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On January 19 Mary Ann Glendon, Harvard law professors and former FT board member, will be leaving her post as US ambassador to the Vatican. At just over a year, her term will be the shortest ever for this position, but thanks to her wisdom and zeal it was, according to the National Catholic Reporter , one of the most active and productive terms ever. The Reporter writes:

Since her arrival in Rome last February, Glendon has been kept busy with a trip by Pope Benedict XVI to the United States in April, a return visit to the Vatican by President George W. Bush in June, five major embassy-sponsored conferences and the daily rounds of diplomatic obligations at one of the world’s premier listening posts . . . .

The pope’s U.S. trip in April, she said, was particularly interesting to her because the pontiff made a point of praising the American model of religious freedom. Sometimes described as “positive secularism,” it’s a model that gives religious values a significant voice in the public square, rather than excluding them on the grounds of church-state separation.

That’s a subject that’s been on Glendon’s mind for years as an academic. She has warned that this American model is “fighting for its life” today against persistent efforts to limit religion’s influence on government.

It just happens that the American model of religious freedom is also the topic of the U.S. Embassy’s last big conference under Glendon, to take place Jan. 13 in the presence of other diplomats accredited to the Holy See and Vatican officials . . . .

The January conference marks the 25th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the United States and the Vatican. It is also the last in a series of embassy conferences commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Glendon said she came to the ambassador’s position knowing it would be a short stint and decided to set an ambitious agenda based on those two anniversaries, convinced that human rights was an area where U.S. and Vatican interests coincided.

Of course, how one defines human rights (and how one defines human , for that matter) is a decisive factor here, and one on which President Bush and especially Mary Ann Glendon were particularly strong. I pray that the coming years of US–Vatican relations will be as fruitful as they were under Glendon.



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