U.S. Ambassador to Vatican forced to move?

Is the U.S. downgrading its Vatican ties?

Yes, say several US Vatican Ambassadors. More on that shortly.

I first heard of it from Ambassador Ray Flynn, former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See under the Clinton administration, who was a guest on my radio show Monday, November 18th. He broke the news live on the air during our conversation on the show.

“There’s a new issue that’s going to develop in the next week or so,” he said. “The Obama administration Department of State wants to close my embassy, they want to close the United States’ Embassy to the Holy See, and they want to consolidate it with the Embassy of the Republic of Italy. That would send a very, very bad message. It would diminish the relationship between the United States and the Holy See and to the Catholic Church. One of the things we did when I was there, and we did it very effectively, was work with the state of Israel, we worked with the Church to develop diplomatic relations, which had a very positive impact on what the United States government wanted to do.

Flynn continued, passionately engaged:

“I was involved in the Rwandan genocide, because the Catholic Church had a moral voice, and the U.S. was naturally opposed to the genocide in Rwanda. Same thing with the Bosnia-Herzegovina situation. The Vatican did a very quiet but effective job helping the United States bring peace and justice in places like the Middle East. We never had the kinds of trouble we’re having now, because the Vatican had a role. John Paul II had a very important role, he was respected he was admired. Unfortunately, we don’t have that level of respect anymore, the U.S. government. That’s why we’re seeing the kinds of situations in places like Syria, Egypt, Palestine, Israel. These are countries that were at one time strong allies of the Vatican, strong allies of the United States, and what are they now? They’re divided. We’re now seeing the killing of Christians, the bombing of churches.

“That’s the key role the Vatican plays, with the United States cooperating. And now to have that embassy close? That’s another issue that we should mobilize Catholics on right now. Get on the phone, call your congressman, call your senators, get on the talk shows, make sure your voice is heard. This is a very short-sighted, counter-productive move if they go forward consolidating the U.S. Vatican Embassy with the Republic of Italy, that would be a big mistake.

“A number of us who have served in this position, in a bipartisan way, we are lobbying the president, the Secretary of State and the Congress not to close the U.S. embassy to the Holy See because of its importance to world peace, not only to the United States but to countries throughout the world.

“The Holy See has major credibility throughout the world because in times of crisis and chaos, they don’t bring up a political agenda, they aren’t seeking someone’s land, they aren’t seeking oil, or diamonds or minerals. It’s really about a safe and peaceful world. That’s why they have that kind of credibility, even among the war-torn countries in the Middle East. So that’s why the embassy is so important. It will just send the wrong kind of message that the Holy See is like an annex to the Embassy of Italy in Rome.

“We’re talking about the separation of Church and State here. We don’t want the Catholic Church to be part of the Embassy to Italy. This story hasn’t really broken yet, but it’s very important people be pro-active.”

National Catholic Reporter Vatican expert John Allen broke the story to big media.

Plans to move the U.S. embassy to the Vatican onto the grounds of the larger American embassy to Italy, though in a separate building and with a distinct entrance, are drawing fire from five former American envoys despite the tacit consent of the Vatican itself.

Justified primarily on the grounds of enhanced security, the move is described by former U.S. Ambassador James Nicholson, who’s also a former Secretary of Veterans Affairs in the Bush administration and a former chair of the Republican National Committee, as a “massive downgrade” in U.S./Vatican ties.

“It’s turning this embassy into a stepchild of the embassy to Italy,” Nicholson said.

“The Holy See is a pivot point for international affairs and a major listening post for the United States,” he said, “and to shoehorn [the U.S. delegation] into an office annex inside another embassy is an insult to American Catholics and to the Vatican.”

Nicholson, who spoke in an interview Wednesday with NCR, joins former Bush envoys Francis Rooney and Mary Ann Glendon as well as Raymond Flynn, the first Clinton ambassador, and Thomas Melady, who served the first President Bush, in objecting.

“In the diplomatic world, if you don’t have your own separate space, you’re on the road to nowhere,” said Rooney, who served as ambassador from 2005 to 2008. He’s author of The Global Vatican, a new book on U.S./Vatican relations…

Flynn described the move as part of broader secular hostility to religious groups, the Catholic church in particular.

