A Massachusetts Yankee in Pope Benedict’s Court

November 6, 2007

Saint Peter’s Basilica in Vatican CityU.S. ambassadors are often chosen not for their expertise but because of the size of their campaign contributions. For his next envoy to the Vatican, however, President George W. Bush seems to have opted for one of the best qualified Americans he could find. Harvard law professor Mary Ann Glendon probably knows more people in the Vatican than all of her predecessors combined. She is almost certainly better connected there than any of her future colleagues from the other 175 countries with diplomatic relations with the Holy See. She has a resumé no other diplomat could match, including leading a Vatican delegation to a United Nations conference and advising the Catholic Church on three different pontifical organisations.

The Pittsfield, Massachusetts native still has to be confirmed by the Senate. She would not be the first woman U.S. ambassador to the male bastion that is the Vatican. Corrine “Lindy” Boggs served from 1997 to 2001.

Mary Ann GlendonIn 1994, Glendon became the first woman to lead a Vatican delegation to an international conference — a role that usually was assigned to clerics, preferrably archbishops. It was the U.N. Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995 (see her account of the conference here). While Pope John Paul’s choice of Glendon for that role raised some eyebrows in the Vatican, it also greatly enhanced her profile as one of the Church’s leading laywomen and academics.Since 2004 she has been president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, which advises the Pope on social issues, and also serves on the Pontifical Council for the Laity and the Pontifical Council for the Family. She is the author of numerous books , including “Abortion and Divorce in Western Law.”

Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, told the Catholic news agency Zenith that the appointment “will benefit both our country and the Church.”

Amid all the positive comments, a question came to mind among some colleagues who write about the Vatican. Is she too much of an insider? Will she be able to serve both her country and her Church at the same time? The consensus was: if anyone can pull it off, she probably can.

If ratified by the Senate, Glendon will most likely hold her post for only a year. After the 2008 election, the next president, whether Democrat or Republican, would likely appoint someone else, again, as a reward for service rendered in the campaign.

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