I had thought that diplomatic disputes with the Vatican were more something out of The Tudors than the modern world. To the Vatican Caroline Kennedy might as well be Anne Boleyn. Her prospects of being appointed ambassador to the Vatican are not doing any better than her previously considered appointment to fill Hillary Clinton’s Senate seat. The Telegraph reports that the Vatican has blocked a possible appointment as ambassador due to her support for abortion rights and embryonic stem cell research.
Not being an expert in such diplomatic matters, this raises a number of questions in my mind. I’m aware of cases of diplomats being recalled because of alleged infractions such as espionage. Is it common for nations to block ambassadors who do not share their beliefs? The Vatican might not like it, but support for both abortion and embryonic stem cell research is the position of the Obama administration and both are legal in this country. What if the Vatican were to also demand an ambassador who believes in creationism instead of evolution?
What of other areas where countries disagree with the views of appointed ambassadors? Do Muslim nations object to non-Muslim ambassadors from the west? Should we go along if one were to insist that we only appoint an ambassador who opposes the existence of Israel?
During the cold war it would have been ludicrous for Communist nations to reject western ambassadors who did not support Communism. Imagine if the Chinese had refused overtures from Richard Nixon to begin diplomatic relations because Nixon and his potential ambassadors were not Maoists.
My suspicion is that this is primarily an issue for the Vatican and not for most other countries. I wonder how they handle ambassadors from other countries. Do they scrutinize the religious beliefs of ambassadors from Muslim countries? What did they do with ambassadors from Communist countries which officially supported atheism and opposed any free expression of religion?
There are many practical considerations and the Obama administration might find it necessary to find an ambassador who is acceptable to them both for diplomatic reasons and out of concern for domestic politics. My gut feeling (which I understand should not necessarily be followed by those actually in power) would be to continue to stand for principle and appoint ambassadors who share our values of respecting a woman’s right to control her own body and support for scientific progress, even if the Vatican opposes our values.
While I understand that there might be reasons for compromise, personally I see no more reason why we should appoint an ambassador to the Vatican who opposes our values than we should be forced to appoint an ambassador to a middle east Muslim country who opposes the existence of Israel or to a socialist country who supports free market principles. Shouldn’t the purpose of an ambassador be to represent our views and keep open lines of communication, not to echo the views of the host nation?