Vatican urges prudence in reading leaked embassy cables

Vatican urges prudence in reading leaked embassy cables


Holy See Press Office director, Fr. Federico Lombardi, has asked for careful evaluation and “great prudence” in the examination of confidential files leaked by WikiLeaks to media outlets.

The content of sensitive internal U.S. State Department cables concerning the Vatican, written by representatives from the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See, was made public Dec. 11.

In a statement that day, Fr. Lombardi stressed that the reports "reflect the perceptions and opinions of the people who wrote them.” He emphasized that the cables “cannot be considered as expressions of the Holy See itself, nor as exact quotations of the words of its officials.

"Their reliability must, then, be evaluated carefully and with great prudence, bearing this circumstance in mind," he continued.

Only one of the Vatican-related cables had been released prior to Dec. 10. However, over the course of the day, a barrage of articles on additional cables surfaced. Five newspapers, the New York Times, Britain's The Guardian, France's Le Monde, Germany's Der Spiegel and Spain's El Pais, reported on documents concerning the Vatican.

These five media outlets are thought to be in exclusive possession of the "Cablegate" briefs. They span the last decade, uncovering the U.S. Embassy's perceptions of Vatican positions on a variety of themes.


On Vatican communications

In a file from February 2009 labeled "confidential," Julieta Valls Noyes, the second-in-command at the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See, broke down her vision of communications within the Vatican. The cable came shortly after Pope Benedict XVI lifted the excommunication of a bishop without knowing that he diminished the extent of the Holocaust.

Valls pointed to a "communication gap" that marked "the challenge of governing a hierarchical yet decentralized organization,” as well as “leadership weaknesses at the top, and an undervaluing of (and ignorance about) 21st century communications."

She added that these problems have resulted in "muddled, reactive messaging that reduces the volume of the moral megaphone the Vatican uses to advance its objectives.”

In a separate cable from just weeks earlier, Valls commented that the Pope "sometimes bewilders politicians and journalists by pursuing what he believes is in the best interest of the Church.” She added that “Vatican outsiders lament decisions or policies that they perceive as being out-of-step with the new millennium, and call for the Church to be more modern and accommodating.

"What these observers fail to recognize is the consistency of the Holy See's decisions and behavior on key issues like the reunification of the Church or the dignity of all human beings - and the value of that consistency.

"Regardless of whether outsiders agree or disagree with the Holy See, it's hard to dispute its moral influence, geographic reach, and ability to grab headlines," she wrote.

"These qualities can make the Vatican a formidable partner for the U.S. and other nations in the pursuit of common objectives."


The Vatican and President Obama 

A 2009 cable titled, "Scenesetter for the President's July 10 visit" offered a look at the briefing U.S. President Barack Obama received before his visit to Rome. The brief painted a picture of shared and contrasting views – but also of mutual respect – as the embassy prepared the president for his meeting with the Pope.


Turkey's inclusion in European Union

An August 2004 cable addressed then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger's hesitation to welcome Turkey into the European Union. In the same report was the embassy's clarification that the Vatican saw "no obstacle" to full EU membership if the nation met the requirements.

Another cable – from June 2009 - acknowledged the Pope's "uneasiness" about allowing Turkey into the EU as a cardinal. It also reported the official position of the Holy See that "as a non-EU member the Vatican has no role in promoting or vetoing Turkey's membership."

The cable continued by opining that "the Vatican might prefer to see Turkey develop a special relationship short of membership with the EU, but Vatican Secretary of State (Prime Minister-equivalent) Bertone has stated that Turkey should become a member if it meets all the EU criteria - including full protection of human rights and religious freedoms."


Foreign diplomacy

Other transmissions released by The Guardian noted the apparent objectives of Vatican diplomatic efforts. Cables from 2009 - 2010 highlighted meetings with Vatican officials about softening the American trade embargo against Cuba and the Holy See's concerns related to Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez.

In a cable from July 2001, the embassy spoke of the Vatican as a "supra-national power," with limited territory but extensive influence in the world.


Sexual abuse

A cable titled, "Sex abuse scandal strains Irish-Vatican relations, shakes up Irish church, and poses challenges for the Holy See” written by Valls in Feb. 2010 examined Vatican-Irish government relations after an Irish government entity bypassed diplomatic channels in search of information.

Vatican officials lamented the offense as "an affront to Vatican sovereignty" and head diplomat, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, sent a letter to the government requesting that all communication be made through official channels.

While some saw the decision not to respond to the extra-official request as cold, the Irish Times reported that Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen said that both the commission and the Holy See appeared to act in good faith, "even if the best outcome was not achieved."

Because it was a question between governments, all communications should have been made officially, he said.

He added that "(i)t is regrettable that the failure to acknowledge either letter has given rise to the impression the Holy See was refusing to co-operate with the commission."

More indiscretions are sure to be released, with the Vatican-related cables numbering over 800. They form just a small part of the more than alleged 250,000 secret and confidential documents due for release by WikiLeaks.