Quantcast

«

»

Dec 05 2011

Unreasoning awe

One from the “how did I miss this?” file – Tony Blair is gobsmacked that it was government policy not to appoint a Catholic as ambassador to the Vatican.

The former prime minister tells a BBC Northern Ireland documentary – to be broadcast from Wednesday 17 February – that the policy of banning Catholics from the post was “stupid”, “ridiculous” and “discriminatory”.

Really? Is it discriminatory not to appoint a lobbyist for cigarette manufacturers to a health-related job? Is it discriminatory not to appoint a murderer to run a domestic violence shelter?

Has Tony Blair never heard of the concept “conflict of interest”? The question answers itself; of course he has. Yet the idea that Catholicism might be an interest in that sense appears to leave him dazed with wonder.

In 1917 the Foreign Office issued a memorandum saying that Britain’s representative at the Vatican “should not be filled with unreasoning awe of the Pope,” and the post had been filled by a non-Catholic until Mr Campbell’s appointment.

[T]he ambassadorship to the Holy See became vacant and I said ‘Francis would be a great person to do that’ and they said ‘Well you know this, prime minister, but actually we don’t really have this open to Catholics’ and I honestly thought I misunderstood what they were saying.

“I said ‘How do you mean? We’re talking about that Embassy, the Vatican one’. They said ‘Yes, I know, but not a Catholic there.’

“I said ‘It’s the Vatican, the Pope, he’s a Catholic. You mean we actually as a matter of policy… say you can’t have a Catholic?’ I said ‘What is this? It’s the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard’.”

Well if he was really that baffled and stunned, he was being remarkably thick. “The Vatican” is a Catholic thing, just as the mafia is Their Thing. “The Vatican” isn’t a country, it’s the headquarters of the Catholic church. Yes, sending a Catholic ambassador to the headquarters of the Catholic church would be a stupid thing to do, because the ambassador would risk being too deferential to the Vatican. It’s extraordinary for Tony Blair to claim not to be able to take that in.

Mr Blair added: “Can you imagine we say for years and years and years the one category of person we shouldn’t have as ambassador to the Holy See is someone who shares their faith?

“I don’t think that is very sensible – not in this day.

“Quite apart from being discriminatory, how stupid is it? So Francis was the first.”

Yes, we can imagine it, because that is the one category of person you shouldn’t have as ambassador to “the Holy See” – and that’s why: it’s because it’s a theological entity, therefore an ambassador of the same religion would not be disinterested, to put it mildly.

Blair always does this absurd pretend game that religion has no actual content and that it therefore can’t possibly be a reason for caution or criticism or rejection. He pretends that his own Catholicism is just a matter of going to church with his family, as if it had no more substantive meaning than seats on an airplane. He shouldn’t do that.

61 comments

Skip to comment form

  1. 1
    InfraredEyes

    I wonder if he can understand why ambassadors to the USSR were never themselves communists?

  2. 2
    Steve

    Of course there shouldn’t be an ambassador to the Vatican, let alone an embassy because it is not a state:

    http://www.newstatesman.com/religion/2010/09/vatican-italy-holy-state

  3. 3
    cpt banjo

    I’m not sure just what an ambassador to the Vatican is supposed to do, aside from following the instructions of his government. If one doesn’t do his job due to being overly solicitous of the Church he can be easily replaced.

    Suggesting that the ambassador shouldn’t be a Catholic because he’ll be too deferential to the Vatican reminds me of the objections made during the 1960 presidential election, when people were urged not to vote for Kennedy because of the belief that he would take orders from the Pope and place his religious obligations ahead of his duty to his country. The objection was silly than and it’s silly now.

  4. 4
    Ophelia Benson

    No, it wasn’t silly then. In reality Kennedy wasn’t a very observant Catholic, so (as far as I know) it turned out to be not much of an issue, but that wasn’t just self-evidently true. It never is.

    It’s too easy to say that if a Catholic ambassador to the Vatican doesn’t do “his” job due to being overly solicitous of the Church “he” can be easily replaced. One, the effects of the undue deference wouldn’t necessarily be as obbvious as just not doing the job. Two, replacing an ambassador is not particularly easy.

    It’s just stupid to choose someone for a particular job who has a built-in bias that would interfere with doing the job well.

    By the same token, you don’t want Catholic priests on a panel investigating child rape in the Catholic church. You don’t want nuns on a panel investigating Irish industrial schools. Etc.

  5. 5
    Shatterface

    Sorry, but you are WAY off the mark here.

    The idea that all Catholics are mindless automata operated by the Pope is demonstrable untrue if you look at the divisions WITHIN the Catholic Church, now and historically. You only need to look at the history of Britain’s persecution of the Irish to see this as being rooted in bigoted Protestantism. Its pretty obvious that most British Catholics don’t, for instance, subscribe to the Church’s view on contraception, or on sex before marriage, and most don’t even attend church.

    Normally you are a voice of reason but this is an apalling line of ‘reasoning’. Would you argue a Jew couldn’t be ambassador to Israel, or a Muslim to Pakistan? Or how about Catholics to Catholic countries like Italy or Spain?

    I’ve no time for Catholicism but to say Catholics should be banned from ambassadorial positions is as apalling as banning them from being PM, working in hospitals, etc.

  6. 6
    Shatterface

    I should add I’m from an Irish family of ‘mixed’ (e.g. Catholic and Protestant) decent and am familiar with arguments even from my Protestant grandfather’s side that Catholics could not be truly ‘British’ as they ‘cannot serve two masters’.

