Can Truth and Diplomacy Be Reconciled?

The latest Courtyard of the Gentiles gathering sought a balance between the two concepts in an increasingly relativistic culture.

Rome—The “Courtyard of the Gentiles” is an initiative of the Pontifical Council for Culture to promote dialogue between believers and non-believers, the result of a suggestion that Benedict XVI offered to the Roman Curia on the occasion of his Christmas greetings in 2009.

The most recent of these gatherings was held on June 26, at the Italian Embassy to the Holy See, housed at Palazzo Borromeo, a stately and historic mansion originally owned by the noble household of the Borromeos, among whose members there is a famous saint, San Carlo Borromeo (1538-1584). He was a leading figure during the Counter-Reformation and was responsible for significant reforms in the Catholic Church, following the Council of Trent and the implementation of its decrees.

As one can already and easily guess from the meeting’s title, “Diplomacy and Truth,” the event saw not only the participation of several cardinals and churchmen, but also, for the first time at a Courtyard of the Gentiles gathering, senior representatives of the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See and the Italian Republic. The possibility of reconciling diplomacy and truth, which are generally thought to be poles apart, was under the spotlight.

Among the keynote speakers were Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue; the US ambassador to the Holy See, Miguel Humberto Diaz; the ambassador of Morocco to Italy, Hassan Abouyoub; Stefano Folli, editorialist for the Italian business daily Il Sole 24 Ore; and Hon. Gianni De Michelis, president of Ipalmo, an institute dedicated to improving Italy’s relations with Africa, Latin America, and the Middle and Far East.

“I believe that the Courtyard of the Gentiles is the most appropriate forum to discuss truth and diplomacy, precisely because it is a natural environment for dialogue,” said the Italian Ambassador to the Holy See, Francesco Maria Greco, introducing the proceedings over which he presided with the president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Culture, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi. “And because diplomacy is no longer the art of reporting, but much more directly the art of tackling cultural, ideological, geopolitical, and geoeconomic diversity, I believe that in a forum such as the Courtyard of the Gentiles, we can address this dialogue, in the literal sense of a word that breaks through the moat of the lack of communication.”

Then the floor was taken by Cardinal Ravasi. “We have to say that truth is one of the major categories of human communication at all levels,” said the cardinal. “It’s true that diplomacy, many times, resorts to alternative routes, but we must also recognize [that diplomacy needs] a virtue that is essential also in communication: prudence, discretion, undertone. Here, in light of this we can also recognize that those two words, diplomacy and truth, are not so antithetical to each other after all.”

This, then, is the central question of the Courtyard of the Gentiles gathering: is it possible to reconcile truth and diplomacy? The answer is yes, if diplomats identify human nature and natural law as the foundation of a common truth, recovering a classical conception of truth that opposes the current subjectivism.

And, according to Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, the Vatican’s former secretary for Relations with States, it is precisely because of this objective, not subjective, conception that “an ambassador who tells lies, rarely does he reach his/her goal.” Much less so today, since in an increasingly globalized world information is by now relayed in real time, with diplomacy and transparency increasingly forced to go hand-in-hand.

This phenomenon has accelerated with the end of World War II, when “the leaders of nations got convinced of the need for diplomacy to be put at the service of a truth that would become the yardstick of the particular national truths.” On the other hand, Cardinal Tauran noted, for a diplomat to best fulfill his mandate, won’t he have to win the confidence of his counterparts? “And it’s right here that truth comes into the picture,” the cardinal said. Ultimately “who is the good diplomat? It’s the one who can remain silent in several languages.” Unsurprisingly, he then wound up his speech by quoting the diplomat par excellence, the Prince de Talleyrand, who used to say: “There is something more terrible than slander—truth.”

US Ambassador Diaz, almost as an unwitting representative of the “secular” front at the debate, took up the argument of natural law as the common ground between diplomacy and truth.

When, “for example, Secretary of State Clinton says that we Americans strongly support democracy,” it is not because “we want the other countries to be like us, but because we want all peoples to enjoy the constant protection of their natural rights, to which they are entitled regardless of whether they were born in Tallahassee or Tehran,” Diaz said. What is needed, he went on, is the building of bridges between truth and diplomacy, in order to deepen the bond of interdependence and friendship among peoples and nations of the world.

“What Pope Benedict XVI proclaims in his encyclical Caritas in Veritate about the light of reason and the role of reason in the proper exercise of love can be applied mutatis mutandis to the relationship between truth and diplomacy,” he said. “Diplomacy needs truth and the hand of reason not to lapse into mere self-centered human instrumentality. Diplomacy needs truth to foster transparent debates and authentic processes of community building.”

Ambassador Diaz again quoted the Holy Father’s encyclical, “Truth, in fact, is logos which creates dia-logos and hence communication and communion.” For without truth, the Pope contends, “charity degenerates into sentimentality. Love becomes an empty shell, to be filled in an arbitrary way. In a culture without truth, this is the fatal risk facing love.”

As the meeting concluded, Cardinal Ravasi extended an invitation to the next session of the Courtyard of the Gentiles, to be held in Stockholm September 13-14 in conjunction with the Swedish Embassy to the Holy See and focusing on the topic of faith-science interaction.

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About Alberto Carosa 42 Articles
Alberto Carosa is a Catholic journalist who writes from Rome, especially for US Catholic newspapers and periodicals.