A Pro-Choice Ambassador to the Vatican?

THIS CATHOLIC’S VIEW By Thomas J. Reese, S.J. “Vatican Unhappy with Obama Ambassador Picks,” scream the headlines. The only problem … Continued

THIS CATHOLIC’S VIEW

By Thomas J. Reese, S.J.

“Vatican Unhappy with Obama Ambassador Picks,” scream the headlines. The only problem is that the stories are totally false.

First the stories were about Douglas Kmiec, a law professor at Pepperdine University, who supported Obama for president even though Kmiec is pro-life. Then the stories moved on to Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of President Kennedy, who was said to be rejected because she is pro-choice. Why both a pro-life and a pro-choice candidate would be rejected was never explained.

But neither has been rejected by the Vatican, as the Vatican itself has made clear:

“No proposals about the new ambassador of the United States to the Holy See have reached the Vatican, and therefore it is not true that they have been rejected,” Father Federico Lombardi, the pope’s press secretary, told Catholic News Service on April 9. “The rumors circulating about this topic are not reliable.”

Yet the rumors continue to be published while either ignoring Lombardi’s denial or inferring that he is lying. What is their source for such fantasies? Some cite Italian newspapers, whose journalistic credibility has never been high. They once reported that John Paul II had been married.

Actually, the Italians appear to have picked up the rumors from Newsmax.com, a Republican-slanted news service, which asserted that three candidates had been rejected by the Vatican.

Rather than simply repeating rumors, John Thavis, Rome bureau chief for Catholic News Service, acted like a good journalist. First, he asked Lombardi and then checked his sources. They said, “not only was the report inaccurate, but that its premise was faulty. The Vatican has not been in the habit of vetting the personal beliefs or ideas of candidates before accepting them as ambassadors.”

This of course makes perfect sense. After all, the U.S. ambassador to the Holy See represents the U.S. Government — not Catholic orthodoxy — to the Vatican. The Vatican does not need someone to teach it orthodoxy. The ambassador will not represent the Catholic Church or the American bishops but the president. The Vatican would expect that the nominee would reflect the president’s views.

In recent memory, the Vatican has only rejected two candidates, one from Argentina and the other from France. The Argentine was a divorced Catholic who was living with someone. The Frenchman was Catholic and in a public gay relationship.

What the Vatican wants is someone who is competent and respected in the White House and the State Department. Vatican officials would value someone who is plugged in, who can give them accurate inside information and communicate their views to top officials including the president. Orthodoxy may be required for theologians and bishops, but not for ambassadors.

The Vatican does not want is a repeat of what happened prior to the 1994 Cairo conference on population and development when Ray Flynn was ambassador to the Holy See. Ambassador Flynn was pro-life but he was not listened to by either the White House or the State Department. As a result, when he tried for almost a year to warn the Clinton administration that it was on a collision course with the Vatican, he was tragically ignored. The result was a disastrous confrontation in Cairo which caused embarrassment to both sides.

When the United States first established diplomatic relations with the Holy See 25 years ago, I recommended that the ambassador be a non-Catholic. This was the practice for personal representatives sent to the Holy See by presidents beginning with Franklin Roosevelt until Jimmy Carter appointed the first Catholic representative. I argued for a non-Catholic in order to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest. Remember, 25 years ago, the appointment of an ambassador to the Holy See was very controversial with many Protestant leaders.

It is ironic that Catholic conservatives, who are insisting on the appointment of a pro-life ambassador, are trying to impose an orthodoxy test for political office just as the anti-Catholic forces predicted the church would when Kennedy was running for president. See the excellent new book, The Making of A Catholic President, by Shaun A. Casey.

Wisely, the Catholic bishops have remained silent on the topic (just as they remained silent 25 years ago) because they realize that diplomatic relations are a matter between the Holy See and the U.S. Government and have nothing to do with the Catholic Church in America. They certainly have nothing to do with Catholic doctrine.

The ambassador to the Holy See can be either be pro-life or pro-choice, but the ambassador will have to explain and defend the administration’s position on life issues no matter what he or she believes. The ambassador does not have to be Catholic any more than the ambassador to Israel has to be Jewish or the ambassadors to Italy and Ireland have to be Italian and Irish. For political reasons a president might take that into consideration, but it is not part of the ambassador’s job description.

