Italy and America’s Common Vision – Remarks to the Gruppo Esponenti Italiani

Italy and America’s Common Vision
Remarks to the Gruppo Esponenti Italiani
New York City - 9 January 2004

Thank you for your welcome and for your kind invitation to speak to you this afternoon. I want to acknowledge your President, Lucio Caputi — thank you Lucio for your work in organizing this event.

I’ve lived in Italy for nearly two and a half years now, and every day is a new adventure as I meet more and more of its creative and energetic people, discover yet another treasure-laden corner, and gain new insights into its complex and fascinating history.

My Embassy and my residence are located in Rome.  It’s a city that exudes vitality.  No one can escape its embrace – or would want to.  It is not surprising that after 25 years in Rome, Pope John Paul II has said he feels more a Roman than a citizen of Krakow. And Italy has reciprocated this embrace by recently recognizing the Pope’s contribution in promoting the Italian language throughout the world. And by the way, the Pope’s doing pretty well these days. I visited with him just before Christmas with some members of my family.  The Holy Father was interested in what they did and seemed to really enjoy interacting with them. Of course he has his health problems — but he’s got a strong spirit and a keen intellect that spur him on to continue his mission.

From my perspective as a “resident of Italy,” I believe that the U.S.- Italy bilateral relationship is strong, and growing stronger because our two countries share a common vision of a world rooted in freedom, justice, and prosperity.  Working from this shared vision, we are cooperating ever more closely to meet the political, economic, and military challenges of our times.  My good friend Mel Sembler never ceases to tell me what outstanding cooperation he has from Italy in the war against terrorism, in building a peaceful and democratic Iraq, in Afghanistan, and on a host of other issues.

With a large population and a high per capita income, Italy is one of the U.S.’s most important economic partners.  Last year, total trade between our two countries reached a robust 40 billion dollars.  Companies like those you represent here sold some $30 billion worth of goods and services to American consumers, and the amount of Italian investment in the U.S. reached almost $6 billion. The United States is the third largest importer of Italian goods — some 10 percent of Italy’s total exports.

In fact, the U.S. is a very lucrative market for many Italian companies — everything from luxury goods to agricultural products. Americans have a real love for the innovative, high-quality, well-designed products that are made in Italy.  (I can speak from direct experience on this score following a recent pre-Christmas shopping expedition with my wife and daughter.)  Italian entrepreneurs are world famous for their creativity, flexibility, and ability to expand contacts with like-minded American companies. The Italian businesses you represented here are the powerhouses that drive the promotion and sale of these products. Your presence and experience is therefore crucial. In a way you are all ambassadors for your country — economic ambassadors.

Both Italy and the United States share the belief that prosperity is key to a better world — a more secure world. Americans believe that strong economic growth in European countries is vital to our prosperity and security.  Italian businesses exporting to the U.S. play an important role in maintaining a healthy two-way economic partnership.

I have had the honor to serve as US Ambassador to the Holy See for more than two years now.  I can tell you that it has been, and continues to be one of the most fascinating experiences of my life.  Representing President Bush — the leader of the free world, to Pope John Paul II — one of the greatest spiritual leaders of our age — has offered me a unique vantage point to assess the moral challenges of our times.  In fact, our diplomatic relationship with the Holy See can best be seen as a partnership for the promotion of human dignity. Human dignity lies at the core of U.S. and Vatican aspirations for the world.  It is the primary goal of President Bush’s national security strategy, and it has been the focal point of Pope John Paul II’s pontificate.

While all U.S. Embassies share the goal of promoting human dignity, my Embassy’s focus on this issue differs in one fundamental respect:  our bilateral partner — the Holy See — is not your classic text-book nation-state. While it does have territory and internationally recognized sovereignty, the Holy See acts in the world principally as a religious and moral authority.  Its focus is not on the traditional interests of nation-states — political power, trade relationships, economic development or national defense — but on God’s truth about the human person and the advancement of human dignity through the active promotion of God-given human rights and freedom.

As we pursue this common goal of advancing mankind, the Holy See works through moral exhortation and appeals to conscience, while the United States acts as a nation state in the world, responding to the needs of the American people and operating within the geo-political framework of our time.  This combination of common goals and distinct but complimentary approaches creates an opportunity and a challenge that lies at the core of our work at the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See.

The opportunity arises from the Holy See’s global presence and reach and its distinctive ability to take action and shape world opinion.  As a result, we can work with the Holy See on a truly international scale to advance U.S. interests.  Consider these facts:  the Holy See has the second largest diplomatic representation in the world after the United States, with diplomatic missions reaching 174 countries. There is not a continent on which the Holy See is not actively and effectively present and engaged.

