UK ambassador hopes visit will set trend for engaging Vatican

UK ambassador hopes visit will set trend for engaging Vatican

UK delegation to the Holy See Feb. 14-15.
UK delegation to the Holy See Feb. 14-15.

.- The United Kingdom's Ambassador to the Holy See believes the two-day visit of government ministers to Rome Feb. 14-15 will set a new trend in how foreign countries should diplomatically engage the Vatican.

“Very few countries seize the opportunity that we have spotted, as far as the Holy See is concerned, of working with their network across all these issues that we are interesting and they are interested in,” Ambassador Nigel Baker told CNA Feb. 15.

Throughout the morning, a team of seven U.K. ministers took part in discussions with their respective Vatican equivalents. The result was a joint communiqué outlining areas of agreement between the U.K. and Holy See on issues such as culture, human rights, climate change and international development. 

Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone “last night said at dinner that this is something we should have been doing in the past and maybe ought to be doing in the future,” said Ambassador Baker, “so I think we set a few hares running in the Holy See.”

The communiqué also noted areas of disagreement between the U.K. and the Vatican. It stated that in their talks, the Holy See “emphasized the need to ensure that institutions connected with the Catholic Church can act in accordance with their own principles and convictions,” and also “stressed the necessity of safeguarding the family based on marriage, religious freedom and freedom of conscience.”

The U.K.'s Conservative-Liberal coalition government, led by Prime Minister David Cameron, is currently committed to introducing same-sex “marriage” by 2015. They have also refused to give Catholic adoption agencies any opt-out from rules compelling them to place children with homosexual couples. In recent years 11 Catholic adoption agencies in England have been forced to close down or severe official ties with the Church.

After their bi-lateral discussions, the U.K. ministerial delegation had a 20-minute private audience with Pope Benedict XVI in the Vatican. Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, the delegation’s lead minister, presented the pontiff with a message from Queen Elizabeth and a copy of the King James Bible courtesy of Prime Minister Cameron. As the U.K.'s first female Muslim cabinet member, Baroness Warsi also gifted the Pope a copy of the Koran and a gold-plated cube that opens up to reveal 99 smaller cubes, each inscribed with a reference to Allah.

“The Pope had a chance to talk to individual ministers in turn and also to talk to Baroness Warsi, particularly about some of her messages contained within her speech yesterday when she spoke about the importance of faith in the United Kingdom,” said Ambassador Baker.

On Feb. 14 Baroness Warsi told an invited audience of trainee Vatican diplomats that British society is under threat from “militant secularization” reminiscent of previous “totalitarian regimes.”

The U.K. ministerial mission follows-on from Pope Benedict’s successful 2010 visit to the United Kingdom. Ambassador Baker explained that the U.K. government didn’t want the Papal visit to be merely a one-time occurrence.

“You can’t just have this extraordinary event and then sit back for ten years and say 'well that’s that relationship sorted' so there was always a sense that some sort of follow-up should happen,” he explained.

The Ambassador said the past two days have surpassed his expectations and that he is now looking to build on the achievements of the past 48-hours.