The United States Embassy to the Holy See has been the focus of a good deal of media attention lately.
Shortly after Ambassador Ken Hackett, who served for 40 years in Catholic Relief Services, presented his credentials to the Holy See, reports emerged that the embassy would controversially move from its original location to nearer the US Embassy to Italy. The State Department held a recent press conference to dispel “myths” regarding what some have criticized as a snub to relations with the Holy See.
In this, the second part of a Dec. 5th interview with ZENIT, Ambassador Hackett discusses the controversy of the Embassy’s relocation, his personal faith, and his hopes in his new role as the United States Ambassador to the Holy See.
ZENIT: The U.S. State Department and the US Embassy to the Holy See have been very clear on the reasons as to why they are moving the embassy. Some argue that there is not much of a difference in terms of budget, security or distance. What do you say to this?
Ambassador Hackett: If you look out the window, near the fence, that’s only 20 yards away. If I had a big rock, I could stand there and throw a rock right through this window. So from a security point of view, this is not an ideal situation.
So, there is a consideration from the point of view of security, in particular security following the situation in Benghazi. It was recommended by the Benghazi Accountability Board and by Congress to improve security. And that issue has been around for a long time, it goes back to the Bush Administration that there was a consideration to move.
The second situation is that you’re sitting in my big meeting room where we could fit maybe 12 people in here. This is not the most practical embassy for holding meetings. I have a luncheon this afternoon with a group of people who are going to talk about the Central African Republic and it’s at my house because I couldn’t fit them here. So we don’t have adequate meeting space.
It turns out that there was a building that was purchased maybe 5 years ago, and there is a whole section of it that is empty and that’s where we’re going to go.
We’re going to have our own entrance, our own signage, in a building that is ours with adequate meeting space. One of the myths, as the State Department noted, was that we were inside the Vatican and as you know there are no embassies inside the Vatican. So we’re not moving outside Vatican City, we’re already outside Vatican City. This will give us just a better working environment. An opportunity to convene more often, a larger space, lower costs, and increased security. Not a bad deal in my mind.
ZENIT: There were some that even spread the rumor that the United States was closing the Embassy to the Holy See.
Ambassador Hackett: ‘So, rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated!’ It’s just plain wrong, it’s factually incorrect. There is no decrease in budget staffing and engagement. In fact, I would just say the opposite. My presence here is an indication that there is a recognition on the part of the Obama Administration that would find somebody who ran a major Catholic organization, who knows people in the Vatican. So, I don’t see any downplaying, in fact, rather the opposite.
ZENIT: One issue that many Catholics have been talking about for some time is the HHS mandate. Are there any updates on that?
Ambassador Hackett: No, I can’t tell you anything more than you or your readers already know because it’s not in my brief. My brief is in terms of foreign policy of the United States and finding those areas of American foreign policy that we can work with the Holy See on. That is a domestic issue that I don’t engage nor engage the Holy See on. That’s left to the Bishops of the United States.
ZENIT: As a Catholic, do you find it difficult sometimes when matters of faith conflict with issues that are not on the same page as the current administration?
Ambassador Hackett: I look for the areas where my faith shows me opportunities to change the situation of the poor, and dealing with those people who are distressed and miserable. It is not possible to balance all aspects of my faith with every policy of any administration but I find many areas of convergence between my faith and the policy goals of the Obama administration on the issues of poverty and of those in need. So I look for the areas where I can find, deep in my heart, areas that I’m passionate about and it flows from my beliefs.
I also find that this openness that Pope Francis brings, of the Church being for all: it’s for everybody. And I find great warmth and inspiration in that view.
ZENIT: What is your hope in this new role as US Ambassador? What do you hope to contribute?
Ambassador Hackett: I would like to say that if my legacy would leave a script that says “He fostered a very positive relationship; he advanced the relationship between the Holy See and the government of the United States on a range of different issues”, I would be proud. I could go back to Florida retired and say “I did something.”
I think what I have been able to bring a little bit more of is my 40 years in working with Catholic Relief Services. I met really noble, wonderful people working in the Catholic Church around the world. The nuns way out in the bush running a clinic, the parish priest trying their best in southern Philippines, the bishop that was doing peace negotiations between rebels. And I met all these people and they offered me hospitality, friendship, often times a bed in their house, a meal. Now I find them here in Rome. They pass through, they come to visit. And so I want to restore those relationships that I developed in 40 years, some of them I haven’t seen in 40 years. As they pass by, I offer them a cup of coffee, a meal, a good conversation and a chance to discuss their issues. Often times, I know their issues because in my previous life I had to deal with their issues.
So it broadens the engagement of this Embassy with the [Roman] Curia offices, outside into the religious communities, and the other communities, the Caritas network, the movements and I feel comfortable in that environment. So I’m hoping I can foster that relationship as well.
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On ZENIT’s web page:
To read part 1, go to: