Ambassador’s address to the John Carroll Society January 5, 2003

Washington D.C., January 5, 2003 

Your Eminence, Cardinal McCarrick, Archbishop Montalvo, Bishop Olivier, monsignors, priests, and family. Secretary Martinez and other distinguished guests. Officers, board members, members of the John Carroll Society, and guests.

Not far from here, at Georgetown University, there is a statue of bishop John Carroll. The inscription on the pedestal reads, “John Carroll, priest, patriot, prelate.” As a loyal son and pastor of the church and as a citizen of the newly declared republic, he combined in his person the very best of church and state: faith and patriotism.

Many of you know that Carroll was educated in Europe, became a Jesuit there, taught there and then fled from there when the Jesuits were suppressed. Returning to his native Maryland, he soon became involved in support of the American Revolution – along with his cousin Charles, who was a signer of the declaration of independence.

In 1776 when Benjamin Franklin and the continental congress tried to get the French Canadians to join their cause, they called upon john Carroll to help because of his reputation as a patriot. One member even noted that Carroll would be “worth battalions” on the mission to Canada.

Carroll’s mission to Canada failed, but his encounters with Franklin became important later when Catholics went looking for a leader of the church in America. The pope (Pius VI) and the American priests chose Carroll to be the first bishop, after discovering to their pleasant dismay, that president Washington, said through Franklin that who was to be bishop was the church’s business, and not the state’s. Washington added that this was what the revolution was about, freedom, including religious freedom.

It was probably no accident that a Jesuit was appointed to head the church in the new United States of America, for Carroll Jesuits and his contributed greatly to the life of the new country in the education of its citizens as well as looking to their spiritual well-being.

It makes you think of that old story:

A Franciscan and a Dominican were debating about whose order was the greater. After months of arguing, they decided to ask for an answer from God when they died. Years later, they met in heaven and decided to go to the throne of god to resolve their old disagreement. God seemed a bit puzzled about the question and told them he would reply in writing a few days later. After much deliberation, God sent the following letter:

My beloved children, please stop bickering about such trivial matters. Both of your orders are equally great and good in my eyes.
Sincerely yours,
God, S.J.

I wanted to preface my discussion this afternoon with John Carroll’s story because it touches on what I consider to be two central elements of American society — faith and patriotism — they are the source of our national strength and dynamism. They inform and shape our relations with the world. The values they inspire — freedom, democracy, and human dignity — are also at the heart of our relationship with the Holy See.

As the U.S. ambassador to the Holy See my job is to represent president George W. Bush, to Pope John Paul II. In a nutshell, we have two great powers: one temporal, one spirited with a great underpinning of moral values in common. My job is to explain and advance the interests and policies of my government to theirs.

Obviously one does not have to be a Catholic do this, but for those who are, the Vatican and the city of Rome contain so much that resonates with one’s faith — the history, architecture, art, sacred rituals and traditions.

Speaking now as a Catholic, I can say that my time in Rome has enhanced my appreciation for both the universal nature of the church and the international character of its hierarchy. The Pope is Polish as you know; the Secretary of State is Italian; the Deputy Prime Minister equivalent is an Argentine; the Foreign Minister equivalent is French; the Prefect of the Papal Household is American; the Governor of Vatican City is American. The Holy See or Vatican, terms which we use interchangeably, is a sovereign state, with its own bureaucracy, diplomatic corps, post office, newspaper, radio station, train station, and security force. Its government is organized into what we could call cabinet departments; they call them dicasteries. They have one for every need. There is even one for saints.

Parenthetically – it is a good time to become a saint: from the beginning to Pope John Paul II there were 296 saints. Since Pope John Paul II, 465 have been canonized, four of which were U.S. citizens.

I have mentioned the longevity of the church. I was reminded of this recently when a member of the curia sent me a copy of a speech the pope had given talking about the “five wounds of the church”, which the article summarized as: infidelity on the part of some clergy and laity; the ongoing persecution of Catholics; the challenge of Islam; the scandal of disunity between Christian churches; and the indifference of secular authorities to the value of faith and religion in modern society. While some, but not all of this, may sound like an accurate summary of the challenges facing today’s church, the pope writing it was not John Paul II… It was Pope Innocent IV at the first Council of Lyons in 1245!

Now speaking again as the U.S. Ambassador, I must say that over the past 16 months in Rome, I have also come to appreciate more fully the importance of the diplomatic relationship between the United States and the Holy See. Far from being a matter of formal representation — though there is a great deal of that — our embassy to the Holy See is vital to the promotion of a wide range of American interests. This is so because the Holy See is an influential partner, with a global reach, and a distinctive ability to take action and shape world opinion.