  7. 7
    Shatterface

    By the same token, you don’t want Catholic priests on a panel investigating child rape in the Catholic church. You don’t want nuns on a panel investigating Irish industrial schools. Etc.

    If this were about appointing Catholic priests or nuns to the Vatican you might have a point but it is a law against Catholics

    Would you ban Catholic police from investigating chilld abuse, or Catholic social workers from investigating industrial schools?

  8. 8
    jamessweet

    The question in my mind is whether there is a policy against appointing immigrants from nation X as the ambassador to nation X. If not, then this does seem like a special exception and I can see Catholics finding it offensive. If there is such a policy, then I just sort of see this as a natural extension of that. Granted, you don’t “immigrate from Catholicism to the United Kingdom” or anything, so it’s not perfectly analogous. But the same concerns about divided loyalties would apply.

    But if there would be no concern about, say, an immigrant from France being the French ambassador, then I don’t see how you can say there’d be a concern here.

  9. 9
    Ophelia Benson

    Shatterface, I know about the anti-Catholic history of the UK – and the US, for that matter.

    But I think you’re mixing categories here – religion and, to use a word I’ve never liked, ethnicity. By “Catholics” I don’t mean notional Catholics who are “Catholic” because they’re Irish or Polish – I mean real Catholics, observant Catholics, loyal Catholics. To be sure, maybe that wasn’t what Blair’s people meant, in which case he might have a point.

    Anyway, sure, I know that many Catholics don’t agree with the pope on everything, but that doesn’t really address the problem, because how is one to know?

    This isn’t a matter of being an ambassador to a real country, it’s a matter of being an ambassador to Catholicism, basically. Yes, I think for that you need someone who is not already there.

    Note that I didn’t say “Catholics should be banned from ambassadorial positions” – that would be ridiculous, and as you say, appalling. I don’t consider the ambassadorship to the Vatican a genuine ambassadorship, because the Vatican is not a genuine country. It’s a peculiar, special thing – and a rather sinister thing at that. Yes, I think if anyone is going to do it, it should be an outsider not an insider.

  10. 10
    Ophelia Benson

    James, the reason it’s not the same is that the Vatican isn’t a country, it’s (the headquarters of) a church. It’s not like French:France; it’s not the relationship between citizens or emigrants and nation, it’s the relationship between believers and religion.

    That’s why the Vatican shouldn’t be a state and shouldn’t have ambassadors. The whole thing is an anomalous mess.

  11. 11
    Ophelia Benson

    Would you ban Catholic police from investigating child abuse, or Catholic social workers from investigating industrial schools?

    I would at least have concerns about it. Wouldn’t you? Wasn’t that exactly the fucking problem in Ireland? Everybody sided with the church and hardly anybody sided with the victims. This is well known – this is why the horrors went on for so long. The victims couldn’t get a hearing – nobody would listen to them – they were told to shut their filthy mouths about the priest.

    The US Supreme Court is now mostly Catholic – I think it’s 6 of the 9. It’s mostly taboo to talk about that here, but a few people have pointed out how worrying it is.

    The US Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote some of the health care legislation last year. I don’t want that.

  12. 12
    skepticlawyer

    It is common in Britain to design institutions so as to avoid conflicts of interest, but to make any avoidance mechanisms informal (there was no law, just an internal civil service memorandum). This system perplexes and annoys Americans, who prefer decisions to be made in the open, on transparent grounds. That is why Britain has a professional, neutral civil service, while in the US, when those at the top change politically, it is ‘all change’ for much of the civil service, too.

    Both systems have their strengths and weaknesses. British governments tend to achieve their manifesto aims (which is why, until Labour lurched rightwards and became ‘New Labour’, one always knew, instantly, whether one was living in a country governed by Conservative or Labour – the two were very different from each other when in power). American presidents don’t achieve much of what they promise, and are forced to compromise. This can lead to very good government (Bill Clinton), but can also create stalemate (Obama).

    As someone who is also of ‘mixed’ parentage in the same way as Shatterface @7 (the mixedness, I suspect, is the source of my atheism – there is nothing quite like sectarianism swirling around one’s family and education to produce atheism quick smart), I can see why the civil service had the policy they did, and why American mainline protestants and secularists would be concerned at 6 out of 9 judges on the SCOTUS being Catholic. The civil service policy is a relic of more religious times in Britain, and has less valency now (except, perhaps, in Glasgow and Northern Ireland), but in more religious America, where people seem to feel their religious attachments with much greater intensity than do Europeans or Brits, 6 from 9 is a concern.

    That probably sounds sectarian. Which makes me feel rather awkward.

  13. 13
    Shatterface

    But I think you’re mixing categories here – religion and, to use a word I’ve never liked, ethnicity. By “Catholics” I don’t mean notional Catholics who are “Catholic” because they’re Irish or Polish – I mean real Catholics, observant Catholics, loyal Catholics. To be sure, maybe that wasn’t what Blair’s people meant, in which case he might have a point.

    Now you are redefining the word Catholic to suit your purposes. The law isn’t against some hypothetical group of Catholic extremists, its against Catholics, period.. If this was about Opus Dei infiltrating the diplomatic service you might have a point but like most anti-Catholic laws in the UK it is simply based on historic prejudice. This isn’t a secular law designed to prevent a conict of interest its a hangover from hundreds of years of Protestant rule.

