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. If I had a hammer... I'd whack you in the morning

    " conservative American Catholics were outraged." so whats new about that!

    November 28, 2013 at 7:28 am |
    • If I had a hammer... I'd whack you in the morning

      if your a ... "conservative American Catholic" ...you'd better get use to not being comfortable with the NEW Catholic church ...BIG changes are afoot and conservatives are going to get their feathers ruffled again!

      November 28, 2013 at 7:32 am |
      • If I had a hammer... I'd whack you in the morning

        The Church will soon have the face of socialism plastered on it, Big Hooooray for Pope Francis!!!

        November 28, 2013 at 7:34 am |
        • Sid Prejean

          What you might call "the face of socialism", other would call "the face of Christianity".

          November 28, 2013 at 8:05 am |
  2. Kelly

    It's a sensible move. Most U.S. Embassies have anywhere from 20-50 personnel working at them. Which means our staff there makes up about 3% of the approximately 900 people in the Vatican. And the location they're moving to? Less than 4 miles down the road. So, we move four miles, and save $1.4 million annually? If you complain about this, you're basically giving up the ability to ever be taken seriously when complaining about our country's financial issues.

    November 28, 2013 at 7:25 am |
    • Sara

      Nice summary. Until countries like San Marino warrant and embassy, the Vatica certainly doesn't.

      November 28, 2013 at 7:41 am |
      • EdwardTr

        The difference between the two is that there is no US embassy 4 miles from San Marino like there is from Vatican. I believe US will still have an ambassador to Vatican but he will be located at our Italian location.

        November 28, 2013 at 8:15 am |
    • Lauren

      Couldn't agree more. There is absolutely no reason to have two fully functioning US Embassies within blocks of each other, both needing full security. An office is an office and as long as it accessible to the people it serves, I see no reason to disagree.

      November 28, 2013 at 7:44 am |
    • Jebbb

      Why do we have to give a religion an embassy? Does the Pope have oil? Other natural resources? Aren't the tax breaks enough? Aren't they too much? Now that the US embassy is removed from the Vatican, remove the child molesters too.

      November 28, 2013 at 7:45 am |
      • Doc Vestibule

        What do you mean "the tax breaks"?
        Do you think the United States collects taxes from citizens of every country in the world?

        November 28, 2013 at 8:13 am |
    • Ken

      That's Conservatives for ya, always looking for new ways to waste money. 🙂

      November 28, 2013 at 8:28 am |
  3. Reality # 2

    Off topic but appropriate for the occasion:

    "Ah! on Thanksgiving day, when from East and from West, From North and from South comes the pilgrim and guest; When the gray-haired New Englander sees round his board The old broken links of affection restored, When the care-wearied man seeks his mother once more, And the worn matron smiles where the girl smiled before, What moistens the lip and what brightens the eye? What calls back the past, like the rich Pumpkin pie? -"

    by John Greenleaf Whittier

    November 28, 2013 at 7:13 am |
    • longtooth

      Thank you for introducing some joy into this non-controversy before we start ranting about everything irrelevant.

      November 28, 2013 at 8:01 am |
  4. skytag

    Much ado about nothing. In practice it's nothing more than an embassy to a religion, which I consider inappropriate. If it saves money to relocate to the main Italian embassy compound, fine by me.

    November 28, 2013 at 7:07 am |
  5. Reality # 2

    As noted previously:

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

    November 28, 2013 at 7:03 am |
  6. Don Lavery

    A similar ontroversy halp

    November 28, 2013 at 6:24 am |
  7. Markham Lockhart

    Darrell Issan announces investigation in 3...2...1
    Apparently the conservative Catholics are concerned Pope Francis and President Obama may see eye to eye on things and are trying to create a rift. Sorry, won't work. Pope Francis will likely continue to speak out against the income inequality, corporate dominance, and lack of a safety net in this country no matter how you try to spin it.
    And a note to the right wingers spreading the lie about the embassy closing: Pope Francis has done a remarkable job of speaking for himself. I don't doubt for one second if he had a problem with the situation he'd address it with the President. He may be more concerned about the world view of the Catholic Church if some type of attack were to take place at the embassy. He just seems like that kind of pontiff...

    November 28, 2013 at 5:47 am |
  8. steve c

    Seems CNN also "down-playing" this piece of news. I wonder if Obama can turn to him Muslim friends and say "See? I told you I would do it!"

    November 28, 2013 at 5:36 am |
    • Dan

      Or maybe someone realized that a little distance from the world's largest pedophile protection ring was a good thing....

      November 28, 2013 at 5:50 am |
    • Markham Lockhart

      It's not news. It's a bogus story the right wing is trying to hype. If the current and former Ambassador, the Vatican spokespeople, and the State Dept are okay with it why isn't Jeb Bush? And why is Jeb lying about it? Does it occur to you that the progressive Pope Francis would rather see this money spent on taking care of the poor and sick Catholics here in the United States? Or for us to take measures to protect the individuals in diplomatic service to the Holy See?
      I can't wait until some of the dishonest right wing Catholics show up for confession. "What do you mean we can't use the Vatican as a political pawn?"

      November 28, 2013 at 5:52 am |
  9. alex

    "have a separate address"

    Separate PO Boxes (emptied by the same person ) ?

    "Have a separate entrance".

    Separate entrance the same room ?