Example: At Yalta, Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill in a discussion over how to divide up Europe after WWII.
Roosevelt: “Should we consult the Pope?”
Stalin: ” The Pope, How many divisions does the pope have?”
Pius XII was later told this story, and mused: “he will meet my divisions in eternity” 

The Pope doesn’t have divisions, but consider the following:

  • The Holy See has the second largest diplomatic representation in the world after the United States, with 174 diplomatic missions.
  • There is not a continent on which the Holy See is not actively and effectively present and engaged.
  • There are over a billion Catholics worldwide. Catholic media spans the globe and the media focus on the Holy See is intense. For example, when the pope went to Toronto last summer, there were more than 2000 accredited media. By contrast, the G-8 held in Western Canada had only 600.
  • The UN estimates that the church and affiliated organizations provide 25 percent of all care of HIV/AIDS patients worldwide.

Despite this, some people still question why we should have full diplomatic relations with the Holy See. Former special envoy, Henry Cabot lodge answered that question once by telling a story: lodge, who represented president Nixon at the Vatican, told about a friend of his, a Muslim diplomat at the holy see. Lodge had asked his friend why his government thought it was worthwhile to maintain a big mission at “a place which did not seem to concern him very much.” The diplomat replied: “we don’t want to miss anything.” After a year and a half, I have seen a great deal, and try every day to be sure I don’t miss anything.

The Vatican is a font of ideas, information, debate, inquiry, collaboration, and diplomatic activity. At our embassy, we don’t have to sell trucks or helicopters or deny visas. We can concentrate on classic diplomacy with a bilateral partner who is not a contestant for political or economic power. Secretary Kissinger wrote in his recent book, does America need a foreign policy, that: America’s ultimate challenge is to transform its power into moral consensus. That is what we do everyday in Rome: moral diplomacy. Our common goals are typically broad in scope, and often require long-term solutions. While the united states and the holy see may sometimes disagree on the means to achieving our goals, we fundamentally agree on what we are seeking for the world: we are seeking together to elevate man – to give man a life of freedom, justice, well-being, and peace.

When our first ambassador, William A. Wilson, presented his credentials to Pope John Paul II in April, 1984, he said, “the principles on which our republic was founded, and which continue to guide our national life, are principles which closely parallel those of the Holy See.” While the road to the full diplomatic relations we enjoy today was long, there is no doubt that today’s multifaceted relationship is of great value to both the United States and the Holy See.

The success of this now eighteen-year old full diplomatic relationship rests upon a foundation of common principles, shared values and spirit of goodwill — the same principles that inspired John Carroll upon the founding of our country — respect for freedom, democracy, and the inalienable rights of man.

This is the starting point for our broad-based dialogue on human dignity through which we are advancing our common goals for a world of reconciliation and peace. But relationships are not only dialogue, but also a path to action on specific problems and areas of cooperation.

For example, on the issue of terrorism, the United States and the Holy See have an active role. From the time of the terrible attacks on September 11th, the Pope has been a strong and consistent voice against terror and against the use of God’s name to justify such acts. I met with the Pope two days after 9-11 and discussed the attacks. He told me he had been grieving over what had happened, and praying about it, and concluded that this was not an attack just on the United States, but against all mankind. He expressed his hope that this terrible event would awaken in the hearts of all “a firm resolve . . . to combat everything that sows hatred and division within the human family.”

As you all know, President Bush, being the man of faith that he is, called for a national day of prayer in the days after September 11, and included representatives of all major religions in the U.S.

The Pope did the same last January when he called a day of prayer for peace in the world. Held in Assisi, Italy, religious leaders of all stripes came from all over the world. At Assisi, the Pope made clear that “all religious people and communities should in the clearest and most radical way repudiate violence, all violence, starting with violence that seeks to clothe itself in religion.

The short history of formal relations has proven that when the United States and the Vatican work together, good can be achieved. Early on President Reagan, and his special envoy, Vernon Walters, coordinated closely with Pope John Paul II during the cold war and their joint efforts unarguably led to the downfall of communism. Peace in Mozambique can be traced to our efforts in Rome, progress in the Balkans and East Timor.

We are now working together for a just solution to the crisis in the Middle East to restore regional stability, guarantee security for Israel, and provide for the establishment of a state for the Palestinian people.

