Tag Archives: Ken Hackett

Bringing Washington to Rome

Legatus magazine’s exclusive with U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See Kenneth Hackett . . .

Ken Hackett is not a career diplomat, but he is a career humanitarian. The West Roxbury, Mass., native worked for Catholic Relief Services for 40 years — including 19 years as president — before being named U.S. ambassador to the Holy See in 2013.

Hackett attended Boston College, graduating in 1968. He then joined the Peace Corps and served in Ghana. Afterwards, he joined CRS, serving in Africa and Asia. He retired from CRS in 2011.

You really traveled the world with CRS. Talk about your experiences.

Then CRS-president Ken Hackett chats with St. John Paul II during the Holy Father’s visit to CRS headquarters in Baltimore on Oct. 8, 1995.

Then CRS-president Ken Hackett chats with St. John Paul II during the Holy Father’s visit to CRS headquarters in Baltimore on Oct. 8, 1995.

I lived a good chunk of my life in Africa and in Manhattan covering Africa. I was on the road a lot in sub-Saharan Africa. My wife also lived in Africa, in Ghana, Mauritania and Cameroon. After we were married, we moved to the Philippines where we spent five years and had our first child. Then we transferred back to Kenya where we had our second child. Before going back to the headquarters in Baltimore, we had covered a good chunk of the world.

I can go back to the latest traumatic episode, the Haitian earthquake, which was really all-consuming on people in Catholic Relief Services because we had such a large role to play. When we can bring, as we did, U.S. government resources and private resources — and put it through that powerful resource of Catholic hospitals and health care centers where nuns are doing heroic and saintly work to reach the poorest of the poor — that made a big difference.

Human trafficking is an important issue for the Embassy.

Yes. Combating trafficking in persons has been an important policy goal of our Embassy for years. As you know, human trafficking is an issue that Pope Francis has raised frequently as well. Our Embassy holds regular meetings with Vatican officials, NGOs, and men and women religious to discuss collaboration. We have also organized several events over the last year on the issue of trafficking.

Most recently, we supported the visit of [high-ranking U.S. officials] in Rome to participate in a Vatican interfaith conference on human trafficking. We support Church organizations doing the important work of combating trafficking on the ground. Secretary of State John Kerry has also announced the State Department’s plans to work with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in order to map and coordinate the church’s efforts on a global basis. Last July, we partnered with the Vatican’s newly launched interfaith anti-trafficking initiative, the Global Freedom Network, to host a video conference.

How does the U.S. work with the Catholic Church on the plight of Christians living in the Middle East, specifically in Iraq and Syria?

Ken Hackett speaks to the media in 2011 (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Ken Hackett speaks to the media in 2011 (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The safety and rights of members of religious minority groups and other vulnerable people in Iraq and Syria are issues of longstanding concern to the U.S. government. The United States and the Holy See share the goal of peace in the region, and we have shared information with the Vatican on our efforts to combat [ISIS]. These terrorists have been especially barbaric towards religious minorities.

We often meet with Vatican officials who are in touch with the Christian communities in the region and with Church leaders from Iraq or Syria when they visit Rome. The humanitarian emergency created from this violence is devastating. The U.S. is the largest contributor of humanitarian assistance, providing more than $3 billion in critical aid since the start of the crisis.

How can the U.S. work with the Church to stop religiously motivated violence — like what we’ve seen from militant Islamists?

The U.S. and the Holy See have been outspoken in condemning the use of religion by terrorist groups to justify their horrific actions. Pope Francis said most recently during his trip to Turkey, “Any violence which seeks religious justification warrants the strongest condemnation.”

Credible religious leaders and interfaith organizations can do much to help discredit those groups. These leaders and groups can also work to prevent other young people from falling into the clutches of violent extremist organizations.

Of course it’s important for all states to help youth find peaceful and productive alternatives to express and achieve their aspirations.

How is the U.S. working with the Church in Ebola-affected areas?

U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See Kenneth Hackett presents his credentials to Pope Francis on Oct. 21, 2013.

U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See Kenneth Hackett presents his credentials to Pope Francis on Oct. 21, 2013.

The Catholic Church is on the ground and has a vast network of religious workers and lay people who are responding to the needs of those in Ebola-affected areas. We share with the Church the latest news we have from our efforts in the region to try to coordinate our approaches.

The Church has not only been a crucial element of the medical care on the ground in affected countries, but is also helping to address social and economic aspects of the crisis such as grieving, trust of health care workers, dignified and safe burial, and food aid.

Is there cooperation with the Vatican on aiding migrants reaching Europe by crossing the Mediterranean Sea?

Our government has been most generous to migrants, and the Catholic Church — as you well know — is often on the front lines when people arrive. You probably read that our Holy Father, in particular, has picked someone from his household to deal with this issue. His name is Archbishop Konrad Krajewski. He is the papal almoner. His office deals with papal blessings.

Archbishop Krajewski was told by Pope Francis not to stay behind his desk, but to “get out there.” The Holy Father gets letters from people all over the world. He will scribble a few words on the corner and ask Archbishop Krajewski: “Take care of this, will you?” or “Call this family who has a sick child.”

When this archbishop went to Lampedusa [Italy’s southern-most island which receives most of the migrants], he did two things: He brought $2,000 worth of phone cards and handed them out to recently arrived migrants. Secondly, he bought a whole bunch of pre-stamped envelopes for people who did not have phones at home to write a note to tell loved ones they had arrived safely. These are little things which get to the heart of things. It shows compassion.

What developing issues do you see down the road?

A number of human rights issues will continue to be at the forefront of our work. Combating human trafficking will remain a priority as will the search for peaceful solutions to conflict, countering violent extremism and the persecution of Christians and other minorities, promoting interreligious dialogue and understanding, and combating hunger and poverty.

