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 CNS Story:

VATICAN-AMBASSADOR Apr-9-2009 (750 words) xxxi

Vatican dismisses report that it rejected US ambassador picks

By John Thavis
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- A Vatican spokesman dismissed reports that the Holy See has rejected several candidates for U.S. ambassador to the Vatican because of their support for legal abortion.

"No proposals about the new ambassador of the United States to the Holy See have reached the Vatican, and therefore it is not true that they have been rejected. The rumors circulating about this topic are not reliable," the spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, told Catholic News Service April 9.

The spokesman's comments echoed off-the-record remarks by informed diplomatic and Vatican sources in Rome, who said the reports appeared to be unfounded.

"It's possible names have been circulated inside the U.S. administration, and perhaps rejected for some reason or other, but not because of any Vatican veto. It's also quite possible that the whole thing is conjecture," said one source.

An article published April 2 by Newsmax.com -- and recirculated in Italian media -- said the administration of President Barack Obama had put forward three candidates for consideration as ambassador, but that each had been deemed insufficiently pro-life by the Vatican.

Vatican sources said not only was the report inaccurate, but that its premise was faulty. The Vatican has not been in the habit of vetting the personal beliefs or ideas of candidates before accepting them as ambassadors, they said.

There have been occasions in the last two years when the Vatican has objected to ambassadorial candidates -- from Argentina, in the case of a divorced Catholic with a live-in partner, and from France, where the candidate was an openly gay Catholic in a union with another man.

"For Catholic ambassadors, there is the question of their matrimonial situation. But outside of that, I don't think there are other criteria," said one Vatican source.

Thomas Melady, former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, explained to CNS that the diplomatic protocol for tendering ambassadorial nominations is far different from that suggested by the "three-rejections" rumor.

"That's not the process at all," said Melady, who represented the U.S. at the Vatican from 1989 to 1993 under President George H.W. Bush. He also was ambassador to Burundi and Uganda under President Richard Nixon.

Melady, a Republican who is not involved in Obama administration discussions related to filling the Vatican post, said that in the first place names of potential nominees are proffered to governments in utmost secrecy. That secrecy is part of a protocol dating back centuries, which is generally strictly observed, said Melady, now a senior diplomat in residence at the Institute of World Peace in Washington.

The typical response to such proffers is no more than an indication that the person suggested "is agreeable" or that there is "no objection," Melady said. On rare occasions, an objection might be expressed, he said, but that happens even more rarely when it's the United States submitting the nomination.

Another rumor making the rounds of blogs says Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of the late President John F. Kennedy and briefly an aspirant for appointment to the Senate from New York, is favored for the job.

The White House does not comment on nominations before they are announced. But the rumor about Kennedy was downplayed by people familiar with the administration's plans. Efforts by CNS to reach Kennedy to ask her were unsuccessful.

As of April 9 only a handful of diplomatic nominations had been announced, including ambassadors to Iraq, Afghanistan and Ireland. Official diplomatic representatives were not in place in Great Britain, the Czech Republic or Turkey when Obama visited in early April.

It's not uncommon for a president not to have ambassadors in countries he visits early in an administration. Between the process of vetting nominees ahead of time and the often slow Senate confirmation system, many of the top spots in embassies sit vacant well into a president's first year.

Part of the slowness, Melady conjectured, is that several Obama nominees for various posts were delayed or sidetracked over problems with income taxes. Before they are announced, all names are now closely vetted for potential tax problems as well as the usual FBI background checks.

By comparison, Jim Nicholson, the first ambassador to the Vatican of the President George W. Bush administration, was nominated April 6, 2001, and presented his credentials at the Vatican in mid-September. Ray Flynn, President Bill Clinton's first Vatican ambassador, was nominated by mid-March 1993 and officially arrived at the Vatican in mid-July.

- - -

Contributing to this story was Patricia Zapor in Washington.


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