Profile: US ambassador seeks to 'build bridges' with Vatican
By Alan Holdren, Rome Correspondent
Ambassador Miguel Diaz speaks with CNA at his home on Jan. 19
Rome, Italy, Jan 20, 2011 / 04:37 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- America’s ambassador to the Holy See says the two sides are working to rebuild trust following the leak of alleged diplomatic cables that caused embarrassment late last year.
“What brings us together is far, far, far more than what sets us apart, and I want to focus on that," Ambassador Miguel H. Diaz told CNA in a wide-ranging interview at his hilltop residence in Rome Jan. 19.
Ambassador Diaz said that during his 16 months in Rome he has seen “significant signs that show the ongoing commitment of this President, the White House, and our government in general to fostering and deepening this relationship.”
He said the scandal of the alleged U.S. diplomatic cables, released on the website WikiLeaks has not affected the Vatican-U.S. working relationship.
According to an analysis by CNA, more than 700 cables from the U.S. embassy to the Vatican were among the 250,000 State Department cables obtained by WikiLeaks.
To date, only a handful of them has been released. But some of those have proven embarrassing, including one in which a U.S. embassy staffer poked fun at the “poor communications culture” in the Vatican and another in which Vatican Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone was described as “yes man.”
The WikiLeaks affair has been a bump in the road in an otherwise easy and low-key relationship between the Vatican and the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama, during his first two years in office.
Ambassador Diaz is credited with running a smooth diplomatic operation — especially considering that prior to this he has had no previous diplomatic experience.
The 47-year old Cuban-American was a professor of theology at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University in Minnesota when the call came from the White House in May 2009, five months after President Obama was inaugurated.
Reportedly, he was not first on the list for the position. However, the president’s top choices had to be rejected because they favored abortion or embryonic stem cell research — positions that would have made their appointment appear to be a snub to the Vatican.
The U.S. Senate confirmed Ambassador Diaz in August 2009, and since then he and his wife, also a theology professor, have been living with their four children in the ambassador's residence atop Rome’s Janiculum Hill.
When Pope Benedict XVI received Ambassador Diaz for the first time to accept his credentials, he did so warmly. But he made a point of emphasizing the Church’s differences with the U.S. administration.
“I think particularly of the need for a clear discernment with regard to issues touching the protection of human dignity and respect for the inalienable right to life from the moment of conception to natural death, as well as the protection of the right to conscientious objection on the part of health care workers, and indeed all citizens,” the Pope told the new ambassador.
Despite broad disagreements on basic policies, Ambassador Diaz said he is focusing on the values and the interests the two sides share.
"I think it's important to recognize that there are differences,” he said. “But I think it's important not to be paralyzed by those differences. The things that we have in common far exceed the things that divide us," said Ambassador Diaz.
As the ninth U.S. ambassador, Diaz said he is really "standing on the shoulders" of the "giants" that have gone before him.
Unofficial relations between the two states go back to the birth of America, when President George Washington assured Pope Pius VI that the Pope would have full freedom to appoint bishops in the new land. [i]
It would take until President Ronald Reagan in 1984 for the U.S. to establish its first official embassy here. At that time, it was widely perceived that the U.S. president saw the Vatican and then-Pope John Paul II as an important ally in the fight against communism.
The embassy recently celebrated its 27th anniversary. Ambassador Diaz has as a staff of 19 — a formidable presence for promoting U.S. foreign policy at the world's smallest state.
"The size is really inversely proportional to the scope of influence," said Ambassador Diaz. “You can't just think of the Holy See as boxed with the Vatican City walls. We have to think of it as this vast network."
Since his Senate confirmation hearings, Ambassador Diaz has spoken of his vision for the embassy as one of “building bridges.”
And he has pursued that strategy during his 16-month tenure. He has worked diligently to build relationships not only with Vatican officials, but also with the wider institutions of the universal Church — pontifical universities, religious communities, even hospitals, non-profits and humanitarian agencies.
The embassy has sponsored several high-profile meetings to highlight areas of mutual interest.
An embassy-sponsored conference in 2009 brought professionals to the city to raise awareness of the need to stop mother-child transmission of AIDS. The embassy co-sponsored a concert with the Church aid agency Caritas to raise money for Haitian earthquake victims.