Thomas J. Reese, S.J., is Senior Fellow at Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University.

By Thomas J. Reese | 
April 20, 2009; 4:58 PM ET

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  • CCNL

    And the perfect candidate would be?? Father Reese of course!!! The Vatican loves liberal Jesuits!!

  • INGOODFAITH

    VOTE: An inpartial Theological Judge, so to spaketh TRUTH (opposite MYTH). The Brightest, Smartest Teacher, Philosopher of many etc.. living TODAY!

  • INGOODFAITH

    Excerpt:”… Martin Marty, AMERICA’s & The WORLD’s #1 ECUMENIS .. characterized the “DOMINUS JESUS” document as “a missed opportunity”. “INSTEAD of offering persuasive reasons for its positions, it relies on arguments from authority. And in taking what he calls “polemical swings” at Catholics who are trying to provide new formulations, the Congregation “has not contributed to clarity”. While dialogue will continue, Dr. Marty concluded, it will do so “under the sign of regret”. Indeed, “Dominus Jesus inspires regret, not rage, for the missed opportunity it represents”. See: Theology Professor of Notre Dame JAN.2001 {PRE DURBAN-1 & PRE 911] and PRE ‘… ISLAMS Barbarick Behaviors..” said by POPE today.

  • gyavis

    I continue to say that nothing has done more harm to my church (Catholic) than the use of my church for political purposes. Bill Donohue who pretends to represent the Catholic Church rather than the needs of a certain political party is a perfect example of the problem.

  • usapdx

    THE USA IS A NATION WITH BORDERS JUST LIKE THE VATICAN. OUR USA GOVERMENT IS BY THE PEOPLE, OF THE PEOPLE, FOR THE PEOPLE. THERE IS NO CHURCH IN OUR GOVERMENT YET WE HAVE THE RIGHT TO BELEIVE IN ANY RELIGIOUS BELEIVE JUST SO THAT WE DO NOT FORCE IT ON ANOTHER. THE VATICAN IS A CHURCH STATE. FOR ALL THE GOOD OF THE VATICAN GIVES TO THE WORLD THROUGH RELIGION, IT IS TIME THAT THE VATICAN STOPS BEING A NATION AND BE THE CATHOLIC CHURCH ONLY. ITALY WILL WELCOME THE VATICAN AS PART OF ITALY.

  • resistk

    The United States has serious issues with the Vatican including resolving pending federal court cases on sex abuse and money laundering as well as the antediluvian attitudes of the Holy see on family planning and AIDS. A real Ambassador is called for and not some Knights of Columbus political hack.

  • INGOODFAITH

    IT

  • kjohnson3

    “But neither has been rejected by the Vatican, as the Vatican itself has made clear: ‘No proposals about the new ambassador of the United States to the Holy See have reached the Vatican, and therefore it is not true that they have been rejected,’ Father Federico Lombardi, the pope’s press secretary, told Catholic News Service on April 9. ‘The rumors circulating about this topic are not reliable.’”How disingenuous!The “holy see” may not have received written proposals — signed, sealed, and delivered, as it were — because such documents aren’t generally exchanged until all of the testing of waters back-and-forth has been completed and agreement has been reached. Only then is the official (read: “guaranteed to be accepted”) proposal offered.So, try as they might, those spin-masters at the Vatican cannot change the reality of the situation. Several candidates have been UN-officially proposed and UN-officially rejected.Doubt not that the official proposal will be the result of much smoky backroom debate, wrangling, and negotiation and that the officially proposed individual will be personally most acceptable to the big guy.

  • middle-agedprof

    Given the areas of US/Vatican cooperation, such as aid to the developing world, immigration, human rights, environmentalism and global warming…the best candidate might well be one with a deep portfolio in international relations. I’d nominate former Senator John Danforth–an Episcopalian priest. Moreover, as a Republican, Danforth’s selection would highlight bi-partisanship without caving into to the extremists on the right-wing of the pro-life movement. The Hudsons and Donohues could only sputter. Danforth would send exactly the right message to the Vatican: seriousness, openness to continued cooperation, sensitivity to faith traditions, and yet a respectful distance.

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