The Guardian carries news today of the latest WikiLeaks disclosure of US embassy cables -- this time, relating to the Vatican. The cables, which are more than a year old, mention the Murphy Commission into Dublin clerical sex abuse, the Vatican's help in releasing British hostages in Iran, the "technophobia" of curial officials, and Rome's lobbying in favour of the EU constitution including God. Nothing new, in other words, but not without interest: there are things known within certain circles but not outside them; and there are some insights, at least, into how US diplomats view Rome. The New York Times summarizes here, John Allen analyzes here.

But there is one item which seems quite extraordinary, which in the UK is leading the reporting of this story: the alleged claim by Francis Campbell, UK ambassador to the Holy See, that Pope Benedict's creation in September last year of a church structure for the reception of groups of Anglicans risked the worst crisis in Anglican-Catholic relations in 150 years. Even more bizarrely, he is reported to have told the US deputy chief of mission to the Holy See, Julieta Valls Noyes, that the move could lead to "violence" against Catholics.

As I told BBC News this morning -- watch here -- I knew, reading this, it wasn't true: not just because I know Francis Campbell, and his reaction to Pope Benedict's initiative; but because no UK diplomat with any sense -- and Francis has more than many diplomats put together -- would have said something so lurid and exaggerated.

He would have spoken about the tensions with the Anglican Church which Anglicanorum coetibus occasioned, the difficult position it put the Archbishop of Canterbury in, and the offence caused to Lambeth Palace by the way in which the move was announced -- all of which are also reported.

But the remarks about crisis and violence are obviously half-heard, decontextualised, and distorted. I can imagine Campbell briefing a US diplomat about the history of Catholics in the UK, how in previous centuries they were subject to persecution and violence; and these words being cobbled together with other remarks in a second-hand report of a one-sided conversation more than a year ago, in which quotes are assembled after the fact by junior diplomats eager to big up the importance of their cables to Washington. Campbell, of course, cannot say what he did or did not say, because the UK Foreign Office is not commenting on the WikiLeaks.

What the cables miss out are the other parts of the picture: the fact that the Anglican-Catholic dialogue talks (ARCIC) are resuming; that the ordinariate was a response to applications received from former Anglicans in Australia and America; and that the coming ordination of women as bishops by the Church of England was likely to provoke many Anglo-Catholics to cross the Tiber anyway, without or without the ordinariate. 

As it happens, whatever his understandable feelings at the time about the unilateral way Rome announced the move, the Archbishop of Canterbury has since spoken warmly of the ordinariate, of the sharing of gifts it will potentially enable and how, therefore, it is a means of advancing the cause of eventual Catholic-Anglican unity.

That's the part that doesn't get leaked. Not the bit before, nor the bit after. And important parts of what does get leaked are so obviously untrue it's hard to know how WikiLeaks has increased our understanding or what public interest it has served.

Comments

Bill Mazzella | 12/13/2010 - 4:01pm
Austen, while I agree with you that Justin should provide full disclosure, I consider many of his points to be valid. I especially object to your wanting us to believe that Mr Campbell did not say what was reported based on your faith in his doing the right thing. As you are a reporter you should know that your credibility is based on verifiable facts not the argument on character.
Austen Ivereigh | 12/13/2010 - 5:14am
Justin, would you care to declare any relevant interest? You are an attorney with Strasburger in Dallas; is WikiLeaks your client? I think we should be told.
Justin Melkus | 12/11/2010 - 9:03pm
Mr. Ivereigh,

You are right to stand by your friend, Mr. Campbell.  However, again, if the diplomat that wrote the cable misinterpreted Mr. Campbell's comments, your gripe is with that diplomat.  If the reporting surrounding this particular cable is faulty, your gripe is with the Guardian newspaper.

A question:  Does your opinion that WikiLeaks should not have released these cables hinge on their release of thiis particular cable that has cast your friend in an unfavorable light?  If so, you must know that this is far bigger than this one cable and your friend.  If not, please consider this:

Your statement: 'WikiLeaks do nothing of the sort. They are partial, distorted, selective snapshots, decontextualised and deracinated, which serve only to obfuscate. And of course, WikiLeaks and Assange are entirely unaccountable. Appointed by nobody, they exist in a vacuum of legitimacy.' Demonstrates you truly do not understand what has happened with respect to this story.

