The National Catholic Review

Ambassador to the Holy See is not like most ambassadorships. For starters, the First Amendment notwithstanding, it is the only position in the U.S. government that involves formal recognition of religion. Ambassadors are not accredited to the Vatican City-State, the 103 acres on the west bank of the Tiber that give territorial reality to papal independence. Ambassadors are accredited to the Holy See, that is, to the Pope in his capacity as leader of the Catholic Church. This was the grounds for opposition to the establishment of formal diplomatic relations from both conservative, evangelical Christians and from the ACLU, two groups that rarely end up on the same page. Not until 1984 did Ronald Reagan succeed in getting Congress to approve diplomatic relations and dispatch an ambassador.

The job has never gone to a career diplomat but is usually awarded to a prominent Catholic political ally. Political appointees mostly run hot or cold: Joseph Kennedy was a disaster at the Court of St. James (London) in the years leading up to World War II because of his isolationist sympathies but Pamela Harriman and Felix Rohatyn both excelled during their tenure in Paris during the Clinton administration. The unique features of the Vatican posting also make it more, not less, likely that a career diplomat might have less knowledge of the Vatican and its ways than half a dozen prominent Catholics.

Mary Ann Glendon has been an extraordinary U.S. ambassador to the Vatican and if President-elect Obama is looking for prominent Republicans to keep in office, she would certainly be at the top of the list. Never before has the position been so influential within the Vatican and so useful to the United States. Rome’s contacts span the globe and the information one can mine there is often different from the conventional wisdom coming through Foggy Bottom or Langley and Glendon has earned a reputation for listening intently and reporting cogently on the buzz from the Tiber.

Still, Obama deserves his own person at the post and, in the event, there is a perfect candidate: Professor Douglas Kmiec. He is a lifelong pro-life legal scholar who served as head of the Office of Legal Counsel in the Justice Departments of both Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. He was Dean of the Catholic University Law School and now teaches law at Pepperdine. His published works evidence a find legal mind and thorough familiarity with the natural law tradition that has been the dominant lens for Catholic social thought. Kmiec would be well known to prominent American churchmen in the Eternal City and a jewel in the crown of the intellectual milieu that surrounds the Holy See.

Despite his Republican credentials, Kmiec endorsed Barack Obama this year and penned a thoughtful book, "Can a Catholic Support Him?" The question is ridiculous to most ears and, in the event, most Catholics did support him. But for some extremists on the right, there was a firm conviction that no Catholic could vote for Obama. A Dominican priest even denied Kmiec communion at a Mass in May. (The priest was later reprimanded by Cardinal Mahoney.) Longtime associates of Professor Kmiec denounced him, often in ways that lacked all charity, suggesting bad logic or bad motives or both. There is no better way to answer those who argued that no Catholic could vote for Obama in good conscience than to see the man who wrote the book (literally!)defending the proposition that Catholics can and should vote for Obama being received in the Sala Clementina by Pope Benedict XVI!

In truth, Kmiec’s pro-life credentials, despite some carping from the far right political fringe, are impeccable. Indeed, given that the American bishops have chosen opposition to FOCA as their greeting to the new president, Kmiec gives the bishops some satisfaction since he testified against the measure at its inception in the 1980s. Glendon and Kmiec were even paired before Congress in their testimony and are good friends. When Kmiec first met Obama last June, the faith leaders in attendance report he and our new president got along famously, but Kmiec held nothing back, quoting Mother Theresa to the effect that a child ought never be seen as a punishment. Notwithstanding the sparring over abortion, Kmiec’s influence in the campaign grew from there – helping the campaign draft platform language supporting economic assistance that would encourage the decision of a pregnant woman to choose life, writing his book explaining why Obama might be voted for in good conscience (the book ranked #1 for a number of weeks in its category on Amazon), and then personally carrying the message to the battleground states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan.