“It’s not just those who bomb churches and kill Catholics in the Middle East who are our antagonists, but it’s also those who restrict our religious freedoms and want to close down our embassy to the Holy See,” Flynn told NCR.

Flynn said he can’t see any “diplomatic or political benefit to the United States” from the relocation and called it “shortsighted.”

Melady told NCR that no matter how the move is justified, it will be perceived in diplomatic circles as scaling back.

“Whether that’s the official reason doesn’t really matter, because that’s how people will see it,” Melady said.

CatholicVote.org has quietly been following this story for weeks, before it broke open. The organization sent out this newsletter Monday:

The Obama administration has decided that the free-standing American embassy to the Holy See will soon be closed, and the offices for the Ambassador to the Vatican will be moved inside of our Italian Embassy.

As a part of the security reviews that followed the attacks on our embassy in Benghazi last year, State Department officials are now claiming that the current U.S. Embassy to the Holy See is no longer safe.

If their assessement is correct, then why not bolster security or simply move the Embassy to a new location instead of shutting it down? Are all ‘unsafe’ embassies being shut down too

Moving our Ambassador to the Vatican inside of our Italian Embassy sends a clear message: the diplomatic post doesn’t matter much to the United States.

This afternoon I spoke with former Vatican Ambassador James Nicholson. He wanted me to tell CV readers:
“It’s another manifestation of the antipathy of this administration both to Catholics and to the Vatican – and to Christians in the Middle East. This is a key post for intermediation in so many sovereignties but particularly in the Middle East. This is anything but a good time to diminish the stature of this post. To diminish the stature of this post is to diminish its influence.

“The State Department has for a long time wanted to do this. It came up when I was an ambassador. I explained the folly of this and it went away. But now they seem determined to do this. The perception is [with this action] that the United States is showing a lack of appreciation for the relevance of its diplomatic partner in the Vatican.”

Diplomatic relations between the United States and the Holy See suffered for generations because of rampant anti-Catholicism in our country. It took until 1984, twenty-four years after the election of a Catholic president, for President Ronald Reagan to officially create the first United States Ambassador to the Holy See.

President Reagan would quickly see the importance of the Holy See in international affairs. Reagan and Blessed Pope John Paul II formed a partnership that would lead to the downfall of Communism in Eastern Europe.

And let’s not forget that the Pope regularly communicates with bishops from every country on the planet, and as a result is said to have the greatest foreign intelligence of any world leader. If anything, the United States should be working to grow its relationship with the Vatican.

Patheos blogger Kathy Shiffer considers all the angles, especially the two and only two proponents of the move, and has this take.

First to address the “opportunity for collaboration” cited by Manny Diaz: Imagine, if you will, that the nations of Western Europe came together in a single embassy in Germany. France, Portugal and Denmark all closed their embassies, in order to better “collaborate” with one another.

Would that serve the interests of each individual country?

Of course not. Each of the European nations is unique, and each enjoys a unique relationship with the United States. Each diplomatic relationship faces unique challenges. It would be absurd to imagine that bringing them together into a single space would achieve positive diplomatic results.

Likewise, the U.S. embassy in Rome and the embassy to the Holy See are unique—in fact, more unique because of the unusual nature of the two governments, that of Italy and that of the Vatican City-State. Perhaps the U.S. government imagines that Vatican-City, occupying only 109 acres, is a “mini-state” not warranting a full ambassadorial relationship. In fact, though, the Catholic Church, with 1.2 billion adherents around the world, is a resounding leader in establishing social policy world-wide, not only within its walls.

Perhaps I’m a little sensitive.

The Obama Administration has repeatedly picked fights with the Catholic Church, most notably on religious liberty issues, as well as on abortion and other life issues and same-sex marriage. I worry that the President’s disdain for Catholic social teaching may affect his willingness to interact on matters of mutual concern. But I’m just not buying that this is not a radical “downgrade” in U.S. interaction with the Holy See.

