US Embassy Vatican Relocation Drives “Everyone” Mad Except The Pope and The Holy See

— Domani Spero

On November 20, 2013, the National Catholic Reporter had an article about the plan to  move the U.S. embassy to the Vatican onto the grounds of the larger American embassy to Italy.  The US Vatican embassy will reportedly move into a separate building and with a distinct entrance but made news because it drew “fire from five former American envoys despite the tacit consent of the Vatican itself.”

At the time of the report, the NCR notes that the move has not yet been publicly announced, a contract for renovations to the new facility has been awarded, and it’s tentatively scheduled to open in January 2015.  One former ambassador, James Nicholson told NCR, “It’s turning this embassy into a stepchild of the embassy to Italy.

The ambassadors named in the report includes three political ambassadors appointed by George W, Bush, one political ambassador by George H.W. Bush, and one political appointee by William J. Clinton.  No career diplomat to-date has ever been appointed chief of mission to the Holy See.

What follows the last several days is mind boggling though not entirely unpredictable.  The planned relocation of the embassy has been reported as a “closure”, a “slap”, a “snub”, or as a “downgrade” in diplomatic relations. It has also been linked to Obamacare and the Iran nuke deal.

Below is a photo of Embassy Vatican from 2008.

U.S. Embassy to the Vatican Photo via State/OIG

U.S. Embassy to the Vatican
Photo via State/OIG

At the time the embassy was inspected by State/OIG in 2008, during the tenure of Secretary Condoleezza Rice, it had seven American direct-hire employees, two American local hire and 10 local employees. Embassy Vatican represents the United States to the Holy See, a sovereign entity headed by the Pope and populated by approximately 800 people.  Post total funding in FY2007 was $2,888,882.  Way back in 2008, this is what the OIG report says:

The embassy is housed in a leased building fronting on a busy street and in need of relatively costly upgrades. Its budget is tight, and it seems clear that relocation would provide significant cost savings.

Embassy Vatican’s chancery consists of a long-term leased building that is somewhat awkwardly configured for office space. The main meeting room is open to the lobby, the only staircase is spiral and narrow, and the office space for most of the American officers is small and affords no privacy. The terms of the lease, signed in 1994, include a 15-year base with two five-year options, and the current annual cost of the lease is $530,000. The building does not meet setback requirements, and local guard services currently cost $335,000 per year.

The U.S. government could realize significant savings if Embassy Vatican relocated to the compound on which Embassy Rome now stands and where the U.S. Mission to the UN Agencies in Rome soon will move. In addition to cost savings, security would be improved. The possibility of relocating Embassy Vatican was raised in 2005 after the addition of the spacious Sembler Building to the Embassy Rome compound. The Embassy Vatican ambassador at the time opposed the move citing “policy grounds” that included anticipated strong objection by the host government and Congressional support for physically separate missions to Italy and the Holy See. In June 2006, the Department authorized Embassy Vatican to remain at its current location based on these considerations. [REDACTION] addition, significant cost savings and improved functionality would be achieved by a move to the Embassy Rome compound into a building that would preserve Embassy Vatican’s identity.

The State/OIG inspectors recommended that “Embassy Vatican, in coordination with Embassy Rome and the Bureaus of Overseas Buildings Operations and Diplomatic Security, should develop and implement a plan to relocate to the Embassy Rome compound, as soon as possible, with an eye towards cost savings, improved security, and maintaining as much as possible its separate identity to include a separate street address. (Action: Embassy Vatican, in coordination with Embassy Rome, OBO, and DS).”

One of the proposed work arounds in 2008 involved replacing the existing steel casement windows and sliding doors on Embassy Vatican chancery since the existing windows were rusted and beyond repair.

Further, the inspectors note the operating reality in the last several years:

The Embassy Vatican operating environment has changed drastically since OIG’s last inspection in 2001. Regionalization, rightsizing, collaborative management initiatives, standardization, and post-to-post cooperation are now the imperatives. Diminishing budgets, exchange rate losses, and stagnant LE staff wages are now the resource realities. Notwithstanding the considerable support it already receives from the Embassy Rome tri-mission management platform, Embassy Vatican could move more aggressively to implement management initiatives that could ameliorate the effects of increasingly constrained resources. Post then could redirect any savings to efforts that relate more directly to program goals or otherwise reprogram them.

The ambassador in 2005 who opposed the move could either be James Nicholson  (2001-205)or Francis Rooney (2005-2008).  The 15-year base lease was up in 2009. So when the ambassador opposed the move in 2005, there was still time on the base lease.  It appears like the USG exercised one of its two five year options, which would bring the lease up to 2014 and makes this move timely and sensible. The alternative is to kick it down to one more five-year option lease which would see the embassy continue in the same location until 2019. In which case, the USG (and taxpayers) would most certainly be saddled with costly expenses for band-aid solutions security upgrades.

Ambassador Ken Hackett, the current U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, and his immediate predecessor Ambassador Miguel Diaz, both Obama appointees, support the embassy move according to media reports.

CNN also  reports that  Rev. Thomas Rosica of 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. A spokesman for the Vatican said that Embassy Vatican move was well within the Holy See’s requirements for embassies and that “relations with the United States are far from strained.”

And yet  … here we are, now on a third week on this subject.

The good news is — no one has yet charged that the “closure” is due to President Obama being a secret Muslim.

