Avatar photo

Nigel Baker

Ambassador to the Holy See (2011-2016)

Part of UK in Holy See

17th January 2013

The Holy See: Global and Local

His Excellency Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, Secretary for Relations with States, speaking at Holy See-Britain conference (February 2012)

It is often said that the Holy See is a hybrid of the global and the local. This is true. On the one hand, its global diplomatic network reaches into every corner of the world through its Apostolic Nuncios (Holy See ambassadors) to the capillary branches of bishops, priests, religious and lay people that make up the worldwide Catholic church. This is the network with which embassies like mine interact.

On the other hand, one of the principal tasks of the Holy See is the governance, through national Episcopal conferences, of the local church, down to parish level, with its specificities, local issues and individual histories. I was reminded of this recently, in conversation with a senior Vatican official, when he told me how difficult it was for the Holy See to convince local bishops to give up their best and brightest priests for work at the centre in Rome, be it in the Holy See tribunals, the diplomatic service, or the other offices that make up the running of the global church.

The tension will always be there. In the British diplomatic service, we have to remember (and sometimes be reminded) that we are representing the United Kingdom in all its local plurality, ethnicities, languages and cultures. And it is always a good idea after a foreign posting or two to return to London and be reminded of the realities of one’s own country. In the Church, local bishops want to support the Catholic Church’s global mission. But, sometimes, the needs of the diocese (where the priest has, in many cases, learned his business) will be paramount.

That said, I am delighted that although there are not many British priests in the Holy See diplomatic service, they are amongst the very best. Our congratulations go to Archbishop Paul Gallagher, who has been appointed the Holy See’s new nuncio to Australia. He may be a Papal ambassador. But he is a priest of Liverpool at heart!

About Nigel Baker

Nigel was British Ambassador to the Holy See from 2011-2016. He presented his Credentials to Pope Benedict XVI on 9 September 2011, after serving 8 years in Latin America, as…

Nigel was British Ambassador to the Holy See from 2011-2016. He presented his Credentials to Pope Benedict XVI on 9 September 2011, after serving 8 years in Latin America, as Deputy Head of Mission in the British Embassy in Havana, Cuba (2003-6) and then as British Ambassador in La Paz, Bolivia (2007-11). In July 2016, Nigel finished his posting, and is currently back in London.

As the first British Ambassador to the Holy See ever to have a blog, Nigel provided a regular window on what the Embassy and the Ambassador does. The blogs covered a wide range of issues, from Royal and Ministerial visits to Diplomacy and Faith, freedom of religion, human trafficking and climate change.

More on Nigel’s career

Nigel was based in London between 1998 and 2003. He spent two years on European Union issues (for the UK 1998 EU Presidency and on European Security and Defence questions), before crossing St James’s Park to work for three years as The Assistant Private Secretary to His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales. At St James’s Palace, Nigel worked on international issues, including the management of The Prince of Wales’s overseas visits and tours, on the Commonwealth, interfaith issues, the arts and international development.

Nigel spent much of the early part of his FCO career in Central Europe, after an initial stint as Desk Officer for the Maghreb countries in the Near East and North Africa department (1990-91). Between 1992 and 1996, Nigel served in the British embassies in Prague and Bratislava, the latter being created in 1993 after the peaceful division of Czechoslovakia into the separate Czech and Slovak Republics.

Nigel joined the FCO (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) in September 1989. Between 1996 and 1998 he took a two year academic sabbatical to research and write about themes in 18th century European history, being based in Verona but also researching in Cambridge, Paris and Naples. The research followed from Nigel’s time as a student at Cambridge (1985-88) where he read history and was awarded a First Class Honours degree, followed by his MA in 1992.

Before joining the Foreign Office, Nigel worked briefly for the Conservative Research Department in London at the time of the 1989 European election campaign.

Nigel married Alexandra (Sasha) in 1997. They have one son, Benjamin, born in Bolivia in September 2008.

Follow Nigel