Meet the new U.S. ambassador to the Vatican

Categories: Nation/World

Hackett will bring insights to his new post from many years working for Catholic Relief Services

August 16, 2013, edition
By Paul McMullen
Catholic News Service

Ken Hackett is not joking when he says it is easier for him to list the nations he has not visited rather than ones in which his passport has been stamped.

2011 file photo of Ken Hackett in Port-au-Prince

Ken Hackett, left, then president of Catholic Relief Services, stands with Carolyn Woo and U.S. Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas in the remains of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption in Port-au-Prince in 2011. The cathedral was destroyed in Haiti’s catastrophic earthquake in 2010. (CNS photo/Jim Stipe, courtesy of Catholic Relief Services)

The man who for 18 years led Baltimore-based Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops’ overseas relief and development agency, will next apply his well-
traveled expertise to U.S. relations with the Vatican as ambassador to the Holy See.On Aug. 1, the Senate confirmed his nomination to the post by President Barack Obama.The post had been vacant since November 2012, when Miguel Diaz — who once taught at St. John’s University, Collegeville — resigned to teach at the University of Dayton in Ohio.

“I know so many of the bishops and nuns and priests and deacons and Catholic workers in so many countries around the world,” Hackett said. “I hope that is helpful in providing insight to the administration in what is going on in the world.”

Hackett went to work for CRS in 1972, and was its president from 1993 to 2011.

He said he received a call from the White House back in February telling him Obama wanted to nominate him to the ambassadorship and asking him if he would be willing to serve.

“I said, that is so exciting, I would be more than willing,” he said.

He noted that being selected for the ambassador post didn’t come “through any political contributions,” but rather be­cause of “the thousands of people who work with Catholic Relief Services and with whom I was associated.”

He expected to move to Rome in late August.

Interests in common

Asked to compare his previous advocacy for CRS on behalf of the U.S. Catholic bishops to advocating for the people of the United States as ambassador, he said: “I thought about that a lot. There will be times where the position of the (Obama) administration differs, obviously, from the Holy See, but I am going to look for, as many of my predecessors did, those opportunities where we can come together and find strength in collaboration, coincidence of interests.”

He added, “There are some powerful connections, that, together, will really make a difference.”

Hackett said that he feels “Americans are right there” with regard to Pope Francis’ focus on “changing the way the world looks at issues of poverty and injustice and so many social issues. . . . There is common cause. That makes me excited.”

CRS “represented all flavors,” Hackett said. “It wasn’t one group that had one agenda, or another group that had one agenda. We were about finding those points which were basic to our faith: concern and compassion for the poor, or to put it in more theological terms, the preferential option for the poor. Those elements, of the dignity and sacredness of the individual, those kinds of things, they were critical to us.”

Hackett said his service in the board of the Millennium Challenge Corp., which was designed by the U.S. to work with some of the poorest countries in the world, has given him a special perspective on issues facing those countries face.

Among the things he looks forward to when he takes up his new duties, he said, is a “the reconnection with so many friends from around the world, where sandals were made out of rubber tires, with people who don’t wear Gucci shoes and carry briefcases. These are holy people who are trying their best.

“I missed that in the last year I’ve been retired (from CRS). You don’t see those kind of people anymore, that bishop from Congo who has so many stories to tell at supper, of so much hardship. I want to 
re-establish those relationships and use them to, basically, improve U.S. policies,” Hackett said.