    Anyway, sure, I know that many Catholics don’t agree with the pope on everything, but that doesn’t really address the problem, because how is one to know?

    How do I know my mate Yusef isn’t a homophobic misogynistic suicide bomber? Because actually I need more than his nominal religion before I make wild assumptions based on what he put on his census form. Since the majority of Catholics pick and chose which religious edicts to follow (e.g. contraception, sex before marriage) the fact they might attend a Catholic church for weddings and funerals doesn’t licence me to assume they are rabid papists.

    This isn’t a matter of being an ambassador to a real country, it’s a matter of being an ambassador to Catholicism, basically. Yes, I think for that you need someone who is not already there.

    Like it or not, the Vatican is a legally constituted state and it isn’t going to go away simply because you deny it, any more than Israel is going to go away just because its neighbours don’t recognise it.

    Note that I didn’t say “Catholics should be banned from ambassadorial positions” – that would be ridiculous, and as you say, appalling. I don’t consider the ambassadorship to the Vatican a genuine ambassadorship, because the Vatican is not a genuine country. It’s a peculiar, special thing – and a rather sinister thing at that. Yes, I think if anyone is going to do it, it should be an outsider not an insider.

    If a Catholic is a Vatican insider then you are agreeing with my grandfather’s family that he must be an outsider as far as his/her Britishness is concerned. Thanks very much but you don’t get to decide who’s British or not. And just how outside Catholicism should the ambassador be? A conservative Anglican is virtually Catholic.

    And leaving Britain aside for a moment, what about Catholic majority countries like Ireland, Italy or Spain? Do you think their majority populations cannot be patriotic? That they should choose ambassadors from non-Catholic minorities? How is Britain so vulnerable that someone from a Catholic minority is unsuitable for the role yet a Catholic from a Catholic majority country can represent their country’s interests?

  14. 14
    Eric MacDonald

    Shatterface, you seem to me to be missing the point. Of course, if there is no choice but to appoint a catholic that is what would happen, especially in catholic majority countries. But the person chosen should not be prominent in the church in his own country. If we are going to have diplomats at the Vatican — though that itself should be questioned — they should be professional diplomats of some sort, who can distinguish between their duty to their country and their commitment as catholics, if that is what they are. The best thing would be to appoint non-catholics, for they will have less trouble making the distinctions.

    The more important question is why the Vatican should be recognised as a state, and why a church should have diplomatic representation in different countries, and why countries should be represented diplomatically in the Vatican. This puts the church in a very powerful position to affect public policy in countries around the world, which is unhealthy. The separation of church and state is implicitly violated by the role of the Roman Catholic Church as a pseudo-state. And whatever the international custom of recognising the Vatican as a state, it is inconsistent with the normal understanding of what constitutes a state. And when we recall how the Vatican came to be a state, constituted as such by Mussolini as a sop for the loss of some of the papal possessions in Italy, there are all sorts of reasons why this should be revisited. The Vatican along with the OIC has played a very negative role in conferences where the issue of birth control and population growth has been addressed, and where women’s issues are being discussed. That the Roman Catholic Church should, as a quasi-state, have this power is very regrettable. That any diplomat from England or any other country should not be able to act in ways that limited this power because of their membership in the church would be a conflict of interest of serious proportions.

    However, as to the unwritten rule that representatives from the UK to the Vatican should not be catholics, that makes perfect sense, and Tony Blair, if he couldn’t see the point, is an idiot. I rather tend to that view myself. The fact that, as a crypto-catholic, he had his own conflicts of interest, means that he was willfully deceiving himself. When you consider his role in Iraq, committing the British to a war in which Britain had no interest, mainly, I suggest, because he was a Christian, and so he an Bush could see so easily eye to eye, and if you’ve ever listened to him speak about religion, the man is a religious fanatic with a very unrealistic idea of what the character of religion realy is. How anyone, at his age, could consciously buy into even a small portion of the Catechism of the Catholic Church simply staggers the imagination. But he did it, infallibility and all. That takes a level of self-deception, I think, that really raises questions about Blair’s competence as a human being, let alone a prime minister.

  15. 15
    Shatterface

    The US Supreme Court is now mostly Catholic – I think it’s 6 of the 9. It’s mostly taboo to talk about that here, but a few people have pointed out how worrying it is.

    Britain isn’t the USA. You talk about religion and ethnicity as if they are the same thing but that’s more true of America than Britain. An American might maintain he/she is Irish American because their great great grandfather was Irish. They’ll march and wear shamrocks and sing shanties in defiance of the Black and Tans as if they’ve just got off the boat. And they’ll vote for someone who they think shares a common ancestry.

    In Britain we’re assimilated within a generation. Aside from a fondness for Guinness on St Patrick’s Night I don’t display any ‘ethnicity’ at all, and neither do my Catholic relatives. There’s no question among ourselves that we are British.

    So no, I don’t agree I’m confusing terms here.

    Like Skepticlawyer I atribute my atheism to my ‘mixed’ heritage. If you are presented with two equally implausable and mutually incompatable belief systems it isn’t a great intellectual leap to think that if one of them logically must be wrong there’s no reason to assume either is correct. But seeing older generations refuse to sit together because of ridiculous assumptions about patriotism – one side actually declaring themselves loyalist made me as contemptuous of those who wish to marginalise Catholics as it did of religion itself.

