Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Città del Vaticano
June 14, 2018
(As prepared for delivery)
Good morning. I would like to thank His Excellency Archbishop Bruguès and Monsignor Pasini for hosting us today.
I would also like to acknowledge Homeland Security Investigation’s Rome Attaché, Armando Astorga, Investigator, Mario Coppola, HSI Special Agent, Brian Jones, and Special Agent, Mark Olexa, for their impressive work on this investigation.
Special thanks to our partners at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the District of Delaware, especially Assistant U.S. Attorney, Jamie McCall, without whom today’s repatriation would not be possible.
This morning’s ceremony – the product of a seven-year investigation – is an example of the close ties between the United States and the Holy See, and the special cooperation between our respective law enforcement agencies.
It also highlights the remarkable dedication of Homeland Security special agents and
U.S. Department of Justice attorneys, who work diligently to recover and return stolen cultural property from around the world.
HSI agents have returned over 11,000 artifacts and works of art to over 30 countries since 2007 – repatriating paintings and manuscripts to Italy, France, Germany, Poland, and Austria to name a few — as well as recovering antiquities from various regions of the world, including Europe,
South America, Asia, and the Middle East.
Today’s repatriation of the Christopher Columbus letter is the third by HSI as part of their ongoing investigations related to the illegal sale of stolen books and manuscripts. Previous letters were returned to their rightful homes in Florence and Barcelona.
Lastly, I’d like to commend Mrs. Mary Parsons for graciously agreeing to return this letter to the Vatican. Her late husband, Mr. Robert Parsons, purchased the artifact without knowledge of its theft.
Understandably, she found it difficult to part with this piece from her husband’s collection. I am pleased that our embassy was able to deliver Mrs. Parsons’ personal letter to His Holiness Pope Francis earlier this week.
The Columbus Letter, written in 1493, is a priceless piece of cultural history. I am honored to return this remarkable letter to the Vatican Library – its rightful home. Thank you.