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.