An embassy-sponsored conference at the Pontifical Gregorian University last October encouraged members of different faith traditions to come together in "building bridges." At the event, the director of the White House's Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, Joshua DuBois, gave the keynote address.
But Ambassador Diaz said much of his diplomatic work is done in one-on-one conversations — what he called "diplomacy at the table" during luncheons and dinners, and "targeted diplomacy" with Vatican contacts through more formal channels.
The issues of concern to the U.S. and the Vatican are broad and far-reaching.
"One of the greatest challenges,” he said, was how the “human family” is going to “reconcile” its “incredible diversity” of religions and cultures. This diversity, he said, “increasingly threatens to tear us apart.”
On that note, Ambassador Diaz called Pope Benedict’s annual speech to diplomats Jan. 10 “ambitious.”
The Pope used strong language to condemn religious discrimination and persecution around globe, especially in the Middle East, North Africa and China.
"The task of building bridges is essential if we are to bring about reconciliation and peace, and if we are going to tackle ongoing problems such as the trafficking of persons and basic violations of human dignity — including violations for persons to exercise a right to religious freedom," Ambassador Diaz said.
He sees a "bridge-building" opportunity in Pope Benedict's call for world religious leaders to gather in Assisi next October to pray for peace. It is fitting that such an encounter should take place in the birthplace of St. Francis, whose name is associated with peace and reconciliation.
In an "interconnected" world, St. Francis’ message that all things are tied together is important, Ambassador Diaz said. The day of prayer called by the Pope has the potential to "do what religion is intended to do — bring people together and not drive them apart."
"In this interdependent world, civic leaders cannot act alone, no nation can act alone, and the contribution of religious leaders is essential in the building of peace, the defending of human dignity, the fight against any type of abuse. And certainly the religious leaders have a central role to play in that outgoing, noble task," Ambassador Diaz said.
He identified ending human trafficking and promoting education and migration issues as the embassy's top priorities.
"There are so many different areas that wherever the dignity of the human person is violated, that persons … and organizations associated with the Church can help," he explained.
"I think that's where the effective work of building those bridges and defending that dignity would come in, the day-to-day exercise of this relationship."
He does not downplay the continued differences between the U.S. and the Holy See on issues such as abortion, embryonic stem cell research, the homosexual lifestyle, and the promotion of condoms for AIDS prevention.
No diplomatic relationship finds both sides seeing eye-to-eye on every issue, Ambassador Diaz noted. "That's the ideal, the ideal will never be there."
He prefers to concentrate on his responsibility as President Obama's personal representative to the Holy See.
"As a person of integrity, I would not be sitting here if I did not believe that there was a significant convergence in my ability to carry out this duty here at the Holy See,” he said. “I'm defending the dignity of human persons in different ways. I am building bridges. And these are fundamental tenets of this administration and fundamental tenets of who I am as a person.”
He would like his time as ambassador to be remembered as one in which U.S. foreign policy and the common interests of the Holy See were united "to advance the common good of the human family."
"If I can do that, even if it's just in little ways, during my tenure here, then I'll call it a success,” he said. “I'll be happy that I did my job, which is to answer the call — certainly of President Obama and of my country, to serve it — and also the call of the human family and the Church to advance the common good."
[i] THE PAPACY
Exerpt from A. T. Jones’ 1895 GC Sermon
[N.B. In the last half of the 19th century signs were multiplying that the Second Coming of Jesus Christ was near. Then came those famous words of Ellen G. White, that “We may have to remain here in this world because of insubordination many more years, as did the children of Israel, but for Christ's sake, His people should not add sin to sin by charging God with the consequence of their own wrong course of action.” (M-184-1901) Note highlighted pages below about the conditions that are ripe for the triumph of the papacy.]
to the words of the pope [Leo XIII] in his encyclical as published in the
Catholic Standard of
We have now resolved to speak to you separately, trusting that we shall be, God willing, of some assistance to the Catholic cause among you. To this we apply ourselves with the utmost zeal and care, because we highly esteem and love exceedingly the young and vigorous American nation in which we plainly discern latent forces for the advancement alike of civilization and Christianity.
of the landing of
Like as the ark of Noah, surmounting the
overflowing waters, bore the seed of
further of the landing of
Now, perchance, did the fact which we now recall take place without some design of Divine Providence. Precisely at the epoch when the American colonies, having, with Catholic aid, achieved liberty and independence, coalesced into a constitutional republic, the ecclesiastical hierarchy was happily established among you.
