Glendon reflects on year as ambassador to the Holy See

HLS Professor Mary Ann Glendon and Pope Benedict XVI

HLS Professor Mary Ann Glendon and Pope Benedict XVI

HLS Professor Mary Ann Glendon, the United States Ambassador to the Holy See during the past year, resigned her post in January to allow President Barack Obama to choose her successor. Nominated by President George W. Bush in November 2007, she was confirmed by the Senate in December 2007. Glendon has held top posts in the Vatican since 1994, when she was appointed to the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences by Pope John Paul II to promote the study of the social sciences. In 2004, Glendon was named as president of the Academy. She also headed the 22-member delegation of the Holy See to the international 1995 Beijing Conference on Women sponsored by the United Nations. In addition to her work with the Vatican, Glendon was a member of President Bush’s Council on Bioethics, which advises the president on ethical issues related to advances in bioethics.

In an interview with Roman journalist Alberto Carosa that appeared in the Jan. 26 issue of “Inside the Vatican” magazine, a monthly journal on Church and world affairs from Rome, Glendon reflects on her year in Rome. The interview is posted here with permission:

Ambassador Glendon, your one-year mandate as US Ambassador to the Holy See just expired and you have just returned to your home in the United States. What are your feelings now?

It was an enormous privilege to serve as U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See during a period when relations between the United States and the Vatican were so close. And of course I will miss my friends in Rome. But it’s also a great feeling to be returning to my vocation of teaching and scholarship with so many first-hand experiences to draw upon. For someone like me who works in the field of international studies, it was a dream come true to witness diplomacy in action as practiced by the outstanding members of the Holy See diplomatic corps.

How did you come to know that your mandate would not be confirmed or extended? Were you told so, or was it your personal decision?

When a new U.S. President is elected, it is customary for all Ambassadors who were political appointees of the outgoing administration to be asked to submit their resignations prior to Inauguration Day. The notification that was sent to us after the November election specified a procedure to be followed by Ambassadors who wished to apply for an extension of their term. But I was satisfied with what I had been able to accomplish during my tenure, and I was eager to get back to my home, my library, and my writing projects. So I sent in my resignation to be effective in time to be on the premises for the spring semester at Harvard Law School.

Can you briefly mention some of the most notable highlights of your work in Rome?

There are so many images that will always be fixed in my mind—the liturgies in St. Peter’s, so expressive of the universal nature of the Church, the Memorial Day services at Nettuno, where more than 7,000 American soldiers lie buried, and of course the exchange of visits between President Bush and Pope Benedict XVI. The first part of my term was much taken up with planning for the Pope’s historic journey to the United States in April 2008. It was an unforgettable experience to be at the airport with the President as he welcomed the Pope, calling him “the greatest spiritual leader in the world.”

Then, two months later, President Bush came to the Vatican where he was given an equally extraordinary welcome. Heads of state are usually received in the formal setting of the Apostolic Palace, but on this occasion the meeting between the Pope and the President took place in a picturesque tower overlooking the Vatican Gardens and was followed by a stroll to another idyllic spot where they were serenaded by the Sistine Chapel choir.

In your last “farewell” meeting with the Holy Father, what was the special message, if any, that he conveyed to you?

Well, it was really more of a “goodbye and welcome back” meeting, since I travel to Rome regularly in connection with my work for the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, a body that reports directly to the Pope. Perhaps it was only my imagination, but I had the impression when the Holy Father asked me about my future plans that he sometimes misses the tranquil life he enjoyed as a professor.

We saw you carried out many important projects during your mandate, especially the two anniversaries on human rights and US-Holy See relations. Could you elaborate a bit on this?

Having accepted the position of Ambassador for a relatively short stint, I had to think hard about how I could best promote the shared values of the US and the Holy See in a limited period of time. I decided that the best way to do so would be to take advantage of the coincidence of the 25th anniversary of formal diplomatic relations between the U.S. and the Holy See with the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Since the UDHR expresses so many of the ideals to which both the U.S. and the Holy See are dedicated, the conjunction of those anniversaries provided many occasions to explore and expand common ground.

So I arranged for our Embassy to sponsor a series of five conferences on various aspects of human rights: the contribution of Latin American and Catholic thought to the modern human rights tradition; human trafficking as a modern form of slavery; current challenges to the idea of universal rights; the role of philanthropy in bringing rights to life; and the American model of religious freedom.

