In the last days, there's been a frightening amount of misinformation and rumor mongering out there about the moving of the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See.
Mark Twain once suggested that misinformation can move around the world, "while the truth is putting on its shoes." That's apparently twice as true in Washington these days.
But here's the truth -- facts, not opinions or wild surmisals: the United States is moving the location of the Embassy to a building that is safer, bigger, and architecturally more appealing. It also is slightly closer to Vatican City.
Let me repeat that point: it's closer to Vatican City than the current location.
Why do I need to state these facts? Because some have actually suggested that the United States has been considering closing the Embassy, or downgrading its status. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Nothing. Not only does the United States continue to respect the Holy See as a crucial bilateral partner in promoting religious freedom, protecting religious minorities, advancing humanitarian causes, and mitigating conflicts around the world, but Secretary Kerry, our first Catholic Seceretary of State in more than thirty years, is personally inspired by the Church's work on issues from peace to global poverty, issues at the heart of Catholic social teaching.
So, if you hear or read misinformation, I hope you'll share the truth - the facts - with folks who may be on the receiving end of some false rumors. Here are the facts, and like they say, 'facts are stubborn things:' At the end of 2014 or early 2015, we will move the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See from its current location near the Circus Maximus in Rome to a U.S. government-owned compound less than two miles away. The new location, which also houses the U.S. Embassy to Italy and U.S. Mission to the United Nations Agencies, is actually closer to Vatican City than the current location. The historic and beautiful building that will house the future Embassy provides ideal and expanded office space for the U.S. diplomats who do the critical work of representing the United States to the Holy See. The future Embassy will be 78 percent larger than the current Embassy. The residence of the U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See will not change.
All three diplomatic missions on the U.S. compound will retain their distinct character and functions. Each will continue to have independently accredited ambassadors working in separate buildings. Each Embassy will have a separate street address and entrance. The Embassy to the Holy See will continue to operate independently from the other two U.S. Embassies in Rome. It will remain one of the largest foreign missions from any country accredited to the Holy See. We will not reduce our diplomatic workforce. At the same time, the Embassy to the Holy See will benefit from synergies related to collocation with the other U.S. government facilities and resources.
Security is our top priority in making this move. The State Department is working to implement all of the independent Benghazi Accountability Review Board (ARB) recommendations, to include a renewed call for U.S. government facilities to be collocated when they are in the same metropolitan area. The ARB followed a more specific 2008 recommendation by State’s Inspector General to move the Embassy to the U.S. compound. The relocation will enhance security for the employees and facilities of the Embassy to the Holy See, and for visitors to that embassy, in a manner that also happens to be fiscally prudent.
Based on many conversations with Vatican officials over the past several months, we are confident they not only understand the reasons for our decision, but appreciate that our design plan adequately accounts for the independent and separate identity of the mission.
We look forward to continuing and even expanding our high and positive levels of engagement with the Holy See from our future Embassy.
About the Author: Shaun Casey serves as Special Advisor for Faith-Based Community Initiatives at the U.S. Department of State.