Interview With U.S. Ambassador to Holy See

ROME, JUNE 7, 2007 ( The United States and the Holy See are going down parallel paths in many important areas, especially in efforts to advance freedom and human dignity in the world, according the U.S. ambassador to the Holy See.

In anticipation of President George Bush’s upcoming meeting with Benedict XVI on Saturday, Ambassador Francis Rooney comments on the points of convergence and divergence between the United States and the Holy See.

This is the first meeting between Bush and Benedict XVI since the funeral of Pope John Paul II in 2005, when the president and first lady Laura Bush met Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

The Holy Father received Laura Bush in an audience in Feb. 2006.

Q: What do you think President Bush’s goal is in visiting with Benedict XVI, in this, their first meeting since the funeral of John Paul II?

Ambassador Rooney: This is a tangible reflection of how important the Holy See is to the United States and to the president.

The most direct and tangible way to show the interest of the president is a presidential visit.

There is a great deal of excitement on our part to have the president here and to have him devote this time and effort to the Holy See.

The United States and the Holy See have many values in common and are going down parallel paths in many important areas, especially in efforts to advance freedom and human dignity in the world.

The president has done many things that relate to the values that the Holy Father and the Holy See support and nurture.

Q: Following on the heels of the summit of the Group of Eight nations in Germany, what do you think the main points of discussion will be between Benedict XVI and Bush?

Ambassador Rooney: The broad platform of discussion will be the issues that relate to freedom and the promotion of human dignity in the world.

In that context, I think the recent increase in consciousness about global warming will be discussed. The president has had some very direct and concrete things to say about that and the Holy Father has mentioned the environment in one of his recent official pronouncements.

I’m sure the efforts of the world to combat terrorism and to understand and deal with fundamentalism is also a likely topic for discussion.

The Holy Father has spoken about some of the religious and dogmatic foundations related to extremism. Of course, the president has spoken about the necessity of the world to combat violence and extremism.

Q: You have spoken with ZENIT before on issues of immigration. The topic has moved to headlines again with the new proposed U.S. legislation. What are your thoughts on the new legislation?

Ambassador Rooney: The president has said this is legislation he can support.

President Bush has been a believer in the need for a rational, orderly, legal and fair system of immigration and of dealing with the 11 or 12 million illegal aliens in the United States from the beginning of his term in office, even before 9/11, as evidenced by his trip to Mexico to meet with President Vicente Fox.

He has been a supporter for this type of legislation from the beginning, courageously, sometimes even against some of the members of his own party.

9/11 changed many things in the United States and certainly has made the border security and immigration issue more complicated. It has raised sensitivity of the need to secure borders.

In the context of securing borders, which I think everyone agrees is critical, we still need to solve the problem that the president was trying to solve in the first place, which is the 11 or 12 million people living illegally in our country, who are providing valuable goods and services, as well as a rational means of dealing with future potential migrants.

The president’s proposals, for the last seven years, have been about providing a means to identify who these people are in our country. Unless you have some kind of process to make them come forward, like his proposal, how can you identify who they are in the first place?

So you identify who they are and provide them a framework to either work in the United States or to go home. And possibly a framework to work in America for a while as a worker and then go home to their home country, or possibly an avenue toward citizenship for certain people who meet all the criteria that the president and Congress agree on. But there has got to be a process for that. You cannot just ignore it.

What I’ve learned as an ambassador that I didn’t realize before is the global nature of population shifts and migration. The world of free trade, widespread communication and transportation technology, and the free flow of goods and services, has radically changed the paradigm.

The United States is not the only country dealing with immigration issues. Italy is dealing with them; the United Kingdom is dealing with them. The issue of Turkish workers in Germany is very well known. It is a global phenomenon.

From a principled point of view, the concepts of Catholic social teaching — such as uniting families and allowing individuals to enjoy the fruits of their own labor, which is an inalienable human right — to me ties into what our country is built on. That is, that all men are created equal and all have the opportunity to develop their talents and create opportunities in their lives.

There is a lot of symmetry in Catholic social teaching and the principles America is built on.

Q: The presidents of the Catholic bishop’s conferences wrote a letter last week to the leaders attending the G-8 summit asking them to honor their commitments to Africa. Can you explain the recent efforts made by Bush in Africa?

Ambassador Rooney: Fighting AIDS in Africa has been a huge priority for the president.

He started PEPFAR — the President’s Emergency Program for AIDS Relief. It was a $15 billion program at the start of his second term, but now he has called for doubling it and having it continue over the first five years after he leaves office to really get the job done.

It is a courageous thing. All these people around the world talk about how to deal with Africa and what the United States should or shouldn’t do. They ought to look at what the Unites States is doing.

The vast majority of the money being spent in this program coincides with the values of the Holy See, especially regarding the treatment of those suffering from the disease and the cultural education being made available to help people change their lives and behavior.

We hosted a conference recently focusing on AIDS and the important role of the Vatican’s Good Samaritan Foundation, involving Caritas International and experts from the United Nations.

Attention was given to AIDS treatment, where the money needs to be spent, and showing the important role the Good Samaritan Foundation plays, as well as the important role PEPFAR is playing. Around 27% of all people with AIDS are being treated by Catholic organizations.

It is another area where the Holy See and the United States have very common objectives and are pursing parallel tracks very much in line with each other.

It’s a similar discussion about climate change and emissions. What the president has said is that there are certain countries that produce most of the serious emissions, and everybody knows who they are.

The way to deal with these emissions is to use advanced technologies to solve the problem, not just move them to another country.

I think it is logical to make available the technologies to countries that need it the most to solve the problem for everyone. I saw recently that U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has also said the same thing.

Q: You have spoken already about some of the points of convergence between present U.S. government and the Holy See, but what do you see as the main areas of divergence?

Ambassador Rooney: I don’t know that there are very many areas of divergence. There have been some in the past — certainly the well-known position of the Holy See about the entry into the war in Iraq.

But since then, the Holy See’s support of the efforts of the coalition to bring stability to the country and freedom to create a decent place for people to live to raise their families shows that there has been some convergence there.

Q: There has been a lot of discussion about the persecution of Christians in Iraq, including a recent statement made by the head of the Chaldean Church Patriarch Emmanuel III Delly of Baghdad. Is this something that will be discussed by Bush and Benedict XVI?

Ambassador Rooney: It could be. The Holy Father represents Christians and we are a major part of the coalition forces trying to bring stability to Iraq.

We share the same goals of creating stability and opportunity, while providing freedom and safety for the Iraqi people. In that sense, the Holy See has been supportive of the nation-building and community-building efforts of the coalition forces.


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