Msgr. Pietro Parolin is the Holy See’s undersecretary for relations with states and one of the Vatican’s leading diplomats.

He is highly regarded by many ambassadors accredited to the Vatican for his diplomatic skills and peacemaking efforts around the world. He discussed Pope Benedict’s recent trip to the Holy Land, a possible papal trip to Northern Ireland, and the Vatican’s attitude toward U.S. President Barack Obama in the wake of recent editorials by the Vatican’s newspaper L’Osservatore Romano. (See story on page one.)

There has been some confusion about the mixed signals coming out of the Vatican regarding President Obama — that while U.S. bishops have strongly criticized his position on life issues, L’Osservatore Romano, for example, has been offering comparatively positive assessments of the administration. Why is this?

It’s very simple. It is true we don’t share many views with the present administration on bioethical issues, but, at the same time, the traditional policy of the Holy See is to try to always have open channels, to follow a policy of dialogue through which you can tell people you don’t agree on certain issues, but, at the same time, keep on with a dialogue. So this — in a few words — is the policy of the Holy See.

So bishops need to focus more on these internal issues, while the Vatican is more interested on international foreign-policy issues?

No, I wouldn’t say we’re not concerned about these decisions that have been taken by the administration. But this does not prevent us from having a dialogue with the administration.

Is this the reason for the generally positive comments from L’Osservatore Romano on the administration?

I don’t know, because I was absent at that time; I was in Jerusalem when L’Osservatore Romano wrote that article.

What fruits do you expect to see from the Holy Father’s visit to the Holy Land?

We have to let the seed grow. We need to give it time, but I think the visit was very positive. This is the general assessment of the Holy Father. I think the Holy Father said to everyone what he wanted to say, and it was a message of hope, looking to the future, and building trust between the parties. From that, we can start a new process of delivering peace. Then one can say the visit was successful.

We need time to see. I think the message the Pope gave is that we are a people of faith — Christian, Muslim and Jews. Faith is a resource to build peace, and we have to use these resources, which are inside each faith, to build peace.

And also have religions more directly involved in the peace process?

Yes, to take new resources, motivation and emphases on building peace from the convictions of faith among the different religions.

Do you agree that a papal trip to Northern Ireland would be a good way to draw attention to what could be achieved in the Middle East?

Yes, I’ve always said that it is a good example, a good model, and we hope they will follow it.

Also, the idea has been around for a long time: that the Pope could give an impetus to the process of peace in Northern Ireland and encourage the work that the local Church is doing.

Edward Pentin writes

from Rome.