a bigoted statement to say the only values are the Christian ones.

    Plus why should American have an embassy at all with a religion+.They don't have one with Judaism or the Muslim religion or any other. Why is the Catholic one more special that it need an embassy?Sharing seems ok to me if they have to have it.

    November 28, 2013 at 1:32 am |
    • Joe Smith

      Because Vatican City is a country.


      As Israel is a country, and Iran is a country...

      November 28, 2013 at 1:43 am |
      • Cedar Rapids

        It's only considered that because of the power it weirded. It would be like the US having a purely Mecca embassy.

        November 28, 2013 at 4:16 am |
        • Cedar Rapids


          November 28, 2013 at 4:17 am |
    • pwb

      Essentially, we do have embassies with Muslim and Jewish religions. For instance, in Saudi Arabia and in Pakistan, Islam is the state (even essentially obligatory) religion; and in Israel, Judaism is the state religion. The Vatican City has existed, in one form or another, as an independent state for over 1,000 years.

      November 28, 2013 at 1:58 am |
  8. devin

    On this day, I am so thankful that I am not enamored with naturalism and unbelief.

    November 28, 2013 at 1:30 am |
    • Thud

      Too bad that you love your fantasy being more than your family 🙁

      November 28, 2013 at 2:53 am |
  9. Rock Reynolds

    The State Department is starting to run away in fear. Cool!
    What's the matter??? Can't use drones to shoot people over there???
    You think a "more secure" compound will protect you????
    I wish the State Department all of the Karma it deserves.

    November 28, 2013 at 1:30 am |
  10. GO_GOP

    Proves once more the current government under the community organizer is anti Christian and pro Muslim. The community organizer is destroying our country and our Christian values. We need to impeach him to save our country and our children from being converted to Islam. The time is running out. I urge all Christians to come forward. NOW.

    November 28, 2013 at 1:14 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      Your Christian values are not something I share. I hope that along with Islamic values they end up in the rubbish heap of history.

      November 28, 2013 at 1:18 am |
    • Observer


      Are you a troll or just ignorant or both?

      The economy is doing much better. We set records on Wall Street often and Bush left the stock market PLUMMETING.


      November 28, 2013 at 1:20 am |
    • Greg

      If moving a government office is an assault on your Christian values, then you have some strange values. Also, I don't really see how this has anything to do with Islam. It is especially amusing that you take offense to this when the Vatican does not and has stated such.

      November 28, 2013 at 1:32 am |
    • Dina

      There are more than Christians in America and I hope it is always that way. One religion cannot be in control.Religion should not be in the government anyway.

      November 28, 2013 at 1:33 am |
    • Dan

      They moved an office from one building to another, in a way that satisfies the law, but saves money for the government. That is not anti-Christian. Not at all.

      November 28, 2013 at 1:34 am |
    • TNT

      GO_GOP's post is straight from The Teajhadist's Handbook.

      November 28, 2013 at 1:38 am |
    • action

      I don't even understand how this is an issue. I am conservative, and a non practicing agnostic catholic, but is it not the pope who said that we must do more to help the poor? As far as I see it saving money by moving the mission will make it so we can help the poor with the savings.

      November 28, 2013 at 1:51 am |
  11. Colin

    Perhaps this reflects the ever diminishing political clout of Catholics in the USA. There was never a legitimate operational region to have two embassies in Rome. They only ever kept it to pander to the Catholic vote. Yet another indication the the USA is finally moving on from Bronze Age mythology.

    Let's be honest, there are some pretty fundamental objections to this mythology we call Catholicism that are hard to get around.

    1. At its most fundamental level, Christianity requires a belief that an all-knowing, all-powerful, immortal being created the entire Universe and its billions of galaxies 13,720,000,000 years ago (the age of the Universe) sat back and waited 10,000,000,000 years for the Earth to form, then waited another 3,720,000,000 years for human beings to gradually evolve, then, at some point in our evolution from Hom.o Erectus, gave us eternal life and, about 200,000 years later, sent its son to Earth to talk about sheep and goats in the Middle East.

    While here, this divine visitor exhibits no knowledge of ANYTHING outside of the Greco-Roman Middle East, including the other continents, 99% of the human race, and the aforementioned galaxies. One would have thought that a visitor from the creator of the Universe would visit (or at least mention) the millions up millions of Chinese and other Asians, all the people spread throughout North and South America, the Australian Aboriginals, the ancient Europeans or the Subsaharan Africans. Instead, his entire visit and his entire Holy Book, the Bible, is 100% concentrated on the Jews. It seems obvious beyond any rational doubt that the Jews made God in their image and not vice-versa.

    2. This ‘all loving’ god spends his time running the Universe and spying on the approximately 7 billion human beings on planet Earth, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. He even reads their minds (or “hears their prayers”, if you see any difference) using some kind of magic telepathic powers. He also keeps his telepathic eye on them when they are not praying, so as to know if they think bad thoughts (such as coveting their neighbor) so he knows whether to reward or punish them after they die.

