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.

* * *

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.


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






US Ambassador to the Holy See Miguel H. Díaz Resigns, Rejoins University of Dayton

The resignation of Ambassador Diaz was not officially announced by the US Embassy to the Holy See until November 7 but the news actually made it out on Monday and was widely reported by Catholic news outlet since his farewell call to the Pope with his wife was listed in the Vatican’s daily press bulletin:

S.E. il Signor Miguel Humberto Díaz, Ambasciatore degli Stati Uniti d’America presso la Santa Sede, con la Consorte, in visita di congedo.

Ambassador Diaz with Pope Benedict XVI
Via US Embassy to the Holy See/FB

Via the National Catholic Register

The United States Ambassador to the Holy See made a farewell visit to Pope Benedict XVI today.

Ambassador Miguel Diaz is leaving his position after just over three years’ service representing the Obama administration.

An embassy spokesman said he would probably be leaving Rome at the weekend to take up a teaching position at the University of Dayton, OH.

The embassy said the move had been in the pipeline for a while, and that it had planned to announce the ambassador’s departure after the Presidential Elections tomorrow, but as the farewell visit took place today, the Vatican pre-empted the disclosure by making an announcement in its daily bulletin. Ambassador Diaz, who was formally sworn in on August 21st, 2009, has nevertheless fulfilled the usual term for ambassadors which is commonly two to three years.

Read in full here.

Ambassador Díaz is the first Hispanic to represent the United States at the Vatican. Born in Havana, Cuba, Díaz moved as a child to the United States, where his family worked hard to move ahead. His father worked as a waiter and his mother did data entry work, and their son was the first member of the family to attend college. Díaz earned his bachelor’s degree from Saint Thomas University in Miami Gardens, Florida, and his master’s and doctorate from the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. He previously taught at Barry University in Miami Shores, Florida; Saint Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach, Florida; the University of Dayton in Ohio; and at Notre Dame.  Fluent in Italian, Spanish and French, Ambassador Díaz also reads Greek, Latin and German. His academic interests also include theological anthropology and Latino/Latina theologies.  He was sworn in as U.S. Ambassador on August 21st, 2009.

Here is the announcement posted in the US Embassy’s FB page:

Ambassador Miguel H. Díaz Departs Post | November 7, 2012

VATICAN CITY — Miguel H. Díaz, United States Ambassador to the Holy See since 2009, will leave his position following the presidential elections and return to academia effective the week of November 13, 2012. Ambassador Diaz was proud to serve almost three and a half years in his position as the 9th U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See. He will join his family in Dayton, Ohio, where he has been named University Professor of Faith and Culture at the University of Dayton.

“As Ambassador, I have had the pleasure of representing the people of the United States to the Holy See, and to develop our already strong cooperation,” Ambassador Diaz said. During his tenure at the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See, he was influential in promoting the shared values of the United States and the Holy See in peace, justice, and human rights.

Ambassador Diaz helped launch the Religion in Foreign Policy Working Group of the Secretary of State’s Strategic Dialogue with Civil Society. The Working Group facilitates regular dialogue between the U.S. foreign policy establishment and religious leaders, scholars, and practitioners worldwide on strategies to build more effective partnerships on a wide range of goals, including conflict prevention, humanitarian assistance, and national security.

“The working group is an unprecedented initiative that demonstrates the administration’s commitment to involve religious leaders in shaping U.S. foreign policy; I am proud to take an active role to ensure its success,” he said.

The Embassy will be headed by the Chargé d’Affaires, until a new Ambassador is nominated by the Administration and confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

This is the second noncareer ambassador’s resignation in the last two weeks and the first one since President Obama’s historic reelection.  Ambassador Diaz is rejoining the University of Dayton where he previously taught.

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