* * *

State Dept Introduces More New Ambassadors: Gaspard, Hackett, Ayalde, Costos, Yun, Berry

— By Domani Spero

The State Department’s foreign-facing bureau, the  Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP) released a few more videos for its ambassador introduction series.  They obviously come from one script — say a greeting in the foreign language, include spouse, kids (or other relevant relatives) and/or pets, visit some Washington memorials, and say you look forward to meeting everyone in your host country.  We have to say that these videos are getting better, but they also come across as somewhat artificial at times, particularly when they get the ambassador and spouse do a duet in their greetings. Some of the ambassadors in this series, not just the ones below are naturally telegenic and excellent in delivery, of course, but others are less so.

One of our readers inquired who watches these videos.  These are  IIP products so the intended audience are presumably foreign publics.  Although, there doesn’t seem to be standard on how these videos are “push” to their intended audience abroad.  Some videos are posted across the missions’ multiple social media platforms with negligible results while others are posted only on the mission’s YouTube channels with better though uneven results. These videos are created by professionals (PR, video, digital?) at the IIP bureau, but just because you can, does it mean you should?  Does it make sense to make these videos for all chiefs of mission regardless of the Internet penetration rates in their host countries?  For instance, in Burkina Faso, the Internet penetration rate is only 3% of the population and in Chad that rate is 1.9%. Radio isn’t sexy, but wouldn’t it have more reach in those cases?  I supposed the answer whether it makes sense depends on what kind of return IIP is looking for in its investment of time and effort. For the chiefs of mission, it’s a question of whether they should get on this hot train because everybody’s doing it or if they should find an alternative outreach method more appropriate to their host countries’ infrastructures.

We have two previously related posts on this:

U.S. Ambassador to South Africa Patrick Gaspard

This video was posted by State/IIP on YouTube, and separately on US Embassy Pretoria’s website and Facebook page. The video was also plugged by the embassy’s Twitter account but the total eyeball count could not get above 400 views.

Ken Hackett, U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See
(with Italian subtitle)

This video was posted by State/IIP and linked to by US Embassy to the Holy See’s website and Facebook page.  Total views of about 1023 as of this writing.

U.S. Ambassador to Brazil Liliana Ayalde

Published in English and Portuguese by State/IIP on YouTube in mid September, we could not locate this video on the embassy’s website, Facebook page or a mention even on Twitter. It currently has 243 views.

James Costos, U.S. Ambassador to Spain and Andorra
(Spanish subtitle)

This video was posted by State/IIP in English and with Spanish subtitle with a total views of about 3,000. We have not been able to find this video on the embassy’s website or Facebook page, however, it was reposted by the embassy’s YouTube channel where it registered approximately 6,300 eyeballs.

Joe Yun, U.S. Ambassador to Malaysia
(Malay subtitle)

This video released by State/IIP in English and with Malay subtitle currently has about 320 views. It does not look like it’s posted on the embassy’s website but it was  reposted on the embassy’s Facebook page and YouTube Channel where it has about 755 views.

John Berry, the U.S. Ambassador to Australia

Posted by State/IIP in September, it has about 1030 views. Reposted by US Embassy Canberra on the embassy’s YouTube channel, it currently has 25,791 views


Officially In: Ken Hackett — From the Catholic Relief Services to the Holy See

— By Domani Spero

On June 14, President Obama announced his intent to nominate Ken Hackett as the next Ambassador to the Holy See. The WH released the following bio:

Ken Hackett is a consultant to the University of Notre Dame’s Institute for Global Development.  In 2012, after 40 years of service, he retired from the Catholic Relief Services (CRS), where he was the President and CEO from 1993 to 2012.  Prior to serving as President and CEO, Mr. Hackett was East African Regional Director from 1992 to 1993.  From 1987 to 1992, he served as the Country Representative in the Philippines.  From 1986 to 1987, he was Senior Director of External Affairs, and from 1978 to 1985, he was the African Regional Director.  He began his career with CRS in 1972 as a staff member in Sierra Leone.  In addition to working at CRS, Mr. Hackett was North American Vice President of Caritas Internationalis from 1996 to 2004.  From 1996 to 2011, he served as a member of the Pontifical Commission, Cor Unum, the Vatican body that coordinates the Church’s charitable work.  From 2004 to 2009, he served on the Board of Directors of the Millennium Challenge Corporation.

Mr. Hackett served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ghana from 1968 to 1971.  He received a B.S. from Boston College.

Back in January, the National Catholic Reporter publicly speculated on candidates for the next ambassador to the Vatican and did name Mr. Hackett:

Another hot tip is Ken Hackett, the former longtime president of Catholic Relief Services, who served on Obama’s delegation to the consistory in Rome last February when both Timothy Dolan and Edwin O’Brien became cardinals. (For all intents and purposes, Hackett was the delegation, along with Diaz.)

Hackett would be an easy sell on the church side. He has a good relationship with Dolan, who served as chair of the CRS board, and he has a solid working knowledge of the Vatican from his involvement with the Rome-based federation of Catholic charities, Caritas Internationalis.

The Catholic Relief Services is the overseas relief and development agency of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Catholic community in the United States.

If confirmed, Mr. Hacket would replace theology professor Miguel Diaz, who was appointed in 2009, the first Hispanic U.S. Ambassador accredited to the Holy See. (See US Ambassador to the Holy See Miguel H. Díaz Resigns, Rejoins University of Dayton).  The Holy See is one of nine diplomatic missions where all ambassadorial appointees have been 100% political and zero career appointments to-date.


Related item:

June 14, 2013 | President Obama Announces More Key Administration Posts