Thursday, December 1, 2011

Embassy closings in Rome?

John Allen of NCR (inspired by the Irish decision) reports that it seems "Vatican diplomacy" or the presence of resident ambassadors to the Holy See in Rome may be on the way out  [see: Last Embassy ] at least as far as Western powers are concerned and I quote:

"Among the traditional Western powers, however, the mood is somewhat different.
In recent years, Western ambassadors have quietly complained that it has become more difficult to engage the Vatican on international issues, and that Vatican diplomacy appears to be passing through a period of retrenchment.
Vatican diplomats today, they say, are highly focused on issues of religious freedom and anti-Christian persecution, but sometimes less interested in other matters. Some diplomats point to perceptions that the Vatican was not keenly engaged on Libya in the same way it had been on earlier conflicts in the Balkans or Iraq under John Paul, as an example.
Moreover, these diplomats say, the sexual abuse crisis has created a political environment in which critics of funding missions to the Vatican can wield powerful new ammunition.
“Because of the crisis, people in my government who have always questioned why we have an embassy here are much bolder,” a senior Western diplomat told NCR in mid-November. “To be honest, I’m not sure how much longer we can hold out.”

In other words, someone among Allen's sources would have Ireland as a trend setter. That may be, but the three points offered above for closing embassies are pretexts for starting the closings with the Holy See and no more. Secular diplomacy has been changing or in flux for decades. A goodly number of ambassadors find themselves functioning not even as goodwill emissaries for their countries but as commercial attaches, working hard to bring the balance of trade into line or into their home country's favor. I can remember a German colleague working hard to recruit honorary consuls; he explained to me that they represented essentially what his government wanted: a trade representative, someone with the financial means to carry his own expenses, who has the pull needed to look after German citizens in difficulty with the law. Some countries go with experts as ambassadors. Upon my arrival in the Caribbean, many of my colleagues had backgrounds in law enforcement and surveillance of drugs and arms trafficking. Two non-Europeans of the sixteen ambassadors who presented their credentials with me here in Kyiv are nuclear experts, here to learn from Ukraine's long term experience on managing a nuclear accident (read: Chernobyl). There is hardly a European anywhere who does not complain about budget restrictions: no receptions or dinners for some, seeking sponsors for cheese and wine for another, and a friend who had to fill out a requisition form in triplicate in order to get a new mop bucket for his kitchen.

The economic crisis moved the Council of Europe to curtail the summit diplomacy of ministerial meetings which are otherwise so much the trend: G8, G20, is there still a non-alligned group? I'd love to call someone's bluff and find out just where this pullback on international issues by the Holy See has taken place. No, what has changed is not traditional Vatican diplomacy but rather the priorities and values of others. Could that mean closings? Yes, in the sense of a goodbye to the way things have been done with the sending and receiving of permanent emissaries now for a good five hundred years. One can only hope that the powers that be do not withdraw entirely from the sort of engagement which through direct personal contact has quite often fostered mutual understanding and promoted the cause of peace in the world.

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