The United States and the Holy See did not enjoy a full diplomatic relationship until January 1984. Before that, due in part to anti-Catholicism in the U.S., this country did not recognize the Vatican City-State as a nation. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Postmaster General James Farley was the first high ranking government official to normalize relations with the Holy See. In 1933, Farley had an audience with Pope Pius XI and dinner with Cardinal Pacelli, who would succeed to the papacy in 1939. Between 1939 and 1951, the U.S. had no ambassador but sent an emissary to discuss matters of mutual concern. Then from 1951 through 1968, the U.S. had no relations with the Vatican.

Presidents Nixon and Carter appointed “personal representatives” to interact with the Holy See in the late ‘60s and ‘70s. Then finally, on January 10, 1984, the United States recognized the Holy See as an independent legislative body, and established the Vatican Embassy.

There exists a real risk that that long overdue relationship may continue to decline during the Obama Administration. In 2009, the ambassador position was vacant for an extended period, reflecting U.S./Vatican tensions over abortion and marriage. During the months that the position was open, Caroline Kennedy and Douglas Kmiec were proposed; but both were ultimately rejected because of differences regarding these important issues.

The seat was vacant again from November 2012 through mid-2013, after Ambassador Miguel Diaz left the office to teach at the University of Dayton.

The current rollback portends a weakening of U.S./Vatican relations. The move signals to the Church, to this nation’s 78.2 million self-identified Catholics, and to the world that the United States is too busy with other things to bother protecting its embassy in the smallest but arguably the most influential nation in the world.

Boston Strong: Grace under relentless pressure

The day after last Monday’s Boston marathon bombings, the former mayor who embodies the great big heart and soul of that great city was defiant and determined. They not only responded to the terror with great humanity that day he told me on Tuesday, they would come back stronger and in greater numbers for next year’s Patriot’s Day landmark event. Nobody could have yet known what the week would still hold for Bostonians, and how drained they would be by the end of it. But, thank God, it ended.

It began at the marathon’s finish line, where former Mayor Ray Flynn enjoyed the day with his daughter and grandchildren as an annual event that went back to his younger days of running the marathon himself, when his own children waited at the finish line. Several of his grandchildren were near the explosion, thankfully uninjured physically. But it took a toll on everyone in other ways, especially little children. His family’s story probably speaks for everyone’s in and around Boston in some way.

Ray Flynn wrote that “cowards with bombs tried to spread hate in our city. Our children — and my grandchildren — are answering with love.”  

Here’s his account:

Like 8-year-old Martin Richard, who can’t have been too far away in the crowd, they were eating an ice cream and enjoying a great event for kids. You look at the photos from that day, and the crowd is full of children.

Their innocent world took a sudden ugly turn when two deadly bombs exploded, and the streets were filled with the screams of terrified and injured people, and the sight of blood, people down, and people running.

I had been there earlier, but left before the blasts. When my daughter Maureen Foley called me, I raced back to Copley Square and found my grandkids running down the street with hundreds of other frightened people. The look on their faces was not something I ever want to see again.

They couldn’t stop crying, “Did anybody die, Papa?”

There were a lot of kids there, they told me. It was difficult to calm them down or even begin to try to explain how anybody could do such a cowardly thing.

The kids had a very difficult Monday night, still asking my daughter Maureen if any kids had died.

When they heard about Martin Richard, like everyone who heard that news, they were all very upset.

But kids believe in doing something, and it didn’t take long.

“Mommy, can we sell lemonade and cookies and give all the money to Martin’s family?” one of the kids said. “All my friends at school, all the kids who play sports with us will help us.”

They began texting their friends. Hundreds of calls and texts from young kids in their town, Braintree, began pouring in.

The result? (Friday, at a public school) in Braintree, you will see a lot of caring young children and their parents — love growing where cowards had hoped to plant hate.

The Braintree Patch, a local community newspaper, found out about it ahead of time and published this.

On Marathon Monday, the Foley family sat in the bleachers near the finish line, cheering on Uncle Patrick, who was running for CarePacks, an organization that sends basic necessities to our troops, when the bombs went off.

That’s just one more important aspect of all this to point out, that many runners participate in the grueling training and race itself on behalf of some charity. That’s a big part of the annual race and celebration.