  16. 16
    sailor1031

    it irks me to no end that nations insist on treating RCC Inc. as just another nation. It isn’t a nation- the UN itself only grants RCC Inc. ‘observer’ status. It’s a corporation which, by virtue of a shady deal with a long-dead fascist dictator binding only on the signatories, exists in a space where it is not subject to any laws. This disgraceful state of affairs needs to be challenged and recognition of the vatican withdrawn by all nations. Then there wouldn’t BE any ambassador to the vatican to worry about.

    BTW if Blair said it I don’t f***ing believe it!

  17. 17
    David Sucher

    What about the ‘Nixon to China’ syndrome?
    Parallel not precise but I am sure you get the drift.
    (The issue was not with China but with American right-wingers.)

    And might not even a serious Catholic — and not all Catholics believe in Papal Infallability according to some Catholic friends — be just the person to be able to go head to head with the Vatican? Maybe so. Certainly the best American to be an ambassador to Tel Aviv would be a Jew.

    Anyway I think you are making too much of Blair’s reaction. I’m also shocked that Brit policy would not allow Catholics (unless they were frocked.)

  18. 18
    Shatterface

    Shatterface, you seem to me to be missing the point. Of course, if there is no choice but to appoint a catholic that is what would happen, especially in catholic majority countries. But the person chosen should not be prominent in the church in his own country. If we are going to have diplomats at the Vatican — though that itself should be questioned — they should be professional diplomats of some sort, who can distinguish between their duty to their country and their commitment as catholics, if that is what they are. The best thing would be to appoint non-catholics, for they will have less trouble making the distinctions.

    You are making the same assumption as Ophia that Catholics are, as a group, incapable of independent thought, or of loyalty to their own country.

    The more important question is why the Vatican should be recognised as a state, and why a church should have diplomatic representation in different countries, and why countries should be represented diplomatically in the Vatican.

    That might be a more important question but it isn’t the one which was asked. If you don’t think we should have an ambassador to the Vatican argue we shouldn’t have a Protestant or Jewish ambassador either.

    This puts the church in a very powerful position to affect public policy in countries around the world, which is unhealthy. The separation of church and state is implicitly violated by the role of the Roman Catholic Church as a pseudo-state.

    You also seem to be confising Britain with America. In the UK there is no such seperation of Church and State, we have an established Church which is Protestant and historically oppressive towards Catholics. To suggest that Catholics be barred from diplomatic service to the Vatican has to be seen in the context of laws banning Catholics from the Premiership, or marrying into the Royal family, and which perpetuate sectarian violence not just in Northern Ireland and Glasgow but in other towns and cities across the UK

    And whatever the international custom of recognising the Vatican as a state, it is inconsistent with the normal understanding of what constitutes a state. And when we recall how the Vatican came to be a state, constituted as such by Mussolini as a sop for the loss of some of the papal possessions in Italy, there are all sorts of reasons why this should be revisited. The Vatican along with the OIC has played a very negative role in conferences where the issue of birth control and population growth has been addressed, and where women’s issues are being discussed. That the Roman Catholic Church should, as a quasi-state, have this power is very regrettable. That any diplomat from England or any other country should not be able to act in ways that limited this power because of their membership in the church would be a conflict of interest of serious proportions.

    Most of that’s irrelevant – what does Mussolini have to do with the loyalty of British Catholics? That’s surely some breach of Godwin’s law. And you are still questioning the loyalty of British Catholics based simply on their nominal religion.

    However, as to the unwritten rule that representatives from the UK to the Vatican should not be catholics, that makes perfect sense, and Tony Blair, if he couldn’t see the point, is an idiot. I rather tend to that view myself. The fact that, as a crypto-catholic, he had his own conflicts of interest, means that he was willfully deceiving himself. When you consider his role in Iraq, committing the British to a war in which Britain had no interest, mainly, I suggest, because he was a Christian, and so he an Bush could see so easily eye to eye, and if you’ve ever listened to him speak about religion, the man is a religious fanatic with a very unrealistic idea of what the character of religion realy is.

    I don’t remember the Pope exactly rallying the troops behind Bush or Blair. And if Blair was a ‘crypto-Catholic’ then the problem isn’t the influence the Pope has over Catholics, its this whole other crypto-Catholic group that are not prohibited from becoming ambassadors to the Vatican by civil service rules. And George W Bush certainly wasn’t Catholic.

    How anyone, at his age, could consciously buy into even a small portion of the Catechism of the Catholic Church simply staggers the imagination. But he did it, infallibility and all. That takes a level of self-deception, I think, that really raises questions about Blair’s competence as a human being, let alone a prime minister.

    I share your contempt for Blair and his war, but he wasn’t a Catholic, and George W Bush most definitely not so, and the Catholic Church was not behind the invasions of Iraq or Afghanistan. You have added nothing to the discussion.

  19. 19
    BenSix

    Is it discriminatory not to appoint a lobbyist for cigarette manufacturers to a health-related job? Is it discriminatory not to appoint a murderer to run a domestic violence shelter?

    Yes. You can argue about whether it’s good or bad discrimination but discrimination it certainly is.

    /bugbear

    This discrimination can be judged by people more knowledgeable of Catholicism. I’ll agree that it’s not inherently unfair that one’s beliefs should disqualify one from certain positions but, of course, there’s potential for misinterpretations of those beliefs to mean that it’s prejudicial instead of rational discrimination.

