According to a report published yesterday by CNS News, The U.S. State Department is blaming the decision to close the US embassy at the Vatican on the Sept 11, 2012 terrorist attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
In a statement sent to CNS News, the State Dept. said that the Vatican is not safe enough for U.S. diplomats.
"Security is our top priority in making this move," the State Department said in a statement sent to CNSNews.com by State Dept. spokesperson Nicole Thompson. "The State Department is working to implement all of the independent Benghazi Accountability Review Board recommendations, to include a renewed call for U.S. government facilities to be collocated when they are in the same metropolitan area."
The State Dept. also listed funding as a reason behind the decision.
"This move will also save the U.S. government money," Thompson said the statement. "The Embassy to the Holy See will move into unused space on the U.S. government compound in Rome, eliminating the lease costs being paid for its current location and maximizing use of space in a building that we own. It will also reduce operating costs, as our Embassy to the Holy See will be able to share guard and other services. We reject any suggestion that this decision, made for security and administrative reasons, constitutes a downgrading of our relations with the Holy See."
Others disagree with the reasons given by Thompson for the closing.
Former U.S. Ambassador to Vatican Jim Nicholson told CNS he has "zero doubt" that the 165 counties with whom the Vatican maintains diplomatic ties will view it as "a reflection of the diminished role the State Department and this administration have for this very important diplomatic post."
"If you diminish the stature, you diminish the influence,' Nicholoson told CNSNews.com, "and the stature of the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See is critical for its moral suasion, particularly for a country like ours that prides itself on protecting civil rights, stopping human trafficking, fighting for religious freedom and feeding the world. If you diminish that influence, you seriously jeopardize those goals."
Former ambassadors to the Vatican, Francis Rooney, Mary Ann Glendon, and Thomas Melady, are all criticizing the embassy move, according to CNS, and Ambassador Ray Flynn, who served under President Clinton, told CNS that consolidating the two embassies in one building “would send a very, very bad message.”
“The Vatican did a very quiet but effective job helping the United States bring peace and justice in places like the Middle East. We never had the kinds of trouble we’re having now, because the Vatican had a role,” Flynn said.
Those assessments were downplayed by the current Vatican Ambassador and others.
The CNS report says U.S. Ambassador Ken Hackett, who was appointed as U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See by President Obama in June, told the National Catholic Register that “I see no diminishing in the importance of the relationship at all."
On Huff Post Live this morning, Marc Lamont Hill said he just sees the move as "the US being a bit more frugal."
The Huff Post's Senior Political Economy Reporter, said during the same report that "The United States budget has been under strain for a while. This is actually something that came up in the Benghazi story. Security at the embassy in Benghazi was weak because there just isn't enough money to go around."
Dr. William Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, told CNS the plan to move the embassy had nothing to do with security or funding and was “pure politics.”
"No administration in American history has been more fiscally reckless than the Obama administration, making it risible to suggest that all of a sudden they have discovered austerity," Donahue told CNS.