The facts-as we know them so far-are these: WikiLeaks was provided these 250,000+ cables by Pvt. Bradley Manning.  WikiLeaks did not 'steal' the cables.  Pvt. Manning did.  He is facing prison for the rest of his life for his actions, rightly or wrongly.  WikiLeaks provided those 250,000+ cables to 5 newspapers: Guardian, Der Spiegel, El Pais, Le Monde, and, through Guardian, the New York Times.  It is those newspapers-not Wikileaks-that are reviewing, vetting, verifying and publishing the cables, with commentary and reportage.  So far, only 1,110 cables have been made available to the public at the pace and discretion of those newspapers, not WikiLeaks.  WikiLeaks only made the information available to them. So again, your gripe would appear to be with the Guardian newspaper.

But if you truly believe WikiLeaks should have deleted or otherwise destroyed and never published the cables with which it is provided, I would recommend you do further research to see what has so far been exposed by the cables' publication, with the release of only 1,110 or so cables.  A tiny smattering of examples:

*Oil giant Shell has infiltrated the Nigerian government in an effort to effectively control that country for its own ends.

*Drug giant Pfizer sought to blackmail the Nigerian authorities to make lawsuits
against it relating to drug side effects 'go away'

*The US bombed Islamic militants in Yemen, and lied to the American public about it.  Yemen lied to its citizens, claiming it conducted the bombings.

*The US State Departement acted in violation of the Vienna Treaty of 1961 to spy on UN diplomats.

*The Vatican helped secure the release of British hostages in Iran and the UK tried to downplay the Vatican's involvement. (Some good news!)

Some of the documents released were rightly classified, but others have exposed government lies and lawlessness.  That is important and it is the role of the press in a free and open democracy to expose such lies and lawlessness.  To truly argue that WikiLeaks should have published none of the cables, made none of them available to its media partners, is to argue that the government has the right to do what it wants, to break laws, to lie, to even murder people without due process, and the public has no right to now this, because we should just trust the government.  That is simple authoritarianism. 

Had similar leaks been published in 2002, we might have avoided the Iraq war by knowing it was based on lies.  Similar leaks of the 'Pentagon Papers' lead to the US withdrawing from Vietnam.  Had those documents not been published, the US might have stayed far longer.  At what cost?  With how many more dead?  Such leaks have saved and could have saved thousands of lives.  Lawless wars based on lies and corruption are what can be exposed, and given the choice we should all choose the exposure of truth over subservience to power and dishonesty.

You say WikiLeaks and Assange are unaccountable?  Well, if the government can break  laws and lie to its citizens under its own veil of secrecy and no one has the right to expose such lies and lawbreaking, then to whom is the government accountable?  In a democracy, it should be accountable to its citizens.

Have the leaks done some harm to the conduct of legitimate diplomacy?  Yes.  But that is such a small price to pay for the good they have already done and will continue to do in the months to come.  If the government had nothing to hide it should have nothing to fear.  That is the standard it appears to apply to its citizens, so we should apply the same to it.

I apologize for the long response, but I want the readers of this magazine in particular aware that this issue is very important and deserves an accurate portrayal of the issues at stake.

P.S. The authors of the article you complain of are Guardian reporters
Luisa Navarro | 12/11/2010 - 4:54pm
Bravo, Mr. Ivereigh!
Leaking State Department cables only shows, in this particular case, that US employees are way too primitive and boorish to have even a slight grasp of Vatican (and other) diplomacy. And, in general, that the whole exercise is a silly juvenile attempt at embarrassing 'the powers that be', whatever the consequences. Never mind. Even the NYT has sent the material to back pages.
Austen Ivereigh | 12/11/2010 - 2:37pm
"Do you propose it should have not disclosed the cables at all ...?" you ask. Yes, that's exactly what I propose. These are confidential communications, written with particular audiences in mind and never intended to be made public; such communications belong to the sphere of confidentiality which is vital to effective diplomacy. Transparency and accountability - freedom of speech, as you put it - -are not ends in themselves; they are meant to increase public understanding and engagement with the public sphere. WikiLeaks do nothing of the sort. They are partial, distorted, selective snapshots, decontextualised and deracinated, which serve only to obfuscate. And of course, WikiLeaks and Assange are entirely unaccountable. Appointed by nobody, they exist in a vacuum of legitimacy.

