Rome Bound?

VATICAN CITY — Mary Ann Glendon, a Harvard law professor and president of the Pontifical Academy for Social Sciences, has been nominated by President Bush as the new U.S. ambassador to the Holy See.

Assuming the Senate will confirm the nomination, Glendon will come to the position with impressive credentials.

In 1994, she began her work with the Vatican when Pope John Paul II appointed her to lead the Holy See’s delegation to the U.N. 4th World Conference on Women in Beijing — a conference that proved to be both pivotal and fruitful. She was later made president of the Pontifical Academy for Social Sciences, and also a member of the Pontifical Council for the Laity.

If confirmed by the Senate, Glendon will succeed Francis Rooney, who has held the post since 2005.

Born in 1938 in Pittsfield, Mass., Glendon taught law at Boston University and was a visiting professor at the University of Chicago, the Pontifical Gregorian University and the Regina Apostolorum University in Rome. She has been the Learned Hand professor of law at Harvard since 1993.

Her areas of expertise include human rights, comparative law, constitutional law and legal theory. She serves on the U.S. President’s Council on Bioethics, and is a consultant to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who is running for president.

Some say part of the reason Glendon wasn’t nominated before was that she was tipped to be named to the Supreme Court.

Glendon is the author of numerous books, including Abortion and Divorce in Western Law, Rights Talk: The Impoverishment of Political Discourse, and A World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. She also has three grown-up daughters.

In a statement issued Nov. 6, Glendon said she would be “especially pleased to follow in the footsteps of my fellow Bostonian, Ray Flynn, and all the other ambassadors who have so ably contributed to excellent relations between the United States and the Holy See.”

She added that she hoped her background and experience would “aid me in continuing the fruitful dialogue that presently exists between the United States and the Holy See on a range of international issues.”

U.S. Papal Visit

In comments to the Register Nov. 7, papal biographer and friend George Weigel said he felt Glendon would “bring a wealth of experience in international law and diplomacy” to the position.

“She is also personally acquainted with many of the leaders of the Church in Rome,” he added, “and she understands the singular ways of the Vatican, all of which will permit her to hit the ground running.”

To Catholic theologian Michael Novak, Glendon’s “ample experience” and many friends in Rome will enable her to begin “not only up to speed, but well ahead in her knowledge of the people and procedures of the Vatican.”

Weigel also pointed out that her reputation as a Catholic scholar of law and public policy “suggests the possibility of a deepening dialogue between the United States and the Holy See on some very basic issues of world politics today.”

Pia di Solenni, a moral theologian who was presented the 2001 Pontifical Academies Award by John Paul II for her work on developing an authentic feminism, told Zenit news service that Glendon’s appointment is a “wonderful recognition of the Catholic Church’s teaching that women have a role in every aspect of society. We are fortunate that someone of her abilities is able to serve in this leadership position.”

The news of her appointment has also gone down well in Rome’s diplomatic community.

Some senior diplomats — such as Hanna Suchocka, a former Polish Prime Minister and now Poland’s ambassador to the Holy See — already know her well (but refuse to comment on the nomination at this time). Others are impressed with what Glendon will bring to the position in terms of experience.

“It’s a very strong appointment,” one senior diplomat said on condition of anonymity. “She follows a long line of strong appointees from the United States, which is the most prominent of diplomatic positions at the Holy See. Their ambassador is the most powerful member of the diplomatic corps.”

He added that each new ambassador brings something new to the job, and Glendon “will come with the grammar” of knowing the Vatican inside out. He believes she will bring with her “a good track record” and “scholarly knowledge of Catholic social teaching and papal encyclicals.”

The diplomat, however, is sad to see Francis Rooney depart. “He and his wife have been very solid, genuine and sincere,” he said.

If confirmed, the 69-year-old law professor will arrive at the embassy at a time of unprecedented collaboration between the United States and the Holy See. In recent years, the two countries have worked closely on shared concerns, such as religious freedom, human trafficking, the Middle East, and combating HIV/AIDS.

But one of her foremost duties as ambassador will be to prepare the groundwork for Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the United States at the end of April. The Pope is scheduled to address the United Nations in New York and will possibly make a trip to Washington, D.C., and call on Congress and the White House.

Short Term?

The only possible shadow hanging over the appointment is that it may be short-lived. Ambassadors of the United States are political appointees rather than career diplomats, making their positions dependent on the president in office.

For this reason, some diplomats and observers believe her chances of surviving a possible Democratic president elected in 2008 look slim.

However, it’s not impossible that her tenure could be prolonged.

“An ambassador serves at the pleasure of the president,” said Novak. “It is possible she will be asked to stay on, at least for some time, but it is normal for a new president to choose a whole new set of ambassadors speaking with the voice of the new administration.”

Novak added: “When her duties for the president are acquitted, I am sure that professor Glendon will be eager to get back to Harvard, to the studying, writing and teaching that she craves.”

Edward Pentin writes

from Rome.