Our dialogue on dignity also encompasses freedom of religion; we are working actively with the Holy See to promote religious freedom in Russia, China, Vietnam, the Sudan, and Cuba. When Russia this past year denied Catholic bishops and priests visas for entry, we, the U.S., including President Bush himself, engaged multilaterally, just as he has done in China. Religious freedom is one of those values, those human rights that we each hold inviolate.

Beyond religious freedom, we have an active dialogue on human rights on every continent. But we don’t just talk about human rights; we are working with the Holy See to promote them. For example, human trafficking is one of the most clear and grievous assaults on human dignity of our time, with as many as four million human beings being traded as sex or labor chattels annually. My embassy has put considerable effort and resources into combating this scourge, working in partnership with the Holy See to develop prevention and rehabilitation strategies. Last May we co-sponsored a very successful international conference with 400 participants from 35 countries to focus attention on this problem. Out of this conference has come a project to provide anti-trafficking strategies and skills for missionary nuns who come to Rome for post-graduate studies or renewal, and who will return to their countries, with a new found commitment and the skills to combat this awful 21st century version of slavery. We stopped slavery once – it must be done again.

We also work closely with the Holy See in response to humanitarian emergencies. This has led to an increasingly active dialogue on the benefits of U.S. biotech foods, also called GMO food. You are aware that in recent months, the Zambian government refused to feed its starving people U.S. food that had been delivered to their warehouses, free. It was rejected because it was grown in the U.S.A., and might be the product of genetically modified seed. This is the same food that you and I eat every day. No one has ever had a stomachache or allergic reaction to it. We ate it here today I assure you.

Last June there was an international food summit in Rome. It concluded that over 800 million people go to bed hungry in our world each night! This is unacceptable to countries with compassion for the human condition such as the U.S. and the Holy See. The pope recently wrote to the world food summit that the church would “…continue to support all who work to ensure that every member of the human family receives adequate daily food.” The United States provides 70% of all the food to the world food program to feed the starving.

I believe GMO foods are an important part of the solution to this global problem. Many European countries, for various reasons, not the least to protect their own farmers, are opposed to GMO foods and this has affected the attitudes in African countries, including Zambia, obviously. These positions are not based on sound science. Nor are they in the interests of hungry people, and I am doing all in my power to get the Vatican to wade in more forcefully with all of its moral authority. This is an important political issue to be sure, but it is a vital moral issue — a life issue — and we want the Vatican to join us in the forefront in allowing our food to be as acceptable to the world’s hungry as it is to us.

In a related but different vein, our partnership with the Holy See extends into other scientific issues such as the consequences of genetic engineering on humans, particularly the use of embryonic stem cells and cloning. We actively coordinate our efforts on the proposed UN convention on cloning to ensure a total ban on human cloning.

The Holy See also joins its moral voice with ours in opposition to racism, anti-Semitism, and other forms of discrimination. For example, the Pope has joined us in strongly condemning the resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe.

Intolerance is an area where our values also mesh for the good of mankind. As you know president bush has spoken forcefully on this subject, saying: “I reject religious intolerance because faith is defined by grace and hope, not fear and division”. Even more importantly than words, his deeds have been a model for understanding and the acceptance of the other fellows religious views. Similarly, the Holy Father said in a speech last June that: “a society that really desires to be civil must cultivate an objective and impartial understanding of others … this has inestimable value, helping others to accept cultural and religious traditions that differ from our own. These are significant and sincere overtures of toleration, demonstrating the kind of inspired leadership that both the President and the Pope bring to this “ultimate challenge” as Henry Kissinger described it.

This, it seems to me, is the challenge of our time, and arguably the two most important figures on the world stage, between whom this ambassador is the interlocutor, are both saying the same thing. We must convince the radical elements of certain faiths that religion is not a zero sum game. That diverse views are okay, and the freedom to possess these views is equally important, that one who doesn’t see it the same way is not a demon, who deserves to be destroyed.

As I have said, while we don’t agree on everything, this young, but maturing full diplomatic partnership between our two countries, based on the primacy of the individual, and his freedom, is good reason for hope in the world. I am optimistic. Much has been done to elevate the human condition, certainly much remains to be done.

Let me close by saying, today is the Feast of the Epiphany, in Italy it is a time of the year to exchange gifts, giving witness to the gifts the Magi gave to the infant Jesus. Today I want to give you all a gift on your way out to celebrate epiphany. I have for you a copy of my recent little book on the history of this diplomatic relationship that I have been talking to you about today. If you want to exchange gifts, yours can be a prayer for the success of our mission and our goal: peace and dignity.

Thank you and God bless America!