THIS CATHOLIC’S VIEW
By Thomas J. Reese, S.J.
It has become a cliché to say that Hispanics are the future of the Catholic Church in America. Their numbers are growing because of immigration and births, while white Catholics are having fewer children and are leaving the church in great numbers. One out of three Catholics has left the church according to a study by the Pew Forum. The only reason Catholics continue to be a stable percentage of the U.S. population is that Hispanics are making up for the white Catholics who are leaving.
Hispanics were also a key factor in the election of Barack Obama as president. George Bush had been successful in wooing Hispanics. Bush spoke Spanish, was reasonable on immigration reform and understood their concerns since he had been governor of Texas.
But in 2008, Hispanics went overwhelmingly (67%) for Obama, 16 percentage points more than voted for John Kerry in 2004. Although John McCain was reasonable on immigration reform, Republican Party activists alienated Hispanics with their anti-immigrant rhetoric. Hispanics obviously ignored the bishops who attacked Obama. Polls show that they continue to support him.
This week, Obama reached into the Hispanic Catholic community for two important appointments, the most prominent being the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court. A less prominent nomination is that of Miguel Diaz, a Cuban American Catholic, as ambassador to the Holy See. Diaz is a professor of theology at St. John’s University and a member of the board of the Catholic Theological Society of America.
Sotomayor’s legal qualifications are unquestionable: Yale Law School, New York City prosecutor, corporate lawyer, District Court judge and Appellate Court judge. The child of Puerto Rican immigrants, she, like Obama, lived the American dream. If the Republican Party attacks her, it may further alienate Hispanics from the party.
Although her position on abortion is not yet known, she did uphold the Bush administration’s right to deny federal funds to overseas organizations that provided or referred clients for abortions, which will make it difficult to paint her as a pro-abortion radical.
Diaz, a respected scholar, recently taught courses in “Trinity, Faith and Revelation” and “Christian Anthropology.” He is author of On Being Human: U.S. Hispanic and Rahnerian Perspectives and co-editor of From the Heart of Our People: Latino/a Explorations in Catholic Systematic Theology.
He is obviously not your usual ambassadorial appointment. He is neither a big donor nor a politician although he did campaign for Obama. Jim Martin, S.J., associate editor of America, has already fantasized that “he and the Holy Father can have some lively Rahner-Balthasar discussions.”
While his Catholic and theological background will help him understand the Vatican, he does not represent the Catholic community or Catholic theologians to the Vatican. He will represent the Obama administration and the U.S. Government.
Like any ambassador, he will have to be a quick study, but at least he will not have to worry about military alliances, trade or arrested Americans. His job will be pure diplomacy. His familiarity with Catholic social teaching will allow him to be sensitive to the areas where there will be agreement and friction. There are lots of areas of agreement: nuclear disarmament, poverty reduction, peace, refugees, etc.
Sotomayor and Diaz may truly be the new face of the Catholic Church in America, and Obama wisely wants them to contribute to the image and reality of his administration.
By Thomas J. Reese |
May 27, 2009; 11:19 PM ET
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