Worldwide, the Holy See speaks to over a billion Catholics. Catholic media spans the world and the media focus on the Holy See is intense.  When the Pope went to Toronto in the summer of 2002, there were more than 2000 accredited media. By contrast, when the G-8 was held in Western Canada a few weeks earlier, only 600 turned up.  The UN estimates that the church and affiliated organizations provide 25 percent of all care of HIV/AIDS patients worldwide, and the Holy See works actively to promote abstinence and fidelity to prevent the spread of this deadly virus.  The Pope has promoted peace, justice, freedom and human dignity during his 102 trips to 133 nations, traveling the equivalent of three times to the moon and back – that’s a lot of frequent flier points.

The Vatican is therefore NOT ONLY a font of ideas, information, and inquiry, but also a source of action on the world stage.  Over the last forty years, but with greater intensity during this present pontificate, the Holy See has sought to promote a foreign policy based on what the Pope calls the four pillars: freedom, truth, justice and love.  Working together with the Holy See, we have an opportunity to help advance the President’s stated goal of making the world “not just safer but better” by defending liberty and justice for all peoples.

In a recent book, former Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger observed that, “America’s ultimate challenge is to transform its power into moral consensus, promoting its values not by imposition but by their willing acceptance in a world, that for all its seeming resistance, desperately needs enlightened leadership.”  I share this belief.  Other nations need to be able to see that their interests are compatible with the goals we are pursuing, and that they can pursue their national identity in cooperation with the United States, and need not feel threatened by it.  We have no territorial ambitions.  We aspire to freedom and justice and peace, not just for Americans but also for all of God’s children. Our relationship with the Holy See, I believe, is ideally suited to this challenge of fostering a global moral consensus and promoting these universal values.

Our broad-based dialogue on human dignity advances a number of other common goals for a world of reconciliation and peace.  The short history of formal relations — established 20 years ago tomorrow — has proven that when the United States and the Vatican work together, good can be achieved.  I have a copy of my book recounting that history for each of you. Early on in the relationship, President Reagan, and his special envoy, General Vernon Walters, coordinated closely with Pope John Paul II during the Cold War, and their joint efforts provided the needed combination to bring down the Iron Curtain.  Peace in Mozambique can be traced to our efforts in Rome, as can progress in the Balkans, East Timor and the Sudan.

My own history with the Holy See began just two days after September 11.  When I presented my credentials to Pope John Paul II at Castelgandolfo on September 13, 2001 — two days after the attacks on the twin towers — the Pope told me that the terrorist attack on the United States represented an attack not just against the U.S. but also against humanity.  He implicitly acknowledged the need to meet this threat, and simply asked that we adhere to the high standards of justice for which our country is known and respected.


From that moment, the Holy See has been a strong voice against terrorism. Pope John Paul has consistently condemned the use of religion in God’s name to justify the violence and challenge to the rule of law.  In an address to an inter-religious conference last year he said, “I appeal to you, and to all men and women of good will, to join your voices with mine as I repeat that the holy name of God must never be used to incite violence or terrorism, to promote hatred or exclusion.” Just as important, the Holy See has been actively working to build bridges to the Muslim world through the Pope’s personal outreach and the Holy See’s growing inter-religious dialogue.  These efforts parallel similar efforts at outreach by the United States and Italy aimed at overcoming misunderstanding of Western societies and trying to build more open, tolerant, democratic and prosperous societies throughout the Muslim world.

This effort to foster democracy and tolerance is today very much focused on Iraq, where the United States and the Holy See are now working together to help build a democratic and prosperous future for the Iraqi people.  The period before the decision to go to war was a particularly intense time in our bilateral dialogue with the Holy See.  You may recall some media coverage at the time citing Vatican officials who presumed to speak for the Pope on the issue of war.  I think it is important to understand that yes, the Pope was against the war — he’s against all wars because he’s a man of peace — but he also consistently affirmed what the Church teaches about war — that sometimes it is necessary as a last resort, and that it falls to civil leaders to make the decision to use military action to protect their citizens and to maintain national and international security.  And while there was a difference of opinion over whether all peaceful means had been exhausted prior to the decision to go to war, I think that the view of Iraq’s Chaldean Patriarch best captures the current feeling of Catholics in Iraq.  He told me when I saw him last month:  “Thank you for freeing my country!”