And we are of course very excited that Pope Francis will be making his first trip to the United States this coming September for the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia.

SABRINA ARENA FERRISI is Legatus magazine’s senior staff writer.

Roman intrigue

Legatus magazine reveals the inside scoop on Obama’s Holy See embassy downgrade . . .

Moving from one house to another is always a stressful affair. But when the house being moved is the U.S. embassy to the Holy See, a myriad of headaches flow from this maneuver made by the Obama administration in late November.

Bogus reasoning

William Donahue

William Donahue

Early next year the U.S. State Department will move the embassy from its current free-standing location in Rome to a building within the walls of the American embassy to Italy. The reasons for the move, according to the government, have to do with security and cost savings. Reaction to the impending move has been mixed.

“The administration says ‘safety’ and ‘economic’ issues are the reason for the move,” said William Donahue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. “This comes from the Obama administration — the least Catholic-friendly administration in decades. We have to wonder.

“If they want to talk about safety, this administration was not preoccupied with safety in Benghazi,” he said. “I haven’t seen any evidence of them closing or moving other embassies in the Middle East. When it comes to economics, this is the most fiscally reckless administration in history. I find their reasoning unconvincing.”

Five former U.S. ambassadors to the Holy See have condemned the move. Four of them are Republicans and one is a Democrat: Ambassadors James Nicholson, Mary Ann Glendon, Francis Rooney, the recently deceased Thomas Melady, and Ray Flynn, respectively. Their main concern is that the move signifies a downgrading of the U.S.-Vatican relationship.

“I don’t like the idea of consolidating the U.S. embassy to the Holy See within the embassy to Italy,” Flynn said. “It doesn’t send the right message. We want to maintain a level of respect and dialogue.”

Renewed diplomacy

Kishore Jayabalan

Kishore Jayabalan

The current ambassador to the Holy See, Ken Hackett, sees no problem with the move.

“This has been in the planning for years,” he said. “Right now you could throw a rock from the sidewalk through my window. It’s much too close to the street.”

Under the Lateran Treaty of 1929, all nations that have diplomatic relations with the Vatican must maintain a separate building from their mission to Italy.

“The Vatican wants this [maintaining separate embassies] or else everyone would double up,” said Kishore Jayabalan, head of the Acton Institute’s Rome office. “They would use the same ambassador to Italy for the Vatican. They would treat the Vatican as an appendage to Italy.”

The new location for the U.S. embassy to the Holy See will reportedly be in a renovated building within the compound of the embassy to Italy.

“We will have our own gate and our own entrance on Via Salustina,” Hackett said. “Plus, we will have our own much larger office space. There will be no decrease in staff or budget. It is not in any way, shape, or form a downgrade. Pope Francis was just named Man of the Year by TIME magazine. Could you see any president not paying attention to what he does?”

When asked if there have been any specific security threats to the embassy, Hackett said he did not know of any.

Ken Hackett presents his credentials to Pope Francis.

Ken Hackett presents his credentials to Pope Francis.

Edward Pentin, Rome correspondent for the National Catholic Register, said he doesn’t believe the move will diminish U.S.-Vatican relations.

“The main critics have been past ambassadors,” Pentin said. “There’s a sense here that it’s a political debate spurred by certain Republicans.”

A genuine concern for the Vatican, he said, is when countries close their embassies altogether as Ireland did in 2011 — or when the British government relocated their embassy to the Holy See in 2006 to its embassy to Italy. There were demands in Great Britain at the time to go even further and shut the embassy altogether, but pressure from the Vatican stopped it.

“It does feel like the U.S. embassy to the Holy See has been made an appendage to the larger embassy to Italy,” Jayabalan countered. “The Vatican says it understands, but it does feel like a demotion. In terms of practical matters, it won’t change things.”

Still, there is a sense that Catholics continue to receive the short end of the stick from the Obama administration, particularly with regard to the HHS contraceptive mandate.

“The optics don’t look good because the Obama administration has all these issues with the Catholic Church at home,” said Jayabalan. “It’s not a good public relations  move for the U.S. government in general.”

SABRINA ARENA FERRISI is Legatus magazine’s senior staff writer.

The history of U.S.-Vatican diplomatic

Bishop John Carroll, SJ

Bishop John Carroll, SJ


1788. Pope Pius VI sends an emissary to Paris to meet with Benjamin Franklin, the first U.S. diplomat to France. He asks if President George Washington would allow a bishop in the newly formed nation. Washington agrees and the pope elevates Fr. John Carroll, SJ, as America’s first bishop.

1797-1870. The U.S. appoints 11 American consuls to the then-Papal States. Rome becomes known as a “listening post” and place to protect U.S. merchant interests.

1867. Congress votes to de-fund the diplomatic mission to the Holy See due to religious prejudice and the desire to humiliate President Andrew Johnson.

Eugenio Pacelli

Eugenio Pacelli

1867-1940. U.S.-Vatican relations are conducted on an informal basis.

1930s. The U.S. government and American Catholics work together to tackle  poverty and unemployment.

1936. Franklin Roosevelt meets with the Vatican’s secretary of state Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli (Pope Pius XII)at his mother’s home in Hyde Park, N.Y.

Frank A. Wilson with Pope John Paul II

Frank A. Wilson with Pope John Paul II

1939. FDR creates a U.S. Mission to the Holy See with a personal representative. He sends Myron Taylor, a Protestant and former U.S. Steel chairman, who works with the Vatican to feed refugees, provide aid, and assist Allied prisoners of war.

1944. U.S. charge d’affaires to the Holy See Harold Tittman and his family spend months hiding in Vatican City during the Nazi occupation.

1984. President Ronald Reagan establishes full diplomatic relations with the Vatican. Frank A. Wilson is named ambassador.