Institutions Politics

U.S. move of Vatican embassy draws fire

"The U.S. Embassy to the Holy See Relocation" map courtesy U.S. Department of State.
"The U.S. Embassy to the Holy See Relocation" map courtesy U.S. Department of State.

“The U.S. Embassy to the Holy See Relocation” map courtesy U.S. Department of State.

(RNS) The United States will move its freestanding Vatican embassy into a larger government compound that includes the U.S. Embassy to Italy, a shift that has drawn criticism from former U.S. envoys.

Security and cost savings were behind the move, as the State Department estimates it will save $1.4 million a year by moving from the current building.

It will not downsize any embassy personnel, a State Department official told reporters Monday (Nov. 25). At the time, the official did not have total budget information of both embassies at hand. The U.S. Embassy to the Holy See has seven U.S. diplomatic personnel, and the U.S. Embassy to Italy has 63 diplomatic personnel.

The relocated embassy will be 0.1 miles closer to the Vatican, putting the distance at about 1.9 miles between the two.

Former U.S. Ambassador James Nicholson called the move a “massive downgrade” in U.S.-Vatican ties, turning the Vatican embassy “into a stepchild of the embassy to Italy,” in an interview with the National Catholic Reporter.

Former U.S. representatives to the Vatican — Francis Rooney,  Mary Ann Glendon, Raymond Flynn, Thomas Melady — also objected.

In the past, the Vatican has insisted that countries maintain embassies to the Holy See and to Rome in separate locations, but it hasn’t protested the U.S. relocation. The State Department official said that while the embassies will be located on the same compound, the Vatican embassy will have separate entrances.

The Vatican is a landlocked sovereign city-state whose territory consists of a walled enclave within the city of Rome. It is the smallest internationally recognized independent state in the world.

The safety of embassies have been a concern since the 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya. The U.S. has multiple embassies in places such as Brussels and Vienna.

The official residence for the ambassador to the Holy See will not change.


About the author

Sarah Pulliam Bailey

Sarah Pulliam Bailey is a national correspondent for RNS, covering how faith intersects with politics, culture and other news. She previously served as online editor for Christianity Today where she remains an editor-at-large.


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  • First Obama backs the Moslem Brotherhood, and Coptic Christians are attacked en masse. Then he draws a red line on Chemical Weapons use in Syria, and backs down. Next he approves a very bad deal with Iran, threatening our allies and especially the Holy Land’s security. Christians, Jews and all other religions are targets of terrorists and are being eliminated from the Middle East. Ukraine goes with Russia. Afganistan is lost, and Iraq has fallen apart as has Libya. Now, the Administration insults a very progressive Pope Francis, by degrading the Vatican. This is not America speaking. It is a growingly tyranical Leftist American Government………. This is the opinion of a Liberal Democratic Party Jew.

  • Obama has always tried to downgrade the Catholic Church. When he spoke at Notre Dame he ordered all religious statutes covered and Notre dame complied, I think they feel he is the second coming of Jesus. He is against the Church on Abortion, Gay marriage, embryonic stem cell study. and contraception payments for women,. Now he intends to move the Embassy from the Vatican to further embarrass the Church. How any Catholic can support him is mind stretching?

  • Pope Francis, who is being hailed by many in the world for his views on the economy, has set an example for us by diminishing many of the “bells and whistles” from lavish-spending “official” positions in the Vatican. Saving millions of dollars a year by frugally moving the location of the embassy, the U.S. has actually honored the Pope’s call to eliminate the squandering by the wealthy when there are so many living in poverty. What difference could it possibly make to the diplomatic demands of the Vatican and the U.S. if the embassy has made a cost saving move? But it will make a difference to the U.S., certainly to the many of its citizens who live below the poverty level.

  • This church in recent years have used their status to obtain immunity in sex abuse cases claiming head of state. These scum bags should be sent to granted immunity

  • Mr. Gill, the readers might guess at what your second sentence is stating, so we can focus only on the first. What are you trying to say here?

  • Mr. Pucci, I suggest that ND’s compliance with Obama’s wishes, assuming this incident is true, is more a condemnation of ND itself than of Obama. Can anyone tell us why the university even saw fit to invite him as commencement speaker, given what everyone knew for quite some time the ideological perspective he has?

    Many of the Catholic colleges and universities in this country are anything but Catholic, just as most of the Democrat leadership in DC, allegedly Catholic, are anything but. And we’ve heard virtually nothing from the bishops of the dioceses in which these Democrats live nor from the bishop of DC where they work.

    American hierarchs will not fight. We must remember that they “fled the world” in many respects, and it might be asking too much of them that they stand up for the principles they claim to stand for.

  • Gill, this time your statements are a little clearer. The Church is not a nead of state; the pope is. If you want to go after the pope for the failings of some of his “staff,” the bishops as heads of dioceses, perhaps we should go after Obama for what the IRS staff members have done to interfere with the last election.

    If you trouble to read the info available, you’ll find that priests and bishops are being hauled into court for abuse coverups these days. You’ll also find that bishops are more quickly taking decisive action these days and reporting abusers to civil authorities.

  • Rev. Okray, I suggest to you that the move of the embassy will do nothing for the poor in this country. Equally to the point, it is demonstrable that four decades of social engineering in this country has done nothing to improve the lot of the poor. There is not a single program that can be singled out as having accomplished its goal–in almost half a century!

    Could it be that the programs themselves are poorly structured and poorly administered? Could it be that the programs are not even designed to accomplish anything more than add thousands of union members to the federal payroll, thereby making Democrat candidates at election time more likely to win?

    Did you know that the DC and surrounding counties in Maryland and Virginia are the wealthiest in the country, that the federal workers are the people living there and earning high incomes?

    Some food for thought.

  • The President did not so order Notre Dame and Notre Dame did not so do. Why do people feel they have the right o be dishonest about this president?

  • Kurt, anyone who did a bit of reading or listening in the campaign of 2008 would have learned what we could expect from Obama as president. You only needed to have read his record as an Illinois state legislator to realize that his skewed sense of values is inimical to most Americans. Perhaps you didn’t do this and relied on the mainstream media alone .for your information.

    Bear in mind, too, that on the very day of Obama’s inauguration, Tom Brokaw admitted that he and we knew very little about Obama. That, however, didn’t prevent his own NBC and the other liberal media from endorsing the man and continually finding fault with the GOP candidate.

    I suspect that all the above is news to you. You are not alone. That is true for a majority of the voters in the last two presidential elections.