Kmiec has shown no interest in an administration appointment. In another context, he told the New Yorker, "I’m a tenured old professor not looking to go anywhere. And I live in Malibu. What is it they’re going to dangle in front of me?" There he was discussing the vitriol he had received from right-wing activists like Deal Hudson, but uprooting one’s family and career is as much sacrifice as opportunity. But, I do not doubt Kmiec would answer the call of the president-elect for whom he has done so much. And, there is even less doubt that Kmiec could do for the Democratic administration what Glendon has done for its predecessor, namely, turn the ambassadorship from a sinecure into an important post for the conduct of American foreign policy.

 

Comments

Anonymous | 1/7/2009 - 12:40pm
I was looking for a Catholic magazine called America. This doesn't seem to be it. Does it really exist?
Anonymous | 12/2/2008 - 5:54pm
I have known Doug Kiec for almost 15 years. Prof. Kmiec has spent 30 years figthing for the unborn, taking countless "red-eye" flights to Washington to testify on their behalf. Those who continue to challenge Doug's credentials to be the Vatican Ambassador would do well to read for themselves his writings on the issue of Catholic values, morality and the rights of the unborn. Let me give you a few reasons why I believe Doug would make an excellent ambassador to the Vatican: 1. He has the right temperment - he can challenge without offending. 2. He is a clear thinker - he has learned well from Thomas Aquinas. 3. He works effectively at bringing those with differing opinions together. 4. Prof. Kmiec understands the history, teachings and workings of the Church. 5. Prof. Kmiec has the experience of communicating Catholic social/moral poistions to President-Elect Obama and is in daily communication with the transition team. 6. Doug Kmiec is brilliant and articulate. Doug's commitment to the unborn goes far beyond just the abortion debate. He and his wife Carol are actively involved in supporting women to choose life - from finding employment and housing for women in crisis pregnancies to finding an adoptive home for the new little baby. I challenge those of you so quick to criticize the Professor's commitment to life to take real action as well. It is naive to think that Obama would appoint an Ambassador to the Vatican that did not support him any more than the Vatiucan would send a Papal Numcio to the U.S. that did not support the Pope's position. I can think of no one better for the position than Doug Kmiec. Prof. Kmiec is a very spiritual man, yet he lives in the real world. I have no doubt he would continue to work tirelessly promoting the Catholic position for life to the administration. He would be an effective communicator in representing the Obama administration to the Vatican and the Vatican to the Obama administration.
Anonymous | 12/2/2008 - 9:38pm
‘Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights — for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture — is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination.’ Who said this?? Was it the RNC chairman trying to trick the clingers? No... Was it some hypocritical, old fashion catholic trying to get out of paying more taxes? No....Was it some Catholic lawyer trying to position himself for a job in a McCain administration??? No. It was Pope John Paul II. The same Pope who was almost assassinated on the anniversary (May 13th) of Mary's first appearance at Fatima. (a 1 in 365 probability). Who subsequently concentrated Russia to Mary. With Russia (unexpectedly) falling on December 25 (Christmas) (also a 1 in 365 probability) Probabilities are not proof but for a modern world that is always calling for proof of God's existence and will they should at least be thought provoking. Maybe we need to listen to our Shepard and reach beyond ourselves and our politic beliefs and allow are political beliefs to be informed not by opinion but truth. Any Catholic who thinks voting for (more) health care or child care tax credits is more important than defending the right to life is not listening to their shepherd. Anyone who thinks that the Democratic Party is the secret pro-life party needs to reflect really hard on whether they are trying to obfuscate their conscience from reality and why.
Anonymous | 12/1/2008 - 11:49am
How to solve the problem of abortion cannot be a "deposit of faith" issue. The only faith issue is that human life is deserving of respect. The method must be a matter of prudential judgment. Setting up a situation where back alley abortions resume - like making abortion illegal and decriminalizing it - is a non-starter. If the unborn are given full recognition as life rather than chattel, certain consequences follow. It is not a sin to point out when the Hierarcy is full of it, especially when they stray outside their areas of expertise. I doubt whether the most outspoken Bishops on this issue have the public policy credentials to even debate it intelligently. Canon Law expertise is not the same thing. Perhaps if they would listen more to those of us who do they would realize that National Right to Life is taking them for a ride.