  20. 20
    Mark Fournier

    Shatterface, Israel cannot excommunicate a Jew, France cannot deny an ex-patriot Frenchman citizenship, but the Pope can excommunicate a practicing Catholic, which can severely complicate his personal and family life. To a practicing Catholic, this is not a minor inconvenience.

    The statehood of the Catholic Church rests on an extremely flimsy foundation; it was granted by Mussolini, with whom the Allies went to war. None of his edicts are considered binding. The statehood of the Church rests on purely expedient politics, not upon any legal foundation. Obama announced his intention to support Vatican statehood to avoid political trouble, because without his guarantee of diplomatic immunity, under American law the police would not only be allowed to arrest Ratzinger, but would be obligated to do so. Obama did it to assuage the Catholic vote, not because the legal foundations are solid. He simply set state policy. And his right to do so, by the way, could be challenged, but nobody would expect that challenge to stand with the Supreme Court stacked with Catholics–yet another conflict of interest.

  21. 21
    Rick J

    A non-practicing Catholic should be appointed to the ambassador position. In fact, most countries should send a non-practicing Catholic so that the Pope is forced to deal with many people who are essentially ex-Catholics.

  22. 22
    Francisco Bacopa

    Is there even such a thing as a “Vatican Citizenship” held by anyone who is not also a citizen of another nation? If there isn’t, shut the embassy down. Talk about frivolous expenses.

  23. 23
    Josh Slocum

    Shatterface, it’s pretty obvious you’ve got a personal, emotional connection to this. Come on out and declare it. You’ve got Catholic (cultural) heritage, right? Something’s got you so goddamned stirred up for sure. Put your cards on the table.

    No, not because you’re culturally Catholic. Because you’re going off half-cocked out of misplaced cultural loyalty and it’s clouding your otherwise good judgment.

  24. 24
    Josh Slocum

    Shorter me to Shatterface: Your cultural, historical, and familial identity as a Catholic is not the same as your identity as a rational person and a clear thinker in the here and now. Stop acting as if commenters here are discriminating against you with “Irish Need Not Apply” signs in shop windows. It’s stupid and irritating.

  25. 25
    Shatterface

    Shatterface, it’s pretty obvious you’ve got a personal, emotional connection to this. Come on out and declare it. You’ve got Catholic (cultural) heritage, right? Something’s got you so goddamned stirred up for sure. Put your cards on the table.

    Thats an ad hom, and its pathetic.

    No, not because you’re culturally Catholic.

    Ditto. Where’s the slightest evidence of this? I drink Guinness on St Paddy’s Night therefore I’m subconsciously a Catholic but I don’t know it? And this subconscious Catholicism prevents me making rational judgement? So forget the pretense we are talking about devout or practicing Catholics here, its ‘cultural’ Catholics, even if they have been self-defined atheists since the age of ten, and even if their father is an atheist from a Belfast Protestant family?

    Because you’re going off half-cocked out of misplaced cultural loyalty and it’s clouding your otherwise good judgment.

    My reasoning is half-cocked? When people here are stereotyping Catholics as the Enemy Within, drawing on Mussollini and the invasion of Iraq (ffs) to make post hoc justifications to religious discrimination? I think Blair and Bush ought to stand trial trial for war crimes but if they are agents of the Vatican so are Harris and Hitchens and any number of people who supported the war for secular reasons.

    If you want to argue that we should have no Vatican embassy go ahead, but if you think Catholics have divided loyalty why not go the whole hog and withdraw their right to vote as well?

  26. 26
    julian

    You are making the same assumption as Ophia that Catholics are, as a group, incapable of independent thought, or of loyalty to their own country.

    No such assumption was made (from what I can see, anyway.) What there is is a recognition of the unique conflicts of interest and potential ‘power’ the Church would have over a devout or prcticing Catholic.

    I can understand your fears.

    At first glance, yes, it does seem bigoted to bar a whole faith from holding office because of the possibility they may be influenced by their religious leaders. But it is a legitimate concern when these leaders are known to hold strong sway over their followers. Doubly so when they can determine who can and cannot participate in their ceremonies and are known to be active in politics (as was mentioned upthread).

    Maybe if the Church didn’t have a history of using its authority over Catholics to coerce them into this or that political stance and maybe if this Catholic Ambassador wasn’t practicing. But a strict observant Catholic and the Church we have (which has excommunicated doctors for performing abortions) seems a recipe for misconduct.

  27. 27
    julian

    If you want to argue that we should have no Vatican embassy go ahead, but if you think Catholics have divided loyalty why not go the whole hog and withdraw their right to vote as well?

    It isn’t just divided loyalties, it’s the position they would be in, the expectations they’d run up against and the power to complicate their life the Church would not have were he not a Catholic.

  28. 28
    Kieran

    In all honesty it reads like a scene from Yes Minister. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=85fx0LrSMsE&feature=related

  29. 29
    Marc Alan Di Martino

    The Vatican’s statehood, I agree, is more a matter of political expedience than reality. How ’bout that, a country where marriage and childbirth are almost non-existent! Which gets its water and police force from the neighboring country, Italy! A country which cannot have a non-Catholic citizen (whatever that might mean in this case)! It’s a farce. It’s not a country by any stretch of the imagination (on my blog I sometimes call it such, mainly to highlight the odd predicament that status bestows on it). Besides, nearly all the embassies to the Holy See are in Italy, not in Vatican City. So it’s just one huge gigantic WTF.