    3. Having withheld any evidence of his existence, this god will then punish those who doubt him with an eternity burning in hell. I don’t have to kill, I don’t have to steal, I don’t even have to litter. All I have to do is harbor an honest, reasonable and rational disbelieve in the Christian god and he will inflict a grotesque penalty on me a billion times worse than the death penalty – and he loves me.

    4. The above beliefs are based on nothing more than a collection of Bronze Age and Greco-Roman Middle Eastern mythology, much of it discredited, that was cobbled together into a book called the “Bible” by people we know virtually nothing about, before the Dark Ages.

    5. The stories of Christianity are not even original. They are borrowed directly from earlier mythology from the Middle East. Genesis and Exodus, for example, are clearly based on earlier Babylonian myths such as The Epic of Gilgamesh, and the Jesus story itself is straight from the stories about Apollonius of Tyana, Horus and Dionysus (including virgin birth, the three wise men, the star in the East, birth at the Winter solstice, a baptism by another prophet, turning water into wine, crucifixion and rising from the dead).

    6. The Bible is also literally infested with contradictions, outdated morality, and open support for the most barbarous acts of cruelty – including, genocide, murder, slavery, r.ape and the complete subjugation of women. All of this is due to when and where it was written, the morality of the times and the motives of its authors and compilers. While this may be exculpatory from a literary point of view, it also screams out the fact that it is a pure product of man, bereft of any divine inspiration.

    7. A rejection of the supernatural elements of Catholicism does not require a rejection of its morality. Most atheists and secular humanists share a large amount of the morality taught today by mainstream Catholicism. To the extent we reject Catholic morality, it is where it is outdated or mean spirited – such as in the way it seeks to curtail freedoms or oppose the rights of $exual minorities. In most other respects, our basic moral outlook is indistinguishable from that of the liberal Catholic – we just don’t need the mother of all carrots and sticks hanging over our head in order to act in a manner that we consider moral.

    Falsely linking morality to a belief in the supernatural is a time-tested “three card trick” religion uses to stop its adherents from asking the hard questions. So is telling them it is “wrong to doubt.” This is probably why there is not one passage in the Bible in support of intelligence and healthy skepticism, but literally hundreds in support of blind acceptance and blatant gullibility.

    8. We have no idea of who wrote the four Gospels, how credible or trustworthy they were, what ulterior motives they had (other than to promote their religion) or what they based their views on. We know that the traditional story of it being Matthew, Mark, Luke and John is almost certainly wrong. For example, the Gospel of Matthew includes a scene in which Jesus meets Matthew, recounted entirely in the third person!! Nevertheless, we are called upon to accept the most extraordinary claims by these unknown people, who wrote between 35 to 65 years after Christ died and do not even claim to have been witnesses. It is like taking the word of an unknown Branch Davidian about what happened to David Koresh at Waco – who wrote 35 years after the fact and wasn’t there.

    9. When backed into a corner, Catholicism admits it requires a “leap of faith” to believe it. This is probably the “mother of all understatements”. In any event, once one accepts that pure faith is a legitimate reason to believe in something (which it most certainly is not, any more than “faith” that pixies exist is) one has to accept all other gods based on exactly the same reasoning. One cannot be a Catholic based on the “leap of faith” – and then turn around and say those who believe in, for example, the Hindu gods, based on the same leap, got it wrong. In a dark room without features, any guess by a blind man at the direction of the door is as valid as the other 359 degrees.

    Geography and birthplace dictates what god(s) one believes in. Every culture that has ever existed has had its own gods and they all seem to favor that particular culture, its hopes, dreams, and prejudices. Do you think they all exist? If not, why only yours?

    Catholicism is not belief in a god. It is a mere hope for a god, a wish for a god, no more substantial than the hope for a good future and no more universal than the language you speak or the baseball team you support.

    November 28, 2013 at 12:45 am |
    • Rajat Kumar

      With your permission, I am going to save your comment and use it in India to show to people who are being conned into converting to Christianity by sweet talking missionaries, destroying the culture and way of life, with Christianity.

      November 28, 2013 at 12:51 am |
      • Colin

        You have my permission. Knock yourself out.......

        November 28, 2013 at 12:52 am |
      • Dan

        Why so threatened? Cultures are constantly changing, evolving and adopting ideas from other cultures. If that makes you feeled threatened, perhaps there is something wrong with you.

        November 28, 2013 at 1:40 am |
        • Linda Heavens

          If by "adopting new ideas" you mean violent coercion and blatant, unmitigated manipulation then, yes you're right, he certainly must have "feeled" threatened because of things wrong with him.

          November 28, 2013 at 1:45 am |
    • Asdf1234

      Unfortunately you're perceptions of Christianity (Catholicism) are vastly and sadly mistaken. But I commend you on the time that you took to write that message, else it would make you feel foolish on both counts instead of just the first: (1) your ignorance on religion (esp. that of Catholicism/Christianity) and (2) you wasted a long time writing incorrect assumptions and interpretations.