That is to say, just when liberty and independence were gained and this nation started, the ecclesiastical hierarchy of the Catholic church was also started in this country. The two things belong to the same time; that is what he is pointing out.
Another point upon that is thus made:
And at the very time when the popular suffrage
placed the great
These expressions are not put in there without a purpose. The papacy intends that the Catholic church shall be recognized as the American church henceforth. Again I read:
The well-known friendship and familiar intercourse
which subsisted between these two men seems to be an evidence
In another passage, after stating what the bishops did in their synods and by their decrees, he says:
Thanks are due to the equity of the laws which
constitution as it reads was made for the direct purpose of opposing
It is impossible for the magistrate to adjudge the right of preference among the various sects that profess the Christian faith without erecting a claim to infallibility which would lead us back to the church of Rome.
So to keep the people of the country from the domination of the church of Rome, they said in the constitution, the government must never have anything to do with religion. But Leo has discovered that that lack of opposition in the constitution is the church's best hold, her greatest opportunity.
For the church among you, unopposed by the constitution and government of your nation, fettered by no hostile legislation, protected against violence by the common laws and the impartiality of the tribunals is free to live and act without hindrance.
And she is acting without hindrance. Now I am not saying that the constitution should be in such shape that Congress could legislate against the papacy. Not at all. The surest safeguard against the papacy is the constitution as it is, but under the circumstances she is making that the surest means to the dominance of the papacy. Leo continues:
Yet, though all this is true, it would be very erroneous to draw the conclusion that in America is to be sought the type of the most desirable status of the church or that it would be universally lawful or expedient for state and church to be, as in America, dissevered and divorced.
Although the church has prospered under this constitution and has here the finest chance and prospect of any place on the earth, that is not to be taken as evidence that it is better to have the church and the state separate. Oh, no, because before he gets done with this paragraph, he teaches that they shall be joined. Here are his words:
The fact that Catholicity with you is in good condition, nay, is even enjoying a prosperous growth, is by all means to be attributed to the fecundity with which God has endowed His church, in virtue of which, unless men or circumstances interfere, she spontaneously expands and propagates herself, but she would bring forth more abundant fruits if, in addition to liberty, she enjoyed the favor of the laws and the patronage of the public authority.
It is not enough that she shall be free and unmolested; she must be favored and supported before she is satisfied, and although the constitution leaves her totally unfettered, that is not enough. And although she prospers under it, that is not enough. Nothing can satisfy but that she shall be supported and favored by the laws and the public authority.
Now as to the establishment of the apostolic delegation, that is, the position of Satolli, hear his words upon that. They are full of meaning, too:
By this action, as we have elsewhere intimated, we
have wished, first of all, to certify that in our judgment and affections,
establishment of Satolli's position here, he
proposes, and says by that, that America today, the United States, occupies the
same place, and has the same rights as other states, however mighty and
imperial they may be--as Austria, Spain, France--any of them, even as is said
in this dispatch which appeared in the Lansing,
Michigan, Republican of
The papal rescript
Yes, "a Catholic country," as much so as any other state, "be it ever so mighty or imperial!"
In addition to this we had in mind to draw more
closely the bonds of duty and friendship which connect you and so many
thousands of Catholics with the Apostolic See. In fact, the mass of the
Catholics understood how salutary our action was destined to be; they saw,
moreover, that it accorded with the usage and policy of the apostolic see. For
it has been, from earliest antiquity, the custom of the Roman pontiffs in the
exercise of the divinely-bestowed gift of the primacy in the administration of
do the pontiffs send legates? To missionary countries?
No. To Protestant countries or peoples? No. To heathen countries or peoples and nations? No. to "Christian nations and peoples." How did the
papacy find out that this was "a Christian nation" to which she could
send a legate? Why, the Supreme Court of the
Legates. . . . who, supplying his [the pope's] place, may correct errors, make the rough ways plain, and administer to the people confided to their care increased means of salvation. . . . His authority will possess no slight weight for preserving in the multitude a submissive spirit.
