No, Obama Isn’t Shutting Down the Embassy to the Vatican

How the right-wing smear machine makes it hard to know when the president actually screws up.

Photo | Shutterstock

Photo | Shutterstock.com

Pope Francis issued a pretty stern statement Tuesday about capitalism’s less-redeeming features, but you might not’ve known that from the behavior of conservative American Catholics. Rather than pondering what the pope’s message means for their ideology, they were spending the day getting mad at President Obama. Why? Because he’s closing down the American embassy to the Vatican!




Take the Washington Times: "The Obama administration, in what’s been called an egregious slap in the face to the Vatican, has moved to shut down the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See — a free-standing facility — and relocate offices onto the grounds of the larger American Embassy in Italy."

Or the always reliable Bill Donohue: This "gambit [is] an animus against the Catholic Church," he wrote. "Which only goes to show how thoroughly consistent this administration is in its dealings with all matters Catholic.

Or Breitbart.com: "It looks to some as though the Obama administration is trying to diminish and discredit the Vatican’s role in the world because it's  pro-life, pro-family, and pro-religious freedom values is at odds with the Regime's pro-abortion, pro-gay marriage stance."

The problem with all of this? It's not really true.

Here is what is actually happening. The American embassy isn't closing, but relocating to share grounds (and security) with the U.S. embassy to Italy. The important details:

• The ambassador will keep his current residence.
• The new embassy will occupy its own separate building on the grounds of the American embassy to Italy.
• The new embassy will have its own separate entrance from the American embassy to Italy. There will be no one-stop shopping.
• It will apparently be a tenth of a mile closer to the Vatican than the current embassy. (The Vatican being too small a "country" to actually host embassies itself.)
And the embassy will contain the exact same number of personnel it did before.

"And as I said earlier, there is no reduction in diplomatic staff, there’s no reduction in ambassadors, there’s no reduction in mission," a State Department official said Tuesday. "There is simply a reduction in overhead."

Now: My understanding is the Vatican likes other countries to have completely separate missions to the Vatican and Italy, but it's also true that the UK, Israel, and the Netherlands co-locate their missions on the same grounds as well. What's happening here is a "slap in the face" only if you think the Vatican has the right to dictate where the U.S. keeps its office space in Rome. (And apparently some American Catholics think this. It is very difficult for me to find my empathy in this matter.)

It's frustrating.  I feel like I'm plenty critical of this president, yet I feel almost driven to his arms by the fact that that there's a fresh and unprioritized "outrage" committed by him every day — at least, if I'm listening to my friends on the right. All the noise makes it difficult to  judge which outrages are legitimate and which are just the product of The Right-Wing Smear Machine. This one belongs to the machine. Don't believe the (supposedly anti-Catholic president) hype, folks.

Follow @JoelMMathis on Twitter.

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  • GE

    You do realize that no matter the political party of the president, there is outrage amongst the other party’s members, right? With our last prez, there was the left-wing smear machine. And wherever we land in the next election, there will be an independent smear machine. This isn’t a recent occurrence, so you should probably stop acting like the republicans are just out to get the president and come to grips with the fact that he makes mistakes and in some cases, you just ignore the hype.

  • CAR

    Don’t equivocate! Italy is not The Vatican, never has been. Read your own stuff and understand Soverign States. The US is shutting down the Embassy to the Sovereign State of the Vatican. It doesn’t matter how many entrances the embassy in Italy gets. Get it!

    • Henry ‘Ashka’ Biddle

      I have to say I don’t understand your comment. There are no embassy in the Vatican since it’s so small. The ambassador or not being recalled. The offices are being move to a new complex. What’s the problem?

    • MrV

      You are aware that this site doesn’t have a sarcasm font no.

  • Var Enyo

    Another false flag to take the heat off their spokes model? http://www.wnd.com/2013/11/rush-limbaugh-scorches-pope-francis/?cat_orig=faith

  • Jane Yavis

    On a day when Rush Limbaugh tallks about our Pope the same way Self-appointed/politically driven Bill Donohue from the Catholic League (who neither talks for or represents anything about the Catholic Church) talks about the President., Joel exposes the hypocrisy of Right Wing Politics beautifully.

    As a Catholic delighted with the recent message of Pope Francis,,,,most of which seem directed at politically motivated Catholics in American politics,) Joel has again allowed facts to get in the way of the selective outrage of Politacllly driven Right Wing Mouthpieces..

    Bill Donohue (Whose politically motivated use of the Catholic Church has done more to harm the image of the Church than any priest scandal) will remain silent regarding Limbaugh’s three hour tirade against Marxist Pope Francis, Local Talk Radio hosts calling themselves “Friends of the Diocese” will “question” any Papal Message that makes them uncomfortable. While they confirm their Catholic Roots as opposition to Affordable Health Care, they will oppose School Lunches, Feeding the Hungry and Immigration, and remain silent against the anti-catholic innuendo that enters many conversations.

  • Enuf already

    Please Joel, what hog wash. The facts are the facts. Ben G, IRS, Census fudging numbers, Obamacare a joke, people losing their insurance or getting insurance but not treatement. Lets report the facts so that people can be informed and safeguard themselves, their families, their present and their future