To celebrate the establishment of official diplomatic relations between the United States and the Vatican, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation sponsored an academic conference Tuesday in Gaston Hall.

Georgetown is one of six universities across the nation holding events to celebrate the Ronald Reagan Centennial Celebration, a year-long tribute marking the 100th anniversary of Reagan’s birth. The president’s appointment of an ambassador to the Holy See in 1984 is now recognized as one of Reagan’s major achievements.

Reagan hoped that such a relationship with the Holy See would serve as a way to cultivate a bulwark against the influence of communism in Europe and around the world. Frederick J. Ryan Jr., chairman of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation Board of Trustees, emphasized Reagan’s belief that the war against communism was a moral struggle. Pope John Paul II harbored these same worries in the1980s, a commonality that helped the two form a lasting relationship, according to Ryan.

John O’Sullivan, author of “The President, the Pope and the Prime Minister,” delivered the keynote address, which focused on the ethics underlying the foreign policy of the United States and the Vatican.

“Moral rather than military motives [were] what defined Reagan’s policy against the Soviets,” he said.

Touching upon the theme of the event, “The History and Future of Vatican Diplomacy,” O’Sullivan paid homage to the Holy See’s long and international political influence while also looking to the issues that governments and the Catholic Church confront today, such as human trafficking.

Dean of the School of Foreign Service Carol Lancaster moderated the panel discussion, which included several high-profile figures such as Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, archbishop emeritus of the Archdiocese of Washington. McCarrick applauded the lasting and influential foreign diplomacy of the Holy See.

Lancaster alluded to the soft power of the Vatican, which panelists agreed plays a significant role in international affairs. She noted that in the modern world, military and economic power, while important, can play second fiddle to religion, which is traditionally seen as a soft power.

“The Holy See plays a great role in promoting justice and human rights,” she said.

Echoing the thoughts of his colleagues, Joseph K. Grieboski, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of the Institute on Religion and Public Policy, added that human rights activists benefit tremendously from the discourse between the Vatican and the United States.

“This is an overlooked and underappreciated relationship,” he said.

As former ambassadors to the Vatican, both Francis Rooney and R. James Nicholson discussed the connection between the Church’s message and the priority of U.S. foreign policy to universally enhance human dignity.

“The Holy See has a very honest agenda united by faith and purpose,” Rooney said.

Grieboski offered concluding thoughts about the importance of the Pope’s role as a moral voice to the United States.

“Georgetown is the best place for this discussion and for the conversation to continue because of the nexus of the Catholic university to its location in the nation’s capital,” he said.

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