A number of publications, including The Washington Times, broke the news last week that President Obama had proposed moving the U.S. Embassy to the Vatican. All hell quickly broke loose in liberal circles of interest to defend the president and attack his conservative critics.
Let's examine this issue a bit further.
According to The Washington Times, the White House had "moved to shut down the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See — a free-standing facility — and relocate offices onto the grounds of the larger American Embassy in Italy." Even though "U.S. officials are touting the relocation as a security measure" and "a cautionary reaction to last year's attacks on America's facility in Benghazi," this impetuous proposal has "been called an egregious slap in the face to the Vatican."
The article referred to some previously conducted interviews. James Nicholson, a former U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, had told the National Catholic Reporter it was a "massive downgrade of U.S.-Vatican ties," it would turn "this embassy into a stepchild of the embassy of Italy," and it was "an insult to American Catholics and to the Vatican."
Another former ambassador to the Holy See, Raymond Flynn, told the newspaper it was "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." He went on to say the relocation wouldn't have any "diplomatic or political benefit to the United States."
It was fairly significant that a Democratic appointee, Mr. Flynn, and a Republican appointee, Mr. Nicholson, to the same post had remarkably similar thoughts. It provided an important window into what different factions within the U.S. Catholic community thought about Mr. Obama's proposal. (To be fair, Mr. Flynn, a former mayor of Boston, publicly endorsed two Republicans, Scott Brown and Mitt Romney, in 2012.)
Naturally, the liberal media thought otherwise. CNN quickly rushed to the president's defense. Dan Merica and Eric Marrapodi wrote in a blog post, "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." While CNN acknowledged prominent individuals such as Catholic League President Bill Donohue and Francis Rooney, a former ambassador to the Holy See, were opposed to the move, they found that Miguel H. Diaz, Mr. Obama's former ambassador to the Holy See, and Chris Hale, Mr. Obama's Catholic outreach liaison in 2012, didn't share their views.
Meanwhile, Joel Mathis of Philadelphia magazine brazenly declared that this brouhaha was caused by the "right-wing smear machine." In his oh-so-humble view, "Don't believe the (supposedly anti-Catholic president) hype, folks."
Although I'm neither Catholic nor Christian (nor religious, for that matter), I found this to be a disgraceful proposal.
The embassy maintains a small link to the Vatican, a recognized city-state, and serves a basic ceremonial purpose. The decision to move the building, whether it satisfied requirements or not, was completely unnecessary. It was also highly politicized, since it went after an issue that still means something to many U.S. Catholics.
The White House and the president's defenders also devised a poorly constructed defense of this proposed relocation. While I firmly believe in the security and safety of all democratic countries, there has never been a significant security threat to the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See. The Vatican is often regarded as one of the safest security zones in the world. Even the Nazis kept their distance from it during World War II for political, military and religious reasons, for goodness' sake.
Hence, the White House is simply trying to flex its muscles and pick unnecessary political and religious fights with various groups, individuals, countries — or, in the case of the Vatican, city-states. Mr. Obama, on the other hand, is stirring up the pot (again) for political and personal interests. This has been one of the defining factors of his weak presidency, and it's nothing he should be proud of.
You don't have to be a charter member of Mr. Mathis' "right-wing smear machine" to see that the president's proposal was foolish, misguided and politically charged. Mr. Obama should leave the U.S. Embassy to the Vatican alone.
Michael Taube is a former speechwriter for Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and a columnist with The Washington Times.