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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