Mary Ann Glendon’s Conflict of Interest?

by Roger Alford

Steve Bainbridge has an interesting post suggesting that Professor Mary Ann Glendon’s nomination to the Holy See raises a conflict of interest:

Now let’s be clear about something. I am a great admirer of Prof. Glendon. I had to good fortune to meet her back in 2000 and she was delightful. She’s also a brilliant scholar and a very significant public intellectual. She brings to the diplomatic table far more knowledge and expertise than many political appointees. Having said that, however, I’m a little troubled by the appointment.

Glendon was appointed by Pope John Paul II in 1994 to the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, a panel that advises the Roman Catholic church on social policy. Glendon has served as an adviser to the Vatican in several capacities. In 1995, she was the first woman to lead a delegation of the Holy See at the United Nations Women’s Conference in Beijing. She has also served on the Pontifical Council for the Laity and as a consultant to the Pontifical Council on the Family.

So we’re appointing as the United States’ representative to the Holy See someone who has served the Holy See as a diplomat and advisor. Doesn’t that seem like a conflict of interest?


Then he adds in a subsequent post:

It seems a bit odd to hire someone who has devoted much of her life to representing the interests of State A to be the ambassador of State B to A. Would we hire a lawyer who spent much of her professional life representing China in global trade negotiations to be our ambassador to China (recognizing that the cases are not on all fours)?


I’m not an expert on such matters but thought it worth highlighting with this audience. I personally don’t think there is a problem and I especially don’t think the China analogy works. The Vatican serves all Catholics throughout the world, and Glendon has both a religious loyalty and commitment to the Catholic Church and a national loyalty and commitment to the United States. Those loyalties may be on rare occasion inconsistent with one another, but far more commonly they would be complementary and mutually reenforcing. In any event, she can always recuse herself on specific issues as the need arises.

Does anyone have thoughts on this issue? Are there any historical analogies? Is there any legal guidance in relevant domestic or international law?

http://opiniojuris.org/2007/11/08/mary-ann-glendons-conflict-of-interest/

5 Responses

  1. I believe diplomats are not bound by the same rules that govern lawyers or judges, and that full disclosure cures all. Earlier in this decade the Republic of Georgia selected as its Foreign Minister a French diplomat, who (it was said) remained on the payroll of the French ministry of foreign affairs while she served Georgia.

  2. Roger–

    A couple of thoughts. First, the possibility is raised by the Vatican’s special status in international law that an American citizen could serve at various times in one’s career as a diplomat for the Holy See and as a US government official. A member of the Papal Nuncio in one capital in which I served was an American citizen priest who was a Vatican bureaucracy lifer — getting a diplomatic post was part of his career in the church. I am not aware of any law that would prevent him from later in life running for Congress, being appointed an ambassador, or otherwise serving in a position that might require him to be on the “opposite” side of Vatican foreign policy.

    Second, we do indeed hire into US government (including diplomatic service) many people who served as advocates on the non-U.S. side of issues. (See my post re Pakistan for my comment on the reverse trend: former politicos and diplomats who lobby for foreign governments and politicians.) Trade negotiations are a good example. USTR reps and deputy reps come to the job with lots of private sector experience that may include representing foreign governments, foreign corporations and/or other entities that may be foreign government controlled. Even where their clients are domestic, they come to the job with vast experience taking positions in opposition to the government. One might ask how appointment to a job with international or diplomatic duties is any different in terms of potential conflict of interest from, say, a lawyer who has spent his entire legal career representing Wall Street clients becoming chair of the SEC.

    Bainbridge is, of course, right to raise the conflict of interest question. But as with my SEC example, it is often the underlying facts that give rise to the potential conflict of interest that are touted as relevant experience for executive appointments — including for ambassadorships.

    A perhaps related question that I am hoping one of our readers can answer: Has the US ever appointed an Ambassador to the Vatican who was not a practicing Catholic?

  3. Roger, Three thoughts:

    1) along the lines of yours, the unusual nature of the diplomatic relationship with the Vatican would make any conflict seem less problematic. It’s not as if we have trade agreements or mutual defense treaties with the Holy See. We didn’t even have diplomatic relations with the Holy See until 1984.

    2) There has been some tradition with respect to co-ethnics as US envoys – I bet the US ambassador to Ireland has always been someone of Irish descent, posing some of the same conflict issues as with Glendon.

    3) Leaving aside the fact that the Vatican is sui generis, I think Bainbridge overestimates the importance of ambassadors. Anything really important in a bilateral relationship will almost always bypass an ambassador. It’s something of an anachronistic position these days, largely ceremonial except in out of the way places or hot spots (like Iraq). So they can’t do much harm even if their sympathies are with the host state.

  4. It’s a bit broader than the ambit of this post, but the thought that first came to mind upon reading the post was Isn’t it odd how much of the norm of loyalty is just that: a norm less codified than internalized on both the individual and group levels. Sure, government officials swear an oath of loyalty, and there are grave penalties for treason, but “loyalty” itself is not always well defined but usually taken as a premise for discussions of the kind seen in this post.

    Maybe it’s time to start peering into that black box of unquestioned loyalty to country. I believe our public officials for the past several years would have ultimately served U.S. interests better had there been more such questioning and less pressure to hew to the line of patriotism understood in the limited way it usually is today.

  5. Glendon has both a religious loyalty and commitment to the Catholic Church and a national loyalty and commitment to the United States. Those loyalties may be on rare occasion inconsistent with one another, but far more commonly they would be complementary and mutually reenforcing. In any event, she can always recuse herself on specific issues as the need arises.

    Replace “Catholic Church” with “Israel” and “Glendon” with any neocon; would you still be all right with that? In an ideal world, she might recuse herself. But that assumes that she even notices the difference – I think most neocons (wrongly in my opinion) actually believe Israel’s interests and those of the US are aligned.

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