    Most Italians – including our politicians – are baptized and relatively non-practicing Catholics. Yet the levels of thoughtless deference to the desires of the Catholic Church are extremely high. It’s taboo to even to criticize the church socially, and politically it’s a big no-no. It’s just not done. So, yes, you can be a non-practicing “cultural” Catholic and still bow down before the pope. So, diplomatically, I can see that being a real concern, rooted in that uncomfortable little truth that the Vatican is not a real country but just plays one on tv.

  30. 30
    dirigible

    If the entity you are ambassador to can deny you eternal life, I’d say that’s something that needs considering.

    However usefully amorphous cultural Catholicism is for those who would defend political Catholicism.

  31. 31
    Dunc

    Has Tony Blair never heard of the concept “conflict of interest”?

    Sure he has – he just doesn’t think it’s a problem. That’s why he has no trouble being both avowedly pro-Israel and the UN Special Envoy to the Middle East, and it’s why he appointed a bunch of industry insiders to regulatory positions. Having a devout Catholic as Ambassador to The Vatican would be perfectly in keeping with his general approach to such matters.

  32. 32
    raymoscow

    Hmmm … it looks to me that Catholics are taught, and must accept if they are are confirmed, that the Pope has complete authority over doctrines and morals. They are also obligated to obey the self-declared ‘legitimate’ constitutions and decrees of the Church.

    http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/__P74.HTM

    So, just how is a person who accepts this crap capable of fulfilling a diplomatic mission to the Vatican on behalf of an actual government?

  33. 33
    julian

    Hmmm … it looks to me that Catholics are taught, and must accept if they are are confirmed, that the Pope has complete authority over doctrines and morals.

    It depends on the Catholic and the family. Some Catholics (the more conservative bends) tend to strongly emphasize what we in the states recognize as the Conservative Christian position. Others (generally liberal variety) tend to be much more concerned with the misery and suffering around them (although it still is often filtered through a uniquely Christian lens).

    Neither group pays much attention to the Church (at least here in America) using the RCC more as a justification of whatever position they’re espousing at that particular time. What the Church’s actual position is is largely ignored if known at all. From what I’ve seen most assume the Church just agrees with whatever they believe.

  34. 34
    Brian M

    I’m afraid I agree with Shatterface here. You are all assuming that Catholics are UNIQUELY subject to conflicts of interest. That is prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination. I’m a little disappointed, actually.

    (Note…I am not a Catholic myself and find the church, apart from some beautiful buildings, great artwork, etc, ridiculous)

    Of course, Dunc really nails it. American and British governments are rife with conflicts of interest. Appointing a devout, obedient Catholic WOULD just be par for the course.

  35. 35
    Matt Penfold

    From what I know of the Foreign Office it is also not policy to post diplomatic staff to a country with which they have family ties. Thus someone with a French parent will not get posted to Paris. The reason is to avoid any conflict of interest.

    How is the situation with the Vatican any different ?

  36. 36
    julian

    From what I know of the Foreign Office it is also not policy to post diplomatic staff to a country with which they have family ties.

    This is something I was wondering about. The US military is pretty strict about who it will give Secret and Top Secret Clearance especially during war time. And even if you get it it’s still strongly encouraged you avoid any action that may be seen as suspicious. (For example sending large amounts of money to family in a not so friendly nation without notifying your chain of command. Or racking up large credit card debts.)

    I figured diplomats had to have similar screenings. (Although I don’t doubt racism and nationalism played a large role in developing the standards here in the U.S.)

  37. 37
    David Sucher

    Ambassadors are no longer Plenipotentiary — such officials and their staff do NOT make policy but listen and talk — so I can’t see that in most cases ethnicity or belief etc etc makes all that much difference.

  38. 38
    Matt Penfold

    Ambassadors are no longer Plenipotentiary — such officials and their staff do NOT make policy but listen and talk — so I can’t see that in most cases ethnicity or belief etc etc makes all that much difference.

    It could make it difficult for an ambassador to be quite as blunt in discussions with the Vatican as she might need to be.

    What would be better is to abolish the post. The UK could even say it was doing so in solidarity with the RoI.

  39. 39
    Ophelia Benson

    You are all assuming that Catholics are UNIQUELY subject to conflicts of interest.

    No, no, no. It’s not that Catholics are unique, it’s that the Vatican is unique. There is no Vatican-equivalent for any other religion. If there were, it would be a bad idea to appoint an adherent of that religion ambassador to that “state.”

    Imagine a new state carved out of a bit of Atlanta, Georgia, populated entirely by (all male) clergy and staff of the Southern Baptist Convention. Would it make sense for other countries to assign expatriate Southern Baptists as ambassadors to that state?

  40. 40
    Matt Penfold

    Could we not appoint Richard Dawkins to the post, on a part time basis ?

  41. 41
    David Sucher

    If no Catholics to the Vatican, then issues asbout conflicts of interest go way beyond religion.

    Sshould American itizens of African ancestry be prohibited from serving as US ambassadors to black African nations? Maybe no Episcoplaisns to Britain? Or Chinese (ancestry) to China? Or Mexican (ancestry) to Mexico? Maybe no men to Saudi Arabia? Or ONLY women (and Jews, for that matter) to Saudi? But certainly no Americans of Moslem heritage?

    Conflicts of interestf are everywhere.

    I think we ought to consider the purpose of an Ambassador before we set up ethnic or religious or gender etc etc standards.

