THE Vatican has warned Britain that it risks violating a longstanding treaty by transferring its Embassy to the Holy See to premises within the British Embassy to Italy.
A team from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is being sent to Rome this week in an attempt to avert a diplomatic row over the move, which the FCO insists is not a merger.
Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Pope’s Secretary of State (Prime Minister), has notified London that under the 1929 Lateran Treaty between Italy and Vatican City, the Vatican has “sovereign status” and is entitled to foreign missions separate from Italy.
Francis Campbell, 35, the new British Ambassador to the Vatican, presented his credentials to Pope Benedict XVI just before Christmas.
He is working, however, from offices within the British Embassy to Italy with a reduced staff after the closure of the offices of the Embassy to the Holy See on Via Condotti.
Mr Campbell still occupies Villa Drusiana, the official residence of British ambassadors to the Vatican, a rented villa near the Appian Way. But staff have been dismissed and the villa is to be handed back to its owners at the end of this month. The new Ambassador to the Holy See is due to move into a building in the grounds of Villa Wolkonsky, the residence of Sir Ivor Roberts, the Ambassador to Italy.
British officials insist that the missions to Italy and the Vatican remain juridically and administratively distinct. Vatican sources, however, argue that senior Holy See officials cannot be expected to go to Villa Wolkonsky.
The Foreign Office has justified the closure of the Via Condotti offices and Villa Drusiana on cost-cutting and security grounds. The residence costs €10,000 (£6,860) a month to rent before the cost of security, housekeeping and gardening staff.
In a recent interview with The Times Mr Campbell defended the closure, saying that garden parties and other “19th-century” diplomatic methods were out of date. But the villa and its lovingly tended English-style garden have in the past been an effective and discreet setting for diplomatic and religious encounters.
By-the-by, any reports I've heard about Mr Campbell have been positive and it's quite something that a Northern Irish Catholic should land this job. (Some trivia - the Nuncio responsible for the dioceses of Northern Ireland is in fact the Dublin-based nuncio to Ireland not the nuncio to London)