List of ambassadors of the United States to the Holy See

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Ambassador of the United States to the Holy See
Apostolicae Sedis Legatus Civitatum Foederatarum
US Department of State official seal.svg
Seal of the United States Department of State
Joe Donnelly, official portrait, 113th Congress.jpg
Joe Donnelly

since January 20, 2022
NominatorThe President of the United States
AppointerThe President
with Senate advice and consent
Inaugural holderWilliam A. Wilson
as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary
FormationApril 9, 1984
DeputyTheodore Diehl

The Ambassador of the United States to the Holy See is the official representative of the United States of America to the Holy See, the leadership of the Catholic Church. The official representation began with the formal opening of diplomatic relations with the Holy See by President Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II in 1984.[1]

Before the establishment of formal diplomatic relations, President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Postmaster General James Farley was the first high-ranking government official to normalize relations with the Holy See in 1933.[2] In addition, Myron Taylor would serve during World War II as an emissary for President Franklin D. Roosevelt. In 1951, President Harry S. Truman's pick of World War II hero Mark W. Clark was defeated.

Between 1951 and 1968, the United States had no official representative accredited to the Holy See. President Richard Nixon changed this when he appointed Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. as his personal representative. President Jimmy Carter followed with the appointment of former New York City mayor Robert F. Wagner, Jr. Every ambassador to date has been a member of the Roman Catholic Church. The post is currently occupied by Joe Donnelly, a former United States senator from Indiana.[3]

History before formal diplomatic relations established[edit]

The United States had diplomatic relations with the Papal States from 1797 to 1867. The Papal States ceased to exist in 1870, when its last territory (the city of Rome) was lost to the Kingdom of Italy. After that, the international status of the Papacy was controversial until 1929, when the Italian government agreed to the establishment of Vatican City as a sovereign city-state.

The United States was slow to establish full diplomatic relations with the re-established Holy See, partly due to the prevalence of anti-Catholicism in the United States. President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Postmaster General James Farley was the first high-ranking government official to normalize relations with the Holy See in 1933 when the Postmaster General set sail for Europe, along with Soviet Commissar of Foreign Affairs Maxim Litvinoff on the Italian Liner SS Conte di Savoia. In Italy Farley had an audience with Pope Pius XI, and dinner with Cardinal Pacelli, who was to accede to the papacy in 1939.[2] Myron Charles Taylor, an industrialist, philanthropist and diplomat (starting with World War II), served from December 1939 until 1950 as an emissary[clarification needed] to Pope Pius XII for Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman.

On October 20, 1951, Truman nominated Mark W. Clark, a U.S. Army general and World War II hero, to be emissary to the Holy See. Clark later withdrew his nomination on January 13, 1952, following protests from U.S. Senator Tom Connally from Texas and Protestant groups.

Between 1951 and 1968, the United States had no official representative accredited to the Holy See.

In 1969, President Richard Nixon changed this when he appointed—as his personal representative[clarification needed]Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., a former U.S. Senator from Massachusetts, Nixon's 1960 Republican vice presidential running mate and a former U.S. ambassador (to the United Nations, South Vietnam, and West Germany).

In 1978, President Jimmy Carter followed with the appointment of Robert F. Wagner, Jr., a former mayor of New York City and U.S. Ambassador to Spain.

Heads of the U.S. Legation at Rome (1848–1867)
Name and Title Presentation of
Termination of
Jacob L. Martin, Chargé d'Affaires August 19, 1848 August 26, 1848
Lewis Cass, Jr., Minister Resident November 19, 1849 November 27, 1858
John P. Stockton, Minister Resident November 27, 1858 May 23, 1861
Alexander Randall, Minister Resident June 6, 1862 August 4, 1862
Richard Milford Blatchford, Minister Resident November 26, 1862 May 20, 1863
Rufus King, Minister Resident January 8, 1864 August 17, 1867

List of ambassadors[edit]

The following is a list of U.S. ambassadors to the Holy See:

Name Years served Pope U.S. President
William Wilson[a] 1984–1986 John Paul II Ronald Reagan
Frank Shakespeare 1986–1989
Thomas Patrick Melady 1989–1993 George H. W. Bush
Raymond Flynn 1993–1997 Bill Clinton
Lindy Boggs 1997–2001
James Nicholson 2001–2005 George W. Bush
Francis Rooney 2005–2008 Benedict XVI
Mary Ann Glendon 2008–2009
Miguel H. Díaz 2009–2012 Barack Obama
Ken Hackett
2013–2017 Francis
Callista Gingrich 2017–2021 Donald Trump
Joe Donnelly 2022–present Joe Biden

Vacancy controversies[edit]

In 2009, the post of ambassador remained vacant for several months because of tensions between the Vatican and the Obama Administration over the issues of abortion and same-sex marriage.[4] Three candidates were mentioned, including Caroline Kennedy and Douglas Kmiec.[4][5][6]

From November 2012 through mid-2013, the seat was also vacant, after Miguel H. Díaz left the office to teach at the University of Dayton. President Barack Obama nominated Ken Hackett, a longtime president of Catholic Relief Services, for the position in June 2013.[7] Ken Hackett was confirmed by the U.S. Senate as U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See on August 1, 2013.[8][9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ From 1981 to 1984, Wilson was Reagan's personal representative to the Holy See.


  1. ^ Mission Statement Archived April 23, 2016, at the Wayback Machine from the website of the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See
  2. ^ a b "Full text of "Jim Farley S Story"".
  3. ^ "Former Sen. Donnelly confirmed as Vatican ambassador". The Hill (in American English). January 22, 2022. Retrieved January 24, 2022.
  4. ^ a b "Obama's candidates for Vatican ambassador failing 'simple standard'". Catholic News Agency. April 9, 2009. Retrieved May 17, 2009.
  5. ^ "The Vatican versus the White House". Irish Independent. April 18, 2009.
  6. ^ "Pope 'rejects Caroline Kennedy for being too liberal'". The Times. April 15, 2009.
  7. ^ Jaweed, Kaleem (June 14, 2013). "Ken Hackett To Be Nominated As Ambassador To Vatican". Huffington Post. Retrieved June 18, 2013.
  8. ^ Rivera. "CRS Congratulates Ken Hackett on his Confirmation as US Ambassador to the Holy See". Catholic Relief Services. Retrieved August 2, 2013.
  9. ^ Gibson. "Former charity head confirmed as US ambassador to Vatican". Washington Post. Retrieved August 2, 2013.

External links[edit]