Tom Reese is Wrong About Vatican Ambassador

I am usually in agreement with Father Thomas Reese, S.J., at least about issues that relate to the intersection of politics and religion. But, his article over at the Post’s "On Faith" about the next ambassador to the Vatican is wrong-headed.

Reese rightly insists that an ambassador represents the views and interests of the nation who sends him, not the nation that receives him. He suggests the Obama administration send a pro-choice Protestant to the Holy See. But, you can hear the howls from the right if a pro-choice ambassador was appointed and many inside and out of the Vatican would take such an appointment as an act of hostility. The last thing the Obama administration needs is more trouble with Catholics.


Let me clarify: Appointing a Protestant would be fine, in theory, but not a pro-choice nominee. The Catholic Church holds that its opposition to abortion is rooted not only in its faith but also in the Natural Law. Just so, it is accessible to anyone, Catholic or not. It is not like marriage where only a Catholic who was divorced and remarried would be refused by the Holy See because of their marital status.

Reese correctly states that the Vatican cares that the nominee be someone with gravitas, someone who can hold some sway with officials in the White House or Foggy Bottom. But, the White House also needs someone who can hold some sway with officials at the Vatican. This is the problem with sending over a fundraiser: They can afford to throw nice parties, but do they know the difference between Tertullian and tortellini?

This is important for the White House because all the hierarchical noise stateside comes from Obama’s opponents. Obama is much more popular at the Vatican than he is among the American bishops. And while the Vatican has got a lot on its plate and doesn’t need to interfere in American politics, it might ask those whose venom for the President seems unbounded to rein it in.

In the event, there are two candidates that fit the bill: Doug Kmiec and Nick Cafardi. Both are familiar faces to the Obama officials who deal with religious matters. Both know their way around Rome as well. Both are lifelong pro-life activists. Both have intimate friendships within the hierarchy. Both have the kind of empathetic character needed in an ambassador, the ability to listen and to learn, and to communicate effectively to both the home guard and the client. Both have long and distinguished careers independent of politics, so neither are likely to develop "clientitis" which sometimes afflicts career foreign service officers.

This appointment is critical because it is clear that some officials in the Vatican operate with information provided by sources best described as partisan. After I wrote a post suggesting Kmiec for the job, an "anonymous source," identified only as an American working in the Vatican Secretariat of State, told a rightwing media outlet that a Kmiec appointment would never happen because Vatican officials considered him "a traitor" because of his support for Obama. My sources in the Vatican hold no such animus to either Kmiec or the President and are sophisticated enough to know that "traitor" is a word a monsignor, especially one who works at the Secretariat of State, should be loathe to employ.



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9 years 9 months ago
Whoops - my comment on LCWR should be on the appropriate post by James Martin,S.J.; no doubt due to my inattention - sorry. While I'm here, while not push Sean Winters for Ambassador? He seems to have a good grasp of many issues and is a good communicator!
9 years 9 months ago
Fr. Winter's comment that "all the hierarchical noise stateside comes from Obama’s opponents" highlights the absence of American bishops who visibly advocate for the consistent ethic of life, or what 15 years ago might have been called the seamless garment. Wouldn't it be nice if at least some of the Vatican's U.S. representatives had a more balanced view of Catholic teaching? Pursuing the theology of what the late and much missed Cardinal Bernardin called the seamless garment might be one way for the Church's leadership to regain a perspective of teaching outside of politics, rather than serving as the chaplains of the GOP.
9 years 9 months ago
You guys can fight this out - whether it matters we will see. However, there certainly are more issues than abortion but not more issues than pro-life. We certainly don't need a super patriot-the-US-can-do-no-wrong type like the last one. The US had done plenty wrong against human life at all stages and at least needs to be self-aware.
9 years 9 months ago
The LCWR has raised up and been in the lead for many important issues. They could use some more publicity and their positions should be known to Catholics in general - which they are not; just as the Popes' positions are not generally known, I might add. On the other hand, leaders of Sisters or those on their councils are sometimes those into fads; will the investigation team be treated to a smudge ceremony or sweat lodge?
9 years 9 months ago
Michael -- What about Tim Roemer (D), my former pro-life congressman? If I recall, he made a play for the DNC-chief job, but it never got off the ground, because of opposition from the abortion-rights camp.
9 years 9 months ago
Let the Vatican designate an ambassador and give the US a chance to "just say no." That won't be hard to do. Almost anyone they choose will represent a point of view that can, more times than not, be considered contrary to the beliefs and of the general population of the US. Do Catholics REALLY think that the US would stop if the RCC hasn't been granted recognition of anyone they think could have anything good to say to the US? Pshaw. This is like the Chihuahua complaining because the elephant takes no notice of its yipping and snapping.


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