FaithWorld

WikiLeaks bares even tiny Vatican’s diplomatic soul

vatican (Photo: Vatican City with St. Peter’s Basilica at left and the square Apostolic Palace — home of the pope and many Vatican offices — to the right and the long Vatican museum in the background, April 6, 2005/stringer)

The Vatican may be the world’s smallest state but even its diplomatic soul has been laid bare by WikiLeaks cables covering everything from sex abuse and media blunders to old “technophobic” cardinals. Cables sent from the U.S. embassy to the Vatican to the State Department depict Pope Benedict as sometimes isolated as aides try to protect him from bad news, and say his number two is seen as a “yes man” with little credibility among diplomats.

The cables were published by the Guardian newspaper, one of several news organizations with have been given access to the leaked cables from U.S. embassies around the world.

A long cable in February 2009, though couched in diplomatic language, reads like a scathing criticism of the Vatican’s internal and external communications structures, which are held responsible for some of Pope Benedict’s biggest public mishaps. “The Holy See’s communications operation is suffering from ‘muddled messaging’ partly as a result of cardinals’ technophobia and ignorance about 21st century communications. Only one senior papal advisor has a Blackberry and few have e-mail accounts. It has led to PR blunders on issues as sensitive as the Holocaust,” a U.S. diplomat writes.

The cable calls the pope’s inner circle of advisers old “Italo-centric” men uncomfortable with information technology and the “rough and tumble of media communications.”

“There is also the question of who, if anyone, brings dissenting views to the pope’s attention,” it says.

French foreign ministry bureau studies faith issues worldwide

kouchner sarkozy

Bernard Kouchner (L) and Nicholas Sarkozy (R), 10 July 2008/Vincent Kessler

France’s Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, one of the original “French doctors” who has been active in humanitarian causes for decades, once said the only major conflict he knew that had nothing to do with religion was the 1969 “football war” between El Salvador and Honduras. With a perspective like that, he naturally asked when he took over the foreign ministry in 2007 where religion figured in its diplomatic analysis and strategy. The answer was that it didn’t really figure in it, at least not in a systematic way. Laïcité — France’s trademark separation of church and state — had created a kind of “we don’t do God” reflex in its diplomacy. Kouchner began a series of internal discussions about the new challenges to diplomacy,  issues such as global warming, terrorism, sustainable development or religion. One of the results was the establishment last summer of a religious affairs bureau at the Quai d’Orsay.

Joseph Maïla, the former rector of the Catholic Institute of Paris appointed to head this bureau, explained the thinking behind this step in an interview that ran on our newswire today. As he explained in that story, the issue has an interesting European dimension, because the European Union’s Lisbon Treaty calls for a regular dialogue with religious groups in Europe. He added that  President Nicolas Sarkozy’s more flexible approach to laïcité also helped bring about a new appreciation of the role religion plays in public affairs. This has nothing to do with any loosening of the actual church-state separation in France, he stressed, but creates an atmosphere in which it’s easier for religious issues to be considered as factors in policy planning. Joseph Maïla, 1 Dec 2009/Tom Heneghan

Joseph Maïla, 1 Dec 2009/Tom Heneghan

Maïla said the bureau’s tasks were to study the links between religion and conflict, follow issues of church-state separation in Europe and advise the ministry on which positions to take on issues where religion is involved. He stressed that France had obviously dealt with international religious issues in the past, when they were clearly relevant to a problem, but didn’t take a systematic approach to faith in public affairs. Now, with a six-person bureau dedicated to the issue, it has one of the largest staffs dealing with the question in Europe. Most other European countries, which don’t have the same traditional reluctance to discuss religion in politics, usually have only one or two diplomats tracking faith issues.

GUESTVIEW: Reflections on Jewish-Muslim Engagement

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the author’s alone. The author, Rabbi Burton L. Visotzky, is Professor of Midrash and Interreligious Studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York and author of the novel A Delightful Compendium of Consolation.

sheikh-and-rabbi-2 (Photo: Muslim sheikh and Jewish rabbi address interfaith meeting in Brussels, 4 Jan 2005/Thierry Roge)

By Rabbi Burton L. Visotzky

Jewish-Muslim engagement in an international context is inevitably more than interreligious dialogue. Muslim representatives, for the most part, do not come from countries that have a separation of mosque and state. Practically speaking, these dialogues are a form of second-tier diplomacy. In the United States, this is made apparent by fact the State Department sponsors Muslim visitors through its Foreign Leadership Visitor Program.

Obama seeks to avoid “clash of civilizations”

U.S. President Barack Obama ended his trip to Muslim Turkey on Tuesday by calling for peace and dialogue with Islam and the creation of a Palestinian state living side by side with Israel.

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In his first trip as president to the Muslim world, Obama sought to rebuild ties after anger at the invasion of Iraq, the war in Afghanistan and accusations his predecessor George W. Bush was biased in favor of Israel.

You can see some of our coverage of his trip here and here.

Obama’s visit, in which he said America “will never be at war with Islam,” marks a strong shift in U.S. policy after his predecessor Bush upset Muslims with his backing for Israel, invasion of Iraq and branding of Iran as part of an “axis of evil.”