President Barack Obama has nominated Ken Hackett, the humanitarian who served as president of Baltimore-based Catholic Relief Services for 18 years, as the next U.S. ambassador to the Vatican.
The announcement, made Friday, means Hackett will become the U.S. government's official liaison to the Holy See.
Hackett, 66, served the worldwide relief organization for 40 years, directing its efforts in more than 100 countries around the world until 2011. He gained a reputation as a man who cared about the Catholic Church and its directives and possessed diplomatic skills.
Bishop Denis J. Madden, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Baltimore and a former Catholic Relief Services board member, called the appointment "great news."
Hackett "has so many skills applicable to this job," Madden said. "He has traveled all over the world and worked with [Vatican representatives], bishops and general consuls in all those places, and he has dealt successfully with plenty of sticky situations."
"We're thrilled at the decision," said Sean Caine, a spokesman for the archdiocese. It "makes a lot of sense, given the diplomatic skills he had to have as CRS president and the fact that he's universally respected within the church."
Hackett's nomination must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
Hackett, who could not be reached for comment, graduated from Boston College in 1968, joined the Peace Corps shortly thereafter and found himself assigned to an agricultural cooperative in Ghana. He joined Catholic Relief Services, or CRS, four years later and was posted in multiple locations in Africa and Asia before ascending to the managerial ranks and eventually becoming the organization's sixth president.
He officially retired in December 2011, leaving the leadership post to Carolyn Woo, the former dean of the business school at the University of Notre Dame, but served on the Vatican Pontifical Commission Cor Unum, the body that coordinates the church's charitable work, through last year.
Madden, who traveled to Haiti with Hackett during earthquake relief efforts in 2010, said the nominee's experience in dealing with international affairs and the Vatican in particular will be of great benefit.
"He'll represent our government well, and in a way that will do honor to the church," the bishop said. "It's a great thing for CRS, for the church and for Baltimore."