Vatican, U.S. Embassy Respond to Wikileaks

Cables from the U.S. embassy to the Holy See are contained in the latest Wikileaks revelations.

They report on a wide range of issues, including the Holy See’s reaction to investigations into clerical sex abuse in Ireland, internal Vatican communications, British embassy concerns over the reaction to Anglicanorum coetibus, and the Holy See’s approach to: Venezuela, the Copenhagen accord on climate change, and Poland and the E.U.. The cables also contain the Pope’s approach to Turkey and how he helped release 15 British Royal Navy sailors captured by Iran in 2007.

Although quite sensational, none of the details actually come as any real surprise. On the Iranian story, I reported at the time on the key role the Pope and Holy See diplomats played in securing the sailors’ release, but sadly such good news about the Pope or the Church rarely makes headlines in the mainstream media.

Having now read more of the material, however, some of the analysis could be useful to the Vatican. A memo dated 20th February 2009 contains a thorough and, as far as I can tell, accurate summary of the Holy See’s well known communications problems. Anyone tasked with reforming the Vatican’s press operation would do well to read it.

Fr. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, also comes in for some touching sympathy: “The poor man is terribly overworked,” writes the official. “[He is] literally moving from one office to the other over the course of the day. It’s a grueling schedule on good days, and debilitating during crises.”

One unusual aspect about the cables is that instead of directly consulting and quoting Vatican officials, as a number of other embassies in Rome do, the U.S. diplomats often appear to rely on information and views obtained from diplomats from other embassies or commentators in the press. 

The following are official reactions from the Holy See, and the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See. The British foreign office says it has a policy of not commenting on leaks.

Statement from the Holy See Press Office (11 Dec. 2010):

Without venturing to evaluate the extreme seriousness of publishing such a large amount of secret and confidential material, and its possible consequences, the Holy See Press Office observes that part of the documents published recently by Wikileaks concerns reports sent to the U.S. State Department by the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See.

Naturally these reports reflect the perceptions and opinions of the people who wrote them and cannot be considered as expressions of the Holy See itself, nor as exact quotations of the words of its officials. Their reliability must, then, be evaluated carefully and with great prudence, bearing this circumstance in mind.

Statement by U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, Miguel H. Díaz (11 Dec. 2010)

We condemn in the strongest possible terms the disclosure of what is alleged to be classified State Department information. We will not comment on the content or the authenticity of that information.

President Obama and his Administration have been advancing a robust foreign policy that focuses on promoting America’s national interests and leading the world in solving the most complex challenges of our time: from fixing the global economy, to thwarting international terrorism, to stopping the spread of catastrophic weapons, to defending human rights worldwide, as well as confronting climate change and safeguarding our environment. These are universal values.

The Embassy of the United States to the Holy See has engaged in ongoing efforts with the Vatican to turn interfaith dialogue into actions in many of these areas, for the sake of the common good.

In every part of the world, as at the Holy See, we are working with partners to pursue important aims. I am confident that the partnerships that President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and dedicated American diplomats have worked so hard to build will withstand this challenge.

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