Maureen Foley and her four children – Michael, 10, Ava and Julia, both 8, and Flynn, 5 – have decided to take that experience and turn it into a positive, helping raise money for the Richard family, who lost their 8-year-old son Martin in the attack. Martin’s mother and sister were both injured.

“Thank God they were unharmed physically, but to have witnessed such a horrific scene is devastating for anyone,” Foley said of her kids in an email. “They were determined that something positive was going to come out of this experience.”

The paper reported that the Foleys would have a lemonade stand in front of their school at mid-day Friday, “with all proceeds sent to the Richard family.”

“Please come by, show your Braintree pride, and let the Richard Family know that we share their pain,” Foley said.

Friday evening, Ray Flynn told me that over 2,000 people came and the children raised over $6,500 and donated it all to the Richard Family.

We talked about the message of his good friend Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Boston’s Archbishop, at the ‘Healing Our City’ interfaith service at the cathedral the evening before. It can be seen here on Cardinal Sean’s blog and is well worth viewing and hearing. Every bit of it.

He shared the message Pope Francis sent for the occasion.

The Holy Father prays that we will be united in the resolve not to be overcome by evil, but to combat evil with good, working together to build an ever more just, free and secure society for generations to come.

And Cardinal Sean said the horror of “an act of senseless violence that has caused all of us great shock and pain” was “a start reminder of the darkness that can lurk in the human heart and produce such evil. ”

And yet the same tragedy brought us together as a community like nothing else ever could. The generous and courageous response of so many assures us that there resides in people’s hearts a goodness that is incredibly selfless. We saw that when summoned by great events we can be remarkably committed to the well-being of others, even total strangers. We become a stronger people, a more courageous people, and a more noble people.

So much of this brief reflection Cardinal O’Malley gave spoke deeply to the way we live our public lives in America today, and Ray Flynn recalled growing up when messages like his were in the air he and his siblings breathed, the Fulton J. Sheen messages about sacrifice, prayer, pride. What Patriot’s Day has always represented, though the culture has gone off that track over time.

This Patriots’ Day shakes us out of our complacency and indifference and calls us to focus on the task of building a civilization that is based on love, justice, truth and service. We do not want to risk losing the legacy of those first patriots who were willing to lay down their lives for the common good. We must overcome the culture of death by promoting a culture of life, a profound respect for each and every human being made in the image and likeness of God, and we must cultivate a desire to give our lives in the service of others.

He had just returned from the Holy Land and referred to the Sermon on the Mount they had reflected on while in Galilee, which was recalled in prayer at the interfaith service last Thursday. And Cardinal Sean made a strikingly good point right then.

Often in the Gospels, we can see the contrast between the crowd and the community. The crowd is made up of self-absorbed individuals, each one focused on his or her own interests in competition with the conflicting projects of others. A community is where people come to value each other, and find their own identity in being part of something bigger than themselves, working together for the common good.

This is such a good message for us now. No matter what faith or creed of those assembled at that service or any of us considering these words, people of goodwill would probably agree…

The Sermon on the Mount, in many ways, is the Constitution of the people called to live a new life. Jesus gives us a new way to deal with offenses, by reconciliation. Jesus gives us a new way to deal with violence, by nonviolence. He gives us a new way to deal with money, by sharing and providing for those in need. Jesus gives us a new way to deal with leadership, by drawing upon the gift of every person, each one a child of God.

This is a soft and gentle challenge, or an encouragement if you will.

In the face of the present tragedy, we must ask ourselves what kind of a community do we want to be, what are the ideals that we want to pass on to the next generation. It cannot be violence, hatred and fear. The Jewish people speak of Tikkun Olam, “repairing the world.” God has entrusted us with precisely that task, to repair our broken world. We cannot do it as a collection of individuals; we can only do it together, as a community, as a family. Like every tragedy, Monday’s events are a challenge and an opportunity for us to work together with a renewed spirit of determination and solidarity and with the firm conviction that love is stronger than death.

He ended with the famous prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi known as the ‘peace prayer,’ and Ray Flynn laughed when he told me that somebody in the media remarked to him afterward “what a wonderful speech Cardinal Sean gave about peace.” Flynn enjoyed heartily that the media person had no idea those were the words of the famous Franciscan priest. The saint, in fact, who inspired the current pope to take his name.