The Pope’s profound understanding of the challenges posed by terrorism was reflected in his New Year’s “World Peace Day” message this year in which he observed that “the scourge of terrorism has become more virulent in recent years and has produced brutal massacres” that have increased global tensions and aggravated problems in many regions.  In pursuing what the Pope refers to as “the necessary fight against terrorism,” the Holy See has recognized — as the United States has suggested — that international law today “is hard pressed to provide solutions to situations of conflict arising from the changed landscape of the contemporary world.”  That is because current law is designed to deal with states, whereas today’s threats come primarily from individuals, groups, or criminal organizations — so-called “stateless terrorists” — that operate beyond the reach of state control.  To address this gap, the Holy See has called for a renewal of the international legal order akin to the post WWII renewal that created today’s institutions.  My Embassy welcomes this call from the Pope, and we are now planning to explore this issue in depth at a conference we’ll be putting on in Rome later this year.

While working together to deal with the threat of terrorism and to pursue peace in troubled areas of the world, we also maintain an active global dialogue on freedom of religion.  This is a real priority for both President Bush and Pope John Paul II.  We work actively to promote religious freedom in Russia, China, Vietnam, the Sudan, India, Saudi Arabia, and Cuba.  President Bush has spoken up for religions freedom with both Russia and China’s leadership.  Religious freedom is one of those values, one of those human rights that we both hold to be inviolate.  In his proclamation for last year’s Religious Freedom Day, President Bush said, “The right to have religious beliefs and to freely practice such beliefs are among the most fundamental freedoms we possess… the right to believe and express one’s beliefs in words and practice is a right that should belong to all people.”

We have an active dialogue on human rights on every continent. The United States recently sought the Holy See’s moral voice to condemn the summary executions and detentions in Cuba.  I’m pleased to report that the Holy See did indeed speak up, with us and with other nations that support freedom and democratic values against the arbitrary actions of the Cuban government.

In promoting human rights, we don’t just talk about them; we are also 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. In May 2002 we 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 to nuns who work with trafficked women in Italy, Romania, Albania and Nigeria.  The course will empower them with a renewed commitment and greater skills to combat this awful 21st century version of slavery. We stopped slavery once – it must be done again.  I am very proud of our country’s leadership on this.  President Bush spoke of it in great detail in his September 23, 2003 speech at the UN General Assembly.

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.  I believe biotech foods are an important part of the solution to the global problem of hunger.  Many European countries, including Italy, are either opposed to or uncertain about biotech foods — in part because of a lack of understanding about these products, in part because of a well-orchestrated campaign by special interest groups including the Greens and the no-globals, against them, and in part to protect their own farmers from competition.  Unfortunately, their economically motivated hesitations have affected attitudes in developing nations, especially in Africa, where such food could eventually be of most benefit. 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.

I was very pleased to report that in November the Vatican demonstrated its growing awareness of the moral implications of this issue by hosting an international conference to examine biotechnology in depth and from a scientific point of view – to seek the truth to bolster the moral case.  The conference’s deeper examination of the scientific facts regarding biotechnology — their safety and potential — appears to have strengthened the pre-existing belief among knowledgeable Vatican officials that biotech foods represent an opportunity for development for poor countries, and that it would be “a moral duty” to help expand its use.  I look forward to hearing more from the Vatican on this issue and hope they will share their insights with bishops and priests around the world to ensure they are better informed.  I truly believe that the use of agricultural biotechnology to fight hunger and disease is a moral imperative, and I am increasingly hopeful that the Holy See will come to the same conclusion.

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 have actively coordinated our efforts on the proposed UN convention on cloning to try to bring about a total ban on human cloning.  Unfortunately UN treatment of this issue was delayed for a year or two by a one vote margin this fall, but discussions are continuing here in New York on this issue and support is growing for a total ban thanks in part to our common efforts.

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.

Religious tolerance 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, the President’s deeds — in visiting a Mosque and hosting annual Istaar dinners at the end of Ramadan — have been a model for understanding and the acceptance of other religious views.  This effort finds echoes in the Vatican’s efforts where the Pope has observed that: “a society that really desires to be civil must cultivate an objective and impartial understanding of others … helping others to accept cultural and religious traditions that differ from our own.”

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 OK, that the freedom to possess these views is inalienable, and that one who doesn’t share your views is not a demon that deserves to be destroyed.

At the end of the day, I believe that this still young but maturing full diplomatic partnership between the United States and the Holy See, based on the primacy of the individual, and his freedom, will prove increasingly central to our ability to meet the many challenges of our time.  For today’s challenges are moral challenges, and they must be resolved with moral clarity and the ability to translate that clarity into action.  Working together, the United States and the Holy See can help build a world of freedom, hope and peace.  Already we have done much to elevate the human condition, but there is much more to do.  With faith and determination, we will continue to advance the cause of human dignity.

Thank you.