  42. 42
    Ophelia Benson

    Shatterface @15 -

    Britain isn’t the USA. You talk about religion and ethnicity as if they are the same thing but that’s more true of America than Britain.

    Sorry but that’s just nuts, given what I had just said to you in #9 -

    But I think you’re mixing categories here – religion and, to use a word I’ve never liked, ethnicity. By “Catholics” I don’t mean notional Catholics who are “Catholic” because they’re Irish or Polish – I mean real Catholics, observant Catholics, loyal Catholics. To be sure, maybe that wasn’t what Blair’s people meant, in which case he might have a point.

    You’re the one who is treating them as the same. I don’t mean people whose parents or grandparents are or were Catholic, I mean people who are themselves actual practicing observant Catholics. People who have an existing substantive chosen allegiance to the very institution they would be ambassadors to.

  43. 43
    Matt Penfold

    If no Catholics to the Vatican, then issues asbout conflicts of interest go way beyond religion.

    As I pointed out, the FO does take potential conflicts into account when deciding on postings.

    However, you are just being silly, so stop.

  44. 44
    Ophelia Benson

    David, please don’t mix the categories that I have already said need to be kept separate. Religion is first of all a set of ideas (which dictate authoritative hence authoritarian rules); it is not comparable to race or ethnicity or gender.

  45. 45
    Ophelia Benson

    This post is bringing out a lot of silly!

  46. 46
    Matt Penfold

    One point to consider is that is that the policy of not posting Catholics to the Vatican requires that the religious beliefs of potential ambassadors be known. It is likely only those people who strongly identify as Catholic will be known to be Catholic.

  47. 47
    julian

    Conflicts of interestf are everywhere.

    There is a difference between someone descended from somewhere and a practicing member of a faith. Although I would agree both could have divided loyalties, the influence is much stronger in the practicing church goer.

    They’re the ones who can be threatened with hell, damnation, excommunication, ect. (This is on top of what may happen to their families and friends. Suppose their children attend a Catholic school and they are excommunicated.)

    Someone with ‘foreign ancestry’ would likely have ties far enough removed (most often) for family not to be a real issue. And they’d likely readily and strongly identify with the nation they were representing as opposed to identifying with the nation they’re meant to be negotiating with. The same cannot be said of a devout believer.

  48. 48
    Matt Penfold

    Someone with ‘foreign ancestry’ would likely have ties far enough removed (most often) for family not to be a real issue. And they’d likely readily and strongly identify with the nation they were representing as opposed to identifying with the nation they’re meant to be negotiating with. The same cannot be said of a devout believer.

    Exactly, and I have mentioned the FO policy when the ties are not so distant.

  49. 49
    Ophelia Benson

    Via Wikipedia on Francis Campbell:

    Campbell was educated at St Colman’s College, Newry. After St Colman’s he attended St Joseph’s Seminary in Belfast, part of the philosophy faculty at Queens University Belfast and attended postgraduate studies at the Katholieke Universiteit, Leuven, where he considered the priesthood. He attended the University of Pennsylvania on a Thouron Award Fellowship.

    He was a lector at Westminster Cathedral, and, at one time, was an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion.

    I call that a conflict of interest.

  50. 50
    interrobang

    The Vatican is also not comparable to other, even religiously-based nations because it is not a nation in the normal sense — it has no national interests that are significantly different from its religious interests.

    This makes comparisons upthread with Israel in particular especially spurious. Israel and Judaism are not inseparable, although they are sometimes correlated. Contrary to popular antisemitic belief, Israel has state business and national interests which are not synonymous with the business and/or interests of Jews as a whole, inasmuch as any ethno-religious group of which “two Jews, three opinions” is basically a truism has collective business or interests; there are non-Jewish Israeli citizens in a variety of flavours, and, while Israel is sort of religiously constituted (when it isn’t having an identity crisis about being a modern secular state), its national/governmental behaviour is not driven strictly by (or, some would argue, even informed by) Judaism directly.

    None of which at all is true of the Vatican, which has no independent national business or interests outside of Catholicism and promoting Catholicism, no non-Catholic citizens or residents (in fact, I’m not even entirely sure if the Vatican can be said to have “citizens” in the common understanding; certainly it doesn’t have birthright citizenship), and has no national or governmental behaviour that isn’t directly related to Catholic imperatives.

    It’s ridiculous, and a thoroughly unnecessary medieval holdover to even have ambassadorships to the Vatican, since obviously the Vatican isn’t a state in the normal sense, excepting that it was sort of made so by dictatorial fiat.

    Israel would continue to function as a state even if Judaism disappeared tomorrow, but if Catholicism disappeared tomorrow, there’d be a whole lot of nothing where the Vatican used to be.

  51. 51
    Ophelia Benson

    From a very friendly article in the Belfast Telegraph:

    During Francis’ time in Rome there has been a growing alignment between the UK and the Vatican on issues such as aid to the developing world, disarmament, climate change, and inter-faith relations. More perhaps than any other single individual Francis Campbell has helped warm up relations between the UK and the Vatican, which may go some way to explaining why Pope Benedict XVI is coming to Britain later this year.

    Adam Boulton, the veteran political pundit in his recent memoir about Tony Blair wrote that: “Blair’s direct personal lines of communication with the Vatican were dramatically improved by one remarkable young man called Francis Campbell … from the moment they first started working together, relations between the British government and the Vatican acquired an intimacy they had not enjoyed since the 16th century.”

