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Issue Date:  May 27, 2005

Ambassador to Holy See chosen


Although the nomination is not official until announced by the White House and confirmed by the United States Senate, sources in Rome have confirmed to NCR that Francis Rooney, 51, will be the next U.S. ambassador to the Holy See.

Under the terms of diplomatic protocol, the Holy See has already given its agreement to the appointment, those sources said. At the moment, the White House is examining Rooney’s financial disclosure forms, with a formal announcement of the appointment expected sometime in late May or early June, and Senate hearings shortly thereafter.

Barring a surprise, confirmation is expected to come swiftly.

Rooney, a Catholic, is an Oklahoma native and a graduate of the Georgetown University Law Center. A businessman, he owns Manhattan Construction and Hope Lumber in Tulsa, Okla., and is also CEO of the Florida-based investment firm Rooney Brothers Inc., as well as Rooney Holdings.

Assuming he’s confirmed, the posting to the Vatican would be Rooney’s first diplomatic assignment. He is not expected to move into the Villa Richardson, the residence of the U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, until late summer or early fall.

Rooney has been an ardent supporter of U.S. President George W. Bush. Rooney Holdings donated more than $500,000 to the president’s re-election campaign in 2004. Data released by the Federal Election Commission Feb. 7 listed Rooney and his wife, Kathleen, in fifth place on the list of largest individual donors to political campaigns in the 2004 elections, having distributed $341,396 to various candidates. According to the FEC data, 99 percent of that money went to Republicans.

In 2004, Rooney Holdings contributed $100,000 to “Progress for America,” a group promoting the president’s Social Security proposals. In turn, Bush named Rooney to be part of a small delegation led by former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell to the August 2004 inauguration of Panamanian President Martin Torrijos. Rooney’s construction company does business in Central America, and since 2003 he has served on the advisory board for the Panama Canal.

Rooney’s commercial activities have intersected with conservative political causes over the years. Manhattan Construction, for example, built the George Bush Presidential Library in Texas as well as the $6 million headquarters of the Cato Institute, a Washington-based think tank with libertarian leanings.

The ambassador’s position has been vacant since James Nicholson returned to Washington in early 2005 to take up new duties as the Secretary of the Veteran’s Affairs. The U.S. embassy to the Holy See has been administered during this time by chargé d’affaires Brent Hardt, who was called upon to organize the American delegations both for the funeral of Pope John Paul II and the installation of Pope Benedict XVI.

Hardt himself is scheduled for reassignment over the summer.

National Catholic Reporter, May 27, 2005

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