      November 28, 2013 at 1:00 am |
      • Colin

        Really? What did I get wrong? Please be specific.

        November 28, 2013 at 1:02 am |
      • Teddy

        Asdf1234: I don't see anything wrong to that comment either. What are your objections. Will you state them or will you run away?

        November 28, 2013 at 1:18 am |
      • Linda Heavens

        Yes, really, what did he get wrong?

        November 28, 2013 at 1:26 am |
        • Linda Heavens

          I'm genuinely curious about how and why you perceived his (lengthy, quite thorough) comment to be erroneous. I grew up catholic myself, and it wasn't until my adolescence that I started asking questions and critically examining my beliefs and those of the church. Only after reading "The Story Of Christian Origins" by Martin A. Larson did I start to see a bigger picture forming. This led to years and years of research and exploration that, really, I thank my previous belief system for (without which, I may not have had the passion for the pursuit that I did).

          November 28, 2013 at 1:33 am |
      • Greg

        I, too, would like to know what he got wrong.

        November 28, 2013 at 1:39 am |
    • Bernhardt

      Bravo, you are my hero. Thank you for posting.

      November 28, 2013 at 2:04 am |
    • Judith

      Actually most countries have a Vatican Embassy and your beliefs are not relevant to the article. Moving the US Embassy to the Vatican to the compound of the US Embassy to Italy makes sense from a security point of view and of course it will save a few dollars. You will find that is how many other nations operate in Italy.

      Though religious groups have a lot of clout in the USA; the Catholic Church since the War for Independance has had less influence on American politics than many other Christian Churches.

      November 28, 2013 at 2:52 am |
      • action

        America is run by the WASPs.

        November 28, 2013 at 9:15 am |
  12. KyHa 66-67

    Jesus, who cares? Actually I am referring to my Mexican friend, Jesus (pronounced heysus).

    November 28, 2013 at 12:40 am |
  13. mos

    WIth all the contrived fuss about Benghazi, you'd think conservatives would applaud improving embassy security. I suppose they prefer a terrorist attack so they can then blame Obama.

    November 28, 2013 at 12:37 am |
    • Rational Thought

      Not to mention the enormous cost savings of the Embassy consolidation. Safer and cheaper? You’d think conservatives would love it until you consider the religious angle.

      November 28, 2013 at 1:13 am |
      • action

        I'm conservative and I don't see a problem with this move. I think it is a great idea.

        November 28, 2013 at 9:08 am |
    • Aaron

      Pronounced "Hey Zeus!" 😉

      November 28, 2013 at 2:15 am |
  14. AP

    Maybe people should worry about more important things than an embassy move. Catholicism is the only religion that has its headquarters accorded diplomatic status in many countries, including the United States. The Vatican is 109 acres in size – regardless of the # of people worldwide that it represents, I cannot fathom why we should maintain a separate embassy and staff. The Ambassador of Italy serves concurrently as Ambassador to San Marino and they aren't crapping their pants, are they?

    November 28, 2013 at 12:31 am |
  15. Ralph_in_FL

    Perish the thought that the State Department should try to save money by collocating embassies.

    November 28, 2013 at 12:22 am |
  16. Mopery

    Big deal, the Catholic church is irrelevant in the 21st century, I doubt it will make it to the 22nd.

    November 28, 2013 at 12:20 am |
    • Bob

      The fact that you use the term 21st and 22nd CENTURY kinda shows the staying power on it's own doesn't it?

      November 28, 2013 at 12:45 am |
      • action

        Ignorance takes a long time to stamp out. In some places humans are still held as slaves.

        November 28, 2013 at 9:11 am |
  17. Zwei Stein

    Oh my! An embassy at the Vatican. What the heaven for?!

    November 28, 2013 at 12:16 am |
  18. terryName*

    Now he is worried about saecurity in the vatican? Seems like he should have worried about it earlier someplace else

    November 28, 2013 at 12:04 am |
    • 40acres

      Who is "he"? Do you think this is a bad move? Why?

      November 28, 2013 at 12:15 am |
    • Akira

      Yes, Embassies can be scary places. There were 11 attacked under the previous administration. 51 dead, including 4 Ambassadors.
      Security is paramount.

      November 28, 2013 at 12:17 am |
    • Greg

      The GOP wass active in pushing for cutting security funding to embassies. Then an incident happens and they change thier tune about funding security. The president is not responsible for approving a budget. That is congress's job, as defined by federal law. Half of congress is controlled by nut jobs that were willing to and did shut down the federal government over 1 issue. It is not always Obama's fault as Faux News would have you believe.


      November 28, 2013 at 2:09 am |
  19. Mike

    The same people who are outraged now would be outraged if the existing building were attacked by terrorists. I'd rather see the staff better protected and money saved, perhaps to be used to feed the hungry in this country.

    November 28, 2013 at 12:03 am |
    • terryName*

      Use the money to beef up middle eastern missions history tells us they are a bit more at risk

      November 28, 2013 at 12:14 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.