    November 28, 2013 at 5:29 am |
    • Ken

      An embassy is a bit bigger than the business you have selling Avon out of your parent's basement.

      November 28, 2013 at 8:32 am |
  10. SixDegrees

    Sounds like the Pope was grabbing too much media attention, at the expense of the President.

    November 28, 2013 at 5:16 am |
    • skytag

      If that's what it "sounds like" to you then you are clearly hearing voices the rest of us aren't hearing and the services of a mental health professional may be warranted.

      November 28, 2013 at 7:01 am |
  11. mike Q

    i guess Rooney failed to notice there is a new pope in town, who moved out of his own palace and says that actions and deeds are what's important, not pretentiious trappings of power. But to Rooney, it's all about appearances.

    November 28, 2013 at 4:51 am |
  12. BO

    The pope is doing to Catholicism what Obama did to healthcare.

    November 28, 2013 at 4:47 am |
    • AtheistSteve

      Do you mean trying to fix a broken system?

      November 28, 2013 at 6:01 am |
  13. RichardSRussell

    Why do we even HAVE an embassy to a church? What ever happened to separation of church and state?

    November 28, 2013 at 4:21 am |
    • Gman73

      To RRussell, The Vatican is an actual nation state or a country. The World Factbook

      November 28, 2013 at 4:39 am |
    • SixDegrees

      The Vatican is a sovereign nation.

      November 28, 2013 at 5:15 am |
    • steve c

      Think of the Vatican as a U.N. – MANY multiples of countries and different peoples under one roof...

      November 28, 2013 at 5:38 am |
  14. Joe

    Funny how they harp on "Conservative Catholics" in this article. How about the "Liberal Catholics" aren't they upside too? How about just Catholics in general?

    November 28, 2013 at 3:51 am |
    • Joe


      November 28, 2013 at 3:51 am |
    • Cedar Rapids

      Only ones that seem to be making any noise are the conservative ones

      November 28, 2013 at 4:07 am |
      • Joe

        More like the only ones the media is reporting on is the conservative ones. We all know the media is liberal as hell.

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

          Ah of course, well whatever claim helps you sleep at night.

          November 28, 2013 at 4:19 am |
        • CTYank

          Maybe from the perspective of Genghis Khan? "We all know" that, eh?

          November 28, 2013 at 5:20 am |
    • Sara

      The word liberal means either free from orthodoxy (and so welcoming change) or broadly educated ('and so likely to understand change). Even if they disagree, conservatives haave been found to be more motivated by fear, anger, and outrage.

      November 28, 2013 at 7:46 am |
  15. Steve Morgan

    grown adults acting like a spoiled child throwing a fit because they feel they're losing power and control over their parents... grow up mr. & mrs. catholic... you can't always have your way all the time.

    November 28, 2013 at 3:49 am |
    • Gman73

      Sorry, Steve. These are adults complaining like adults about actions they deem as a slight by this administration to their faith ans the county/nation state that represents their faith. If there is precedent with an embassy moving into another embassy, please share. How is Mr. and Mrs. Catholic having their way all the time? Please share all the times they have had their way?

      November 28, 2013 at 4:53 am |
      • Clark Andrulis

        Well put GMan!! there is no preceden..t and this administration's anti religion campaign is well.. unprecedented. Nevertheless, the Vatican was here b4 this administration and will be there long after this group is gone.

        November 28, 2013 at 7:33 am |
    • John

      Does any other religion have an embassy??

      November 28, 2013 at 7:53 am |
  16. Daniel

    If you criticize this move by the Obama Administration – you are a racist.

    November 28, 2013 at 3:39 am |
    • Joe

      Hell if you criticize anything the Obama administration does you're a racist nowadays.

      November 28, 2013 at 3:52 am |
    • CTYank

      Nah, this whining is just mostly stupid, much ado about nothing. Except somebody attacks, and Issa goes flying off.

      November 28, 2013 at 5:22 am |
  17. jeff

    Closing the embassy to the Vatican for security reasons, but couldn't close the embassy in Libya on 9/11/2012, what is wrong with this picture?

    November 28, 2013 at 3:36 am |
    • RayJacksonMs

      What's wrong with this picture is you are the typical republican that's going to complain no matter what. If this shame embassy got attacked you'd be screaming Obama should have moved them.

      November 28, 2013 at 4:04 am |
    • Cedar Rapids

      I don't know, what is wrong with this picture exactly?

      November 28, 2013 at 4:08 am |
    • Markham Lockhart

      Once again, a Republican having a hard time with the truth. The embassy isn't closing it's moving. Not even close to the same thing. Also, not all former Ambassadors or Catholic groups have a problem with this. Only conservative ones. so there isn't evidence that this is a problem, just an assertion by a former Ambassador countered by a more recent Ambassador. Pope Francis is quite progressive. Sarah Palin called him a liberal. It would seem they're more concerned with creating discord where there is none. Of course, the fact that the majority of Catholics voted for Obama doesn't help their cause either.

      November 28, 2013 at 5:39 am |
    • skytag

      Nothing is wrong with this picture, only your ability to understand it. The obvious, really obvious answer to your question is that they learned some lessons from the attack in Libya and are taking security more seriously. What part of that is not obvious your right-wing brain?

      November 28, 2013 at 7:04 am |
  18. KEVIN

    Bad move. They should reconsider

    November 28, 2013 at 3:25 am |
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