Then telling what he will do with the bishops and how he will help them and preserve their administration and diocesan affairs, it says this is all done that all "may work together with combined energies to promote the glory of the American church and the general welfare."
It is difficult to estimate the good results which will flow from the concord of the bishops. Our own people will receive edification, and the force of example will have its effect on those without who will be persuaded by this argument alone that the divine apostolate has passed by inheritance to the ranks of the Catholic Episcopate.
Another consideration claims our earnest attention.
All intelligent men are agreed and we ourselves have with pleasure intimated it
he is watching
Now it is our wish that the Catholic church should not only share in but help to bring about this prospective greatness. We deem it right and proper that she should by availing herself of the opportunities daily presented to her, keep equal step with the Republic in the march of improvement, at the same time striving to the utmost, by her virtue and her institutions, to aid in the rapid growth of the States. Now she will attain both these objects the more easily and abundantly, in proportion to the degree in which the future shall find her constitution perfected. [That is, the church's constitution.] But what is the meaning of the legation [that is, Satolli's position] of which we are speaking? or what its ultimate aim, except to bring it about that the constitution of the church shall be strengthened, her discipline better fortified?
the whole situation laid out. The church sees herself
in need of a new formation, a new molding of machinery and of the framework by
which she carries forward her work and imposes her doctrines and dogmas upon
the peoples of the earth. The
Now to the mind of Leo XIII so receptive to the
broad and fruitful ideas of Cardinal Gibbons, of Monsignors Ireland and Keane,
I must read a few more statements and
make a few more comments. I read from the Catholic Standard of
There is an
awakening, a metamorphosis, uneasiness and hope. The tradition is that in
The idea is suggested there that nobody knows what the answer will be. Now he tells:
What we do know is that a world is in its death agony.
Is it not time that Seventh-day Adventists knew that thing full well too? The papacy knows that the world is in its death agony. do you know that? If you know it, is it not your place to tell it to the world, as well as it is the place of the papacy to tell it to the world? What has God given us this message for all these years but that we may show that the world is in its death agony and that we may tell the people so, that they may turn to the Author of life and be saved when the agony brings the last result? The papacy knows this, and she is acting in view of it. I will now read the rest of the sentence:
What we do know is that a world is in its death agony, and that we are entering upon the night which must inevitably precede the dawn.
Of course we are. "Watchman, what of the night? Watchman, what of the night? The watchman said. The morning cometh, and also the night."
Continuing I read:-
In this evolution, the church, in the eyes of the pope, has a mission to fill.
This is in view of the times to come. What is she looking for? A world in its death agony. All nations uneasy, society racked, everything going to pieces as it is. The papacy sees all that is going on and expects it to go on until the finish, and out of the agony and the tearing to pieces that comes with it, she expects to exalt herself once more to the supremacy over the nations, as she did of old. And she is going to do it; we know that. The Scriptures point that out.
She sees precisely what we see. We see the world in its death agony. We see society racking itself to pieces. We see thrones trembling. She sees that too, and she proposes to exalt herself upon what comes through all this at the end. We see that coming. We know she is going to do it, for her triumph comes out of this death agony. She gains new life herself and then glorifies herself upon it, living deliciously. . . .saying in her heart, I sit a queen and am no widow and shall see no sorrow. Therefore shall her plagues come in one day, death and mourning and famine. And she shall be utterly burned with fire, for strong is the God who judgeth her.
Are we not, then, in the very whirl of events that brings that thing before the whirl shall stop? We are in it; the whirl is going on. What are we here for but to tell the people that the world is in its death agony and to call upon them to flee to Him who is the life of all?
Has not the papacy had experience in
just that thing? Has not the papacy seen, practically, the world once in its
death agony? The
That is her tone. That is what she is watching for, and God has opened this up to us in the prophecies that are before us and he wants us to call to all the people that the world is in its death agony. She raised herself upon the ruins of the death agony of the Roman world, and after the pattern of her old experience, she proposes to do the like thing now. She will succeed; that is certain. And it is likewise certain that her success will be her certain ruin, and therefore, "Come out of her my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins and that ye receive not of her plagues."
"To be ignorant of history is always to remain a child" - Cicero