Of course I don't blame WikiLeaks for the faulty reportage of US diplomats in Rome. I blame WikiLeaks for ensuring that the distortions go public, spreading myth and distortion.

Defensive? Sure I'm defensive. I like and admire Campbell: he's a good, honest, thoughtful man, a brilliant diplomat who cares about both his country and the Church. He has a hinterland of integrity behind him larger than Texas. And it's absurdly unfair that he should be associated with remarks that only an idiot would make, and be thereafter identified with those remarks. I'm defensive because I want to defend him against unjust distortion. I think defensive in this case is good.
Justin Melkus | 12/11/2010 - 12:37pm
Please don't misdirect your disappointment at what is contained in the leaked cables regarding Mr. Campbell's comments about the Vatican's gestures toward disaffected Anglicans.  If what is contained in the cables is untrue or if the reporting surrounding the cables is inaccurate, misleading, or incomplete, that is the fault of the author of the cables, as US state department official, and the reporting providing the analysis of the cables, likely the UK newspaper Guardian.  It is not the fault of WikiLeaks for making the cables available.  Your criticism of Wikileaks is a case of blaming the messenger.  And, by fostering an atmosphere of blaming Wikileaks, your are contributing to the erosion of the concepts of free speech and free press among your readership. 

As the Vatican itself said, the cables should be read with prudence and an understanding of the surrounding circumstances.  But none of what you complain about is the fault of Wikileaks. 

Do you propose it should have not disclosed the cables at all, despite the lies and deception by governments against their peoples that the cables have exposed?  If so, you are supporting authoritarianism and secrecy at the cost of democracy.  Or, do you propose that Wikileaks should have withheld publishing or making available only those cables that cast the Vatican in a bad light? If so, do you think it is their job to defend the Vatican?  Why?  It is more than capable of defending itself.

Again, if the cables or their accompanying reportage are inaccurate, that is not the fault of WikiLeaks.  I would suggest you focus your ire elsewhere as its misdirection is causing damage.  Knowing your intelligence, it can only be concluded that your understanding of the nature of WikiLeaks and the ''cablegate'' expose is sorely lacking.  Please undertake to research the issue further before offering criticism.  This whole article comes across as unnecessarily defensive.
Marie Rehbein | 12/15/2010 - 2:32pm
These comments are a very interesting exchange of opinions.  I would agree that there is value in exposing illegal or unethical actions on the part of governments and businesses.  If the Vatican is a player in potentially unethical or illegal acts, then it deserves no special protection from exposure. 

However, the comments being disputed in the article are not on the same level of importance.  These ideas that "the alleged claim by Francis Campbell, UK ambassador to the Holy See, that Pope Benedict's creation in September last year of a church structure for the reception of groups of Anglicans risked the worst crisis in Anglican-Catholic relations in 150 years..." and "...that the move could lead to "violence" against Catholics" is imaginative and gossipy.  It's water cooler stuff.

Furthermore, if the stolen material were paintings instead of cables, the individuals accepting them and distributing them would be seen indisputably as criminals even if the paintings were now for the first time available for public viewing.  In other words, one illegal act does not justify another illegal act even if the ends are good.
Justin Melkus | 12/13/2010 - 11:15pm
My interest is in the freedom of people to know and report the truth without the threat of government prosecution.  Your insinuation, after some internet snooping, that I take this position because WikiLeaks is a client of my employer is absurd and totally without basis.  It is also an ad hominem attack that basically admits you have nothing left to argue.  It also implies my position is some outlier that one could only hold based on some pecuniary interest.  But there are many dozens of respected commentators, journalists, and organizations who share my position, which is logical and grounded in hundreds of years of democratic thought and tradition. 

I think my comments and your responses speak for themselves.  And as Mr. Mazzella, and the other readers, I suspect, realize, your entire premise is based on nothing more than your unverified hope that your friend would never say what the cable says he said.  My point has nothing to do with whether he said what you hope he didn't, but challenges your non sequitur attack against WikiLeaks.  You offer no response to that.  I hope you're right about your friend.