The Wikileaks website ... A longtime Vatican diplomat said, ‘First, it’s necessary to see if these documents are authentic. What proof is there?’

VATICAN CITY – WikiLeaks’ release of classified US documents is unlikely to ever develop into a flood capable of eroding decades of US diplomatic efforts, some Vatican officials and observers said.

The content of the communications between the US government and its diplomatic missions abroad does “not seem capable of substantially changing relations between the United States” and its 274 embassies around the world, said the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, on Nov 29, the day after the WikiLeaks website launched “Cablegate”.

Among the quarter of a million alleged diplomatic cables WikiLeaks said it would release over the coming months, sources in Rome said 850 documents concern communications between the US State Department and the US Embassy to the Vatican.

While US government employees would not comment on any of the content that is being released, the Vatican seemed to be downplaying the perceived crisis and showed a heavy dose of skepticism.

For one thing, the Vatican has made no plans to make any pre-emptive statements, according to one Vatican source, especially since the authenticity of the leaked documents cannot be verified.

A longtime Vatican diplomat, Cardinal Giovanni Cheli, told Catholic News Service Dec 2, “First, it’s necessary to see if these documents are authentic. What proof is there?”

On the other hand, the storm already seemed to be dying down just a few days after the start of the leaks, he said.

“After the early alarm, people aren’t taking much notice anymore, at least not in the countries that have already been mentioned in some revelation,” he said.

When the clouds lift, he said, “I think, in the end, nothing will have happened.”

Mr Miguel Diaz, the US ambassador to the Vatican, told CNS in an e-mail response to questions, “Regardless of the release of alleged reports, we will continue to work with the Vatican to advance shared interests such as international peace and security, human rights, religious freedom, global health and many other priorities.”

The WikiLeaks’ site said one of the many reasons it wanted to make the classified government documents public was to show people what is going on behind closed doors.

Cablegate, in fact, reopened an ethical dilemma: What is the proper balance between guaranteeing the public’s right-to-know and protecting the common good, privacy and national security?

“We believe our friends and allies understand the need for frank, internal discussions and share our view that the release of these documents is reprehensible,” Mr Diaz wrote, adding that the US government had already improved on securing sensitive information and remains committed to guaranteeing confidentiality.

Cardinal Cheli, who served as a Vatican diplomat for 36 years, working in Guatemala, Spain, Italy and at the United Nations, said there should be transparency in everything that is of public concern as long as the information would not have negative effects on the public good.

“However, some government documents could have bad consequences if published. That is why there are state secrets in every government in the world,” Cardinal Cheli said.

Another Vatican diplomat, who asked that his name not be used, told CNS that people need to consider what the real role of diplomacy is.

“Is it to complicate things” by never allowing people to speak in confidentiality or have frank honest discussions, “or is it to really try to push the right things across the board” by basing negotiations on a solid and well-researched understanding of reality on the ground? he asked.

Massimo Franco, author of a book on US-Vatican relations, Parallel Empires, told CNS that the WikiLeaks phenomenon “could be very useful because it forces every serious institution to prepare a legal framework for this new phenomenon of lawlessness”. - CNS

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