I also accepted numerous speaking engagements on human rights themes, including the keynote address for Vaclav Havel’s annual Forum 2000 in Prague; a BBC conversation with Mary Robinson, the former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights; a public dialogue on religious freedom with Cardinal Camillo Ruini, the past President of the Italian Conference of Catholic Bishops; and a speech at last summer’s Communione e Liberazione Meeting at Rimini where I discussed the Pope’s April address to the UN. Many other opportunities for public diplomacy grew out of the fact that the Italian translation of one of my books, Traditions in Turmoil, appeared last spring and won some Italian literary prizes.

Can you also elaborate now about what you see as the common points between the Vatican and your country?

For the past several years, there has been a strong correspondence between the views of the U.S. government and the Holy See on the importance of strengthening the global moral consensus against terror (especially against the use of religion as a justification for violence); promoting human rights (especially religious freedom); fostering inter-religious dialogue; and working for peace in the Middle East and other troubled areas of the world. And of course President Bush and Pope Benedict XVI shared a common outlook on a wide range of social and cultural issues. There is another area of common concern, however, where it seems to me that neither the U.S. nor the Holy See receives the recognition they deserve. I’m referring to their commitment to the relief of poverty, hunger, and disease. On those fronts, a natural partnership has grown up between the United States, as the world’s largest and most generous donor of humanitarian aid, and the Holy See, which oversees the world’s largest network of health care, educational, and relief agencies.

That community of interest intensified over the past eight years thanks to President Bush’s energetic embrace of one of the most important political ideas of the late 20th century, namely, that social services can often be delivered more efficiently, effectively and humanely through the mediating structures of civil society, than by government acting directly. President Bush has said he considers his initiatives with faith-based institutions as one of the “crowning achievements’ of his presidency, a presidency that saw the U.S. government double its aid to Latin America, quadruple it to Africa, and triple it worldwide. Through creative partnerships between government and faith-based organizations, America has provided the world with successful models for getting official aid to its intended beneficiaries with low transaction costs and high accountability.

These initiatives, permitting participating religious groups to maintain their principles and identity, are very much in the spirit of Pope Benedict XVI’s first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est (“God Is Love”) where he wrote that “The state that would provide everything, absorbing everything into itself, would ultimately become a mere bureaucracy incapable of guaranteeing the very thing the suffering person—every person—needs: namely love and personal concern.” The notion that charity is merely a social service, he pointed out, “demeans man and ultimately disregards all that is specifically human.”

And what about the differences between Rome and Washington? Will they be overcome one day?

By the time I arrived last year, there was no disposition to revisit the major difference that had arisen in recent years–that over the decision to take military action against the regime in Iraq. The focus of both the U.S. and the Holy See had moved on to the need to establish stability, peace, and protection for minorities. The relationship has historically been a strong one in which both entities are able to express and explain their points of view in an atmosphere of good will and mutual respect, and I am hopeful that it will continue in that vein.

Is there any particular way the Vatican has appreciated and acknowledged your valuable and tremendous work as Ambassador to the Holy See?

It was very gratifying for me and my staff that many Holy See officials attended and participated in our events and conferences. Particularly memorable were the speeches by Cardinal Renato Martino, President of the Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace, at our October conference on “Universal Human Rights and the Challenge of Diversity”; Professor Guzman Carriquiry, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, at our May conference on “Latin America and the International Human Rights Project”; and Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, President of the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue, at our 25th anniversary conference on “The American Model of Religious Freedom.”

Do you have any special plan or project to pursue a particular professional endeavor, now that you are no longer the US Ambassador to the Holy See?

In the summer of 2007, when I got the call from the White House asking whether I would be interested in becoming the Ambassador to the Holy See, I was half-way through writing a book, “The Forum and the Tower”, about persons who had been engaged in both of what Aristotle called the two most choice-worthy vocations: philosophy and politics. I have long been fascinated by how persons like Plato, Cicero, Tocqueville, Burke, Weber, and others dealt with the push-and-pull between those two worlds. Now, after having spent some time in the forum myself, I’m looking forward to getting back to the ivory tower and finishing that project.

Glendon is the author of several books and articles, including her casebook entitled “Comparative Legal Traditions” and the critically acclaimed book “A World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human rights.” A member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, she is a past president of the UNESCO-sponsored International Association of Legal Science.

The Learned Hand Professor of Law, Glendon joined the HLS faculty in 1986. Prior to that, she taught at Boston College Law School. She holds a B.A., J.D., and M.A. in Comparative Law from the University of Chicago.