This summer Condoleeza Rice repeatedly sought a meeting with Pope Benedict XVI and was refused, reports Italy’s Corriere della Serra. The story, authored by a leading figure in the Vatican press corps, Massimo Franco, makes clear that the snub was conscious and was intended as an expression of anger with U.S. policies in the Middle East which the Vatican considers immoral and reprehensible, including the systematic mistreatment of prisoners and the use of torture techniques. Franco suggests that the Pope has also not forgotten the rude way in which Rice countered the Holy See’s expressions of concern about the invasion of Iraq in 2003:
No one will say so officially but the refusal may also have been prompted by Ms Rice’s stance in 2003, when she was Mr Bush’s national security adviser. On the eve of the Iraqi conflict, it was Ms Rice who said bluntly that she did not understand the Vatican’s anti-war stance. She treated John Paul II’s envoy, Cardinal Pio Laghi, with a coolness that bordered on disrespect when he was sent to Washington on 2 March 2003 on a desperate mission to avert military intervention. Clearly, the incident has not been forgotten.
The Vatican has also repeatedly expressed its view that the Bush Administration’s use of torture is unacceptable, and the Pope added his voice to the long list of foreign heads of state calling for the detention facility at Guantánamo to be shut down. The Vatican is also said to be deeply concerned about President Bush’s intentions concerning Iran. Franco notes that the Vatican’s relations with the United States are good, except for foreign policy matters.
The problem is that foreign policy is a constant source of discord and Ms Rice is not one of the Vatican’s favourite interlocutors. When contacts were first made for her abortive encounter with the Pope, it was explained that President Bush was also pressing for the meeting. His talks in the Vatican on 9 June with Benedict XVI had gone well and the US secretary of state’s encounter could have been a continuation. In fact, for Ms Rice to have obtained an audience on the lake at Castelgandolfo would have required willingness on the Vatican’s part, which was not the case.