It was probably the best laugh Ray Flynn had all week, and possibly the only one. It was “relentlessly unnerving,” in the apt words of the Washington Post. One of the little girls at the lemonade stand was wearing a ‘Boston Strong’ T-shirt, already out before week’s end. That was the rallying cry of the week, and remains so.

And the week ended with Cardinal Sean calling for reconciliation.

“Forgiveness is part of our obligation as disciples of the Lord,” O’Malley said. “It’s only a culture of life and ethic of love that can rescue us from a culture of violence.”…

Richard Paris, 54, a Boston firefighter and president of Local 718, came with his wife, Eileen Paris, 53, and their son, Michael Paris, 14. The family had many friends, including first responders who were on the scene when the bombs went off.

Both husband and wife said O’Malley’s message hit home and reminded them of the importance of faith and compassion — even for the suspects.

“The world’s got to get on one page,” Richard Paris said.

Boston has started writing it, eloquently.

How to be a Catholic Democrat

And not.

Many top Catholic scholars and members of media and public servants regretfully left the Democratic party of their fathers when the party abandoned their principles so profoundly, they couldn’t compromise such fundamental values.

Others stayed in the party, either capitulating to political expediency or (conversely) determining to reform the Democratic politics according to its rich heritage.

So here’s an example of both.

Nancy Pelosi.

“Well I don’t think that is the entire Catholic Church,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said about the lawsuit brought against the Obama administration by numerous Catholic institutions in the U.S. “Those people have a right to sue, but I don’t think they’re speaking for the Catholic Church and they’re are people in the Catholic Church, including some of the bishops, who have suggested that some of this may be premature.”

“You know what? I do my religion on Sunday in church and I try to go other days of the week. I don’t do it at this press conference,” Pelosi said curtly at her weekly press conference.

And Ray Flynn, popular former mayor of Boston and US Ambassador to the Vatican.

Ambassador Raymond L. Flynn expressed concern about the HHS mandate driving a wedge between Catholics and the Democratic Party as he addressed a Stand Up for Religious Freedom rally at the Boston Commons…

“As a proud lifelong Catholic Democrat, I fear that this dangerous policy is causing a serious rift between the Democratic Party and Catholics – and people of all faiths for that matter. Sadly, this unthinkable move threatens a long and proud relationship.”

In the days of Roosevelt, “It was unthinkable for most Catholics not to vote the straight Democratic ticket.” The era continued through the 50s and 70s…

[I]t was both the Church and the Democratic Party who were always there to help. They were working for better and safer work conditions on the docks, medical care, educating kids and helping the poor. People in those days were loyal to the Church and the Democratic Party.”

“You can’t imagine how I felt when I saw my longtime friend Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York City filing a legal challenge against the Obama Administration for their discriminatory policies against religious institutions in America. I am proud of Cardinal Dolan, but ashamed that this administration has let it come to this.”

“It is outrageous that the administration has taken action to trample on the rights of religious institutions and people of faith. Despite what you hear from the media and some politicians, this is not about access to contraception; it is about the principle of whether the federal government can force religious organizations to take actions that violate their own faith and their own conscience. Catholics will not stand by and be silent!”

I had a very engaging conversation with Ambassador Flynn Thursday. He made a passionate case for citizen involvement in this current heated struggle to preserve historic, constitutional, religious liberties. “Catholics cannot afford to lose this struggle,” he said, adding that though it’s not a Catholic issue, it’s been framed as one and deeply threatens the existence of social ministries.

“We’re in a battle here,” he said fervently. “I can’t get over it that here we are in 2012 being challenged this way. There’s an elitist group of people coming around telling us what we can and can’t do. We have always valued human rights and religious freedom, and there are a lot of wonderful, decent people out there who are working to serve those in need.”

Then he added: “There is no force more powerful than truth, and it will prevail.”

He also wanted radio listeners to know that “Information is the most powerful tool,” so access it and spread it.

Here’s an important site of bi-partisan thought leaders, including Flynn.