Sunday, April 26, 2015

Diplomacy and the Petrine Ministry

Over a year ago now (here and here) I wrote two pieces on Vatican diplomacy, let us say, more properly speaking dealing with the diplomatic activity of the Holy See vis-a-vis "diplomacy" as it is commonly defined. I mention them, because they garnered more attention than most other blogposts I have written over the years. Actually, to those two pieces I prefer my own sequel writing to the piece on the three pillars of diplomacy (here), making the point about the supremacy of truth and Christ's Kingship. Just recently again, I shared with my readers my fear that there is something less than deliberate, insufficiently pondered, about the way the Holy See goes about plying the diplomatic trade (here). Again, not long ago, this skeptic repeated his insistent cry that in troubled times and for extreme situations we need to get beyond diffidence in the face of evil and aggression, if we as Catholic Church want to be of service in building up the edifice of diplomacy, which owes much to the Holy See, diplomacy seen as something noble, contributing to world order and the common good (here).

Undaunted by my observations, one or the other vaticanista continues to throw around the word diplomacy, applying it to countless things, as if it were some sort of wonder ointment or balsam, that if rubbed in with enough determination could become the cure-all for what ails our world and the Church. I am just as uneasy about this enthusiasm as I am about the malaise in which we find ourselves; I am saying that things are not good, but this is far from the worst of times. The point being that you can't claim that there was such a thing as a golden epoch of Vatican diplomacy, which perhaps peaked under Cardinal Casaroli and proceed from there to call just about anything and everything which doesn't go or plain fails a "martyrdom of patience", dispensing with a thorough-going analysis of the problem and the admission of errors of judgment, of failures, and perhaps, of the need for a radical course correction (if given the possibility) in order to address certain problems straight on.

In the literature one reads that Pope St. Pius X wanted very much to redirect the mission of the apostolic nuncios away from the purely secular and classically diplomatic. Granted, the diplomat is not a preacher and even for the Holy See diplomacy as it is practiced around the world today must also seriously take into account the work of a papal nuncio when he's "doing diplomacy", if there is such an expression. Nonetheless, as a papal legate, the nuncio's mission is two-fold. That other type of legation, which commands most of his time and talent, is that of being the Pope's representative to the Catholic Church in the country or region where he is accredited (note my intentional omission of ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue from the constellation solely for reasons of length). That is indeed a form of legation, but it is not diplomacy in any sense of the term generally defined. The overarching term then is that of "legation" and not "diplomacy". Diplomacy is and must remain firmly in the temporal sphere, political even. Legation does not escape that sphere but is open enough to be used in the service of the Pope as the successor of St. Peter, in his Petrine ministry. The content of the Petrine ministry was defined essentially by Christ in the Gospel as the work of "strengthening the brethren", the brethren being first and foremost the successors of the Apostles.

The only ambassadorial Letters of Credence I have ever seen are those of a nuncio, in thirteen cases now those being my own. They are signed by a monarch, the Pope who sometimes is writing to another monarch or maybe to the president of a republic. These Letters announce the sending of someone who has the sender's trust to act in his name, extraordinary and plenipotentiary. I guess there may be occasions where some nuncios or some ambassadors still do handle in that fashion, as if the head of state or in my case the Holy Father really wanted me to stand in for him and get done on the level of the extraordinary whatever it is that needs to be done. But the world has changed a lot even since when, as a young diplomat, I went to Kigali, Rwanda in 1985. Back then, ordinary communication depended almost entirely on the exchange of reports and dispatches written and sent by diplomatic pouch. The Holy See never went in for those big radio or satellite operations, the relic of which (a rusting giant motorized satellite dish) is still standing in front of the closed building of the former US Embassy here. Granted, by 1985 the pouch exchange no longer took place by slow boat but by airplane, but even so, it was a far cry from the continuous and instantaneous cabling done by my ambassador colleagues today. Back then, you had to go to the central post office and send a telegram if the matter was urgent and there was need of consultation; otherwise, and seemingly rightly so in the logic of things, you were on your own as plenipotentiary. Not that many years ago, legation and in the narrower sense diplomacy were exercised with a measure of personal responsibility on the part of the plenipotentiary, but no more.

The question arises then why the ongoing financial and personal outlay, why continue spending so much for the biggest item in the budget of the Holy See next to the communications ensemble presently facing rationalization and reform, as we read in the news from the Vatican? Diplomacy being what it is today, many small countries are able to economize on diplomatic staff and buildings by relying on honorary consuls, usually native to the country where they serve and invariably ready to pay their own way in exchange for the honor of serving as consul. Part of the reason the system works is that in secular diplomacy, whether in the hands of professional or honorary protagonists, the activity carried on has much to do with economics and trade. Even cultural exchanges between two nations, language programs or student exchanges can be worked out through the system of honorary consuls. It is debatable whether you really need someone on the ground for diplomatic work, taken in its most restrictive definition. Other ways can be found to organize visits by high-level delegations. Even in times of crisis, it would be hard to claim that for most countries the embassy staff has more to do than cover logistics for the shuttle diplomacy of foreign ministers, premiers and presidents.

Times have changed too for the Holy See. It used to be that every nunciature had a throne room ready for a papal visit, which was at that time unthinkable. I remember one of my nuncios joking about a house renovation which eliminated the throne room, just as Pope St. John Paul II started traveling. In bygone days trips by curial cardinals were few and far between, usually timed for the sunset years of a pontificate and aimed at making His Eminence better known to other cardinals outside Rome, who might be potential electors in the next conclave. It would be hard to fathom otherwise the reason for the invite to Cardinal Pacelli to come and bless the Brooklyn Bridge. No, today the Cardinal Secretary of State and the Secretary for Relations with States are on the road an awful lot because that is how secular diplomacy works; they have to be present abroad after the manner of their secular counterparts.

Basically then, if the Holy See can be said to conform to the common usage when it comes to the strictly diplomatic, it is hard to see why the need for nunciatures. One needs to keep the notion of legation and the nuncio's service to the Petrine ministry then in view. Here too, if the conciliar principle of subsidiarity is ever to find application, as more desirable than concentrating the power to make decisions in Rome, then either you give the nuncio more possibility to work things out locally or you withdraw the nuncio in favor of the local Church and its exercise of responsibility in communion with the See of Peter.

While leaving discernment concerning the ways and means of proclaiming the Gospel of Christ in our day to others, I cannot help but be a bit impatient about the Holy See's diplomatic policy on many issues, which seems less than energetic and decisive. I only ask if the structural dynamics of how legation is carried on could not be improved through change. How can the Holy See be a player in what is strictly diplomatic? Does the present legation structure best serve the Petrine ministry in its efforts to "strengthen the brethren"? There is linkage between the two questions, but please, dear vaticanisti, the fundamental category is legation and not diplomacy.

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