    Is that a good thing? I don’t think it is. I don’t think the Vatican is a good thing, so I don’t think it’s a good thing that Blair was so friendly with it, or that the pope paid a visit to the UK, or that the pope got such an incredibly deferential reception when he paid his visit.

  52. 52
    K.F.

    I’d like to point out that many states do not allow people with double citizenship to represent them as diplomats in a country whose citizenship they have (or even had!), in order to avoid conflicts of loyalty.

    So an African American may represent the US only in an African country s/he is not a citizen of. In analogy, a person with Catholic roots may represent their state to the Vatican only if they are not a member of the church (or, for stricter countries, if they haven’t even been baptised).

    (Sorry for my English, it’s not my first language.)

  53. 53
    David Sucher

    It seems to me that there are several, interesting and separate issues:

    • What is the significance of having an Ambassador? What’s the task? Does sending/receiving an Ambassador suggest approval of a regime?

    • What conflicts of interest should preclude being represented as an Ambassador?

    • Should the Vatican be acknowledged as an independent State and thus needing an Ambassador (or similar?)

    I’d suggest that the discussion so far would benefit by separating them. So the threshold issue here should be “Does the Vatican deserve recognition as a foreign power?” If not, then the requirements of an Ambassador are not relevant. (Personally I have not thought enough about the issue to have an opinion.)

    If you decide that the Vatican (or any other entity) deserves an Ambassador, then what’s the goal? The purpose of the Ambassador (and staff)?

    It’s only when you decide that a foreign entity deserves recognition as a “foreign state,” and you have also gotten clear on _why,_ only then does the issue of conflict of interests come into play.

  54. 54
    Ophelia Benson

    Well, I certainly think the Vatican should not be considered a state and should not be recognized as a foreign power, but I’ve said that here many times. As usual, I don’t start from scratch with every post, but rather, I assume some background knowledge, which most readers have.

    But it is a fact that Blair did appoint this fella ambassador and did say what he said to the BBC, and that’s what I was talking about. I think it’s absurd that any state sends an ambassador to the Vatican, but the UK does, and Blair did and said some very suspect things in doing so.

    Blair was a closet Catholic at the time. The end result of his work was a much cozier relationship between the UK and the Vatican, and that jaw-droppingly horrible papal visit. He couldn’t have done better if he’d been a fucking Jesuit spy. Given what the Vatican is, I think it’s an outrage.

  55. 55
    Josh Slocum

    Shatterface -

    My comments above were too hostile and snotty; I’m sorry for that. You had already discussed your religious background, which I would have known if I’d been reading carefully.

    I do strongly disagree with your assessment, but everyone else above has said anything I would have. The distinctions Ophelia is making (it’s the Vatican, not notional Catholics, it’s practicing insiders, etc.) are really important and show this isn’t about simple religious bigotry.

  56. 56
    CJColucci

    In many countries, probably including the US, it would be unusual to send anyone but a Catholic as ambassador to the Vatican. Anyone who is so Catholic that he or she might plausibly be suspected of falling down on the job of representing the diplomatic interests of the United States in obedience to theological dictates from the Vatican ought, obviously, not be appointed. But the run-of-the-mine Catholic (including many more devout than the nominal brand) is not, ipso facto, such a person, and ought to be unobjectionable.

  57. 57
    Brian M

    The problem is generalizing the “no catholics” rule. I would find it difficult to disagree with the conclusion that this particular individual in no way, shape, or form can avoid conflicts of interest. BUT…

    Even limiting the prohibition to “practicing” is problematical. What does “practicing” mean? An Easter-Christmas Catholic? A regular attendee at mass? Children in Catholic school? A full bore recipient of 20 years of Catholic education and indoctrination and politicking?

  58. 58
    julian

    Even limiting the prohibition to “practicing” is problematical.

    This is a government appointment, correct? If so I don’t see why this would be problematic.

    It should be part of the vetting process to look into and evaluate this individual in detail (for reliability, competence, and conflicts of interest) to see if they are fit for this job. This is not going to be easy nor should it be. These are the types of complicated and difficult decisions we elect representatives to make.

  59. 59
    Rumtopf

    The UK is yet to fix this little mess Blair set up. Our government is funding faith schools. How fucked up is that?

  60. 60
    David Sucher

    You may well be correct as the Vatican is too small a physical space or doesn’t have sufficient ethnic diversity or no room for a good Ambasador’s residence.

    But realistically, what difference does it make since Ambassadors do NOT make policy? Ambassador Plenipotentiary went out with the telegraph.

    The issue strikes me as deciding about which angel should dance on a pin. So what if a hard-core Opus Dei Catholic is your Ambassador to the Vatican. If you are the a President, you tell him what to say.

    Now if you want a more generalized approach about how to choose an Ambassador, the issue of “conflict of interest” may also not be on point — you may indeed want an Ambassador who is psychologically-aligned with the other country so your arguments to them might actually find resonance. Do you want to send a “committed” socialist to go to a socialist country? Or a Randian? It will depend on the specific people in both countries.

  61. 61
    Ophelia Benson

    David, I think you must have missed what I said above, via the Belfast Telegraph – the appointment did have consequences: a much cozier relationship between the Vatican and the UK government and establishment. I don’t consider that a good thing, for the same reasons I don’t consider the role of the US Conf of Cath Bishops a good thing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>