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Vatican, State Department defend embassy move

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
December 4th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Both the Obama administration and some within the Vatican are working to quell rumors over last week's news that the State Department would be closing the current free-standing Vatican embassy and move the mission to a complex in Rome. Detractors have suggested the move is a symbol of strained relations between Obama and the Catholic Church. Some Church officials are denying this alleged motivation.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Citing security concerns and a need to save money, the State Department announced last week that it was moving ahead with plans to shutter the current Vatican embassy in Rome, and would move the mission to a compound where the mission could be more secure.

Many of the faithful, some former Ambassadors and some Catholic News Sources, including Catholic Online, immediately questioned the move as suspect. Now some in the Vatican and other Church leaders have downplayed the significance of the move, saying the plans remain consistent with requirements of the Holy See and that U.S. security concerns are fully appreciated.

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Rev. Thomas Rosica, a Canadian priest assigned to the Vatican Press office denied that relations between the U.S. and the Vatican are strained. He reiterated that the mission would still be separate from the U.S. mission in Italy, that the new facility would meet Vatican requirements that it has a separate entrance with a separate address.

An unnamed spokesman for the State Department also affirmed these changes.

Roscia told the press, there is "a very good feeling right now" between the U.S. and the Vatican.

In a report by CNN, a Vatican official, which the agency said was not authorized to speak on the record, acknowledged U.S. security concerns and referred to the move as "an exception, not the ideal, but not the end of the world."

The comment suggests that the Vatican would prefer different, but understands the need.

U.S. embassies around the world have been attacked on several occasions by terrorists affiliated with al Qaeda. Political fallout from Benghazi has the administration looking to improve security in every way possible, especially with midterm elections approaching in 2014 and a possible run by Hillary Clinton for president in 2016. Another attack could damage the credibility of the Obama administration and bring Benghazi back into the realm of public debate, which could harm Clinton's political ambitions.

However, multiple former ambassadors to the Vatican still say the move is a slight to the Vatican. Francis Rooney, ambassador during the George W. Bush administration said the move would create "a perception among foreign governments and other missions that the United States does not value its relationship with the Holy See."

Others have been quick to fire back at Rooney and to tow the administration line on the move. Miguel  Diaz, Obama's first ambassador to the Vatican said that people who disagree with the move are wrong and he denies any political slight.

"I firmly believe that these issues have to be based on facts and not politicized in any way. 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," Diaz said.

Still, it's a hard sell for many Catholics. As Catholic Online indicated, there does not appear to be any immediate, credible threat to the Vatican or its U.S. embassy, at least not anything shared with the public-not like it would be anyway. Although Italy, the Vatican, and the U.S. have security apparatus that works around the clock to protect these missions, it must be acknowledged that the Vatican is a possible target.

Pope Francis is very popular and he often outpaces his security detail. The Catholic Church is also featuring more prominently in the news now than even a year ago as public fascination with the Holy Father remains high. These facts make the Vatican, as well as its U.S. mission a possible target.

It should be made clear that the embassy is only being moved, and is not being closed. According to the Vatican, the move will occur in early 2015 and is apparently not an issue for the Holy See.

The Church has greater challenges to face and is properly focused on her mission.

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