Anonymous | 12/5/2008 - 8:12pm
So Kmiec's a humble luminary. Fine. He's actively assisting women in crisis. God bless him. That still doesn't explain how he expects Obama to decrease abortion when he's picked an all-star cast of pro-abortionaries to his transition team. FOCA's near and dear to their hearts.
Anonymous | 12/1/2008 - 4:11pm
The sad fact of the matter is, those who dissent are the most valuable voices in the pro-life movement. Why would I say such a thing? Because the current strategy is cleary not working. If the pro-life movement wishes to succeed, it must listen to those of us who disagree with current methods. One definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.
Anonymous | 11/29/2008 - 1:23pm
But of course president-elect Obama is going to bring hopenchange for the Kmiecs of our faith, ESPECIALLY when he has appointed some mighty fine prohoicers to his transition team: Tom Daschle: Obama's new Secretary of Health and Human Services, a rabid pro-abort who also hates abstinence education and supports nationalized healthcare (taxpayer funded abortions). Alta Charo: Obama's new ethics advisor. Charo has ties to the human embryo experimentation industry and - surprise - supports federally funded embryonic research. She also opposes conscience rights of health care professionals to refuse to participate in abortion. Dawn Johnsen: Former NARAL legal director who will serve on Obama's Department of Justice review team. Ellen Moran: appointed as communications director. She'll be leaving her job as executive director of EMILY's List, a group that raises $$ to elect pro-abort Democrat women. Melody Barnes: head of his Domestic Policy Council. She previously served on the boards of both Planned Parenthood and EMILY's List. So now there's wishful thinking that Kmiec join this entourage to go knocking on the good pope's door. Thankfully someone in the Vatican said "Ain't gonna happen." Please explain how these heavy hitters intend to lower the abortion rate. Big Abortion didn't drop over $20 million on a man who was out to kick them out of business. Admit it: Doug's been had.
Anonymous | 11/26/2008 - 2:54am
Jean Richard, If you are not reading my work even closely enough to get my name right, how can I be sure you are understanding my argument? Not putting doctors in jail or making obstetric practice impossible before the end of the first trimester is not the same thing as procuring an abortion. No "right to life" for the unborn has ever existed, if it had the Right to Life side would have ammunition to state that Roe was wrongly decided. If you want a Right to Life for the unborn, you must seek it through the legislative process. Until a proposal is offered along those lines, I fail to see how the right to life movement is anything but a Republican electoral gimmick which many Catholics have unfortunately fallen for.
Anonymous | 11/26/2008 - 2:45am
Mr. Hallman, Take enough care to spell my name correctly. My publicly stated position, which you should have understood over the last few months, is that criminalization of abortion will not work - nor will any solution that has Obstetricians avoid any prenatal care until after the first trimester, which legal recongition at conception - or the more realistic gastrulation - will do. You must understand that legal recognition during the first trimester really will make any miscarriage a public event - I am not being an alarmist here. I will gladly go along with outlawing abortion at gastrulation, provided that we first provide a living wage to all pregnant households, as well as programs to make sure that teens can marry and keep their babies while still getting whatever education they can handle, whether it be collegiate or vocational. Once the incentive to abortion is outweighed by the incentive to have the child, we can talk about measures to close abortion clinics, as they will close on their own because no one will use them. You need to understand that protection for the unborn will come through the political process, not through altering the court to eliminate federal protection of minorities. If the RTL side can accept that premise, it might have a chance of offering a coherent proposal. Until it offers such a proposal, not even compromise is possible. No Catholic is obligated to support a non-position. How is that so hard to understand?
Anonymous | 11/26/2008 - 8:31pm
I make it a point not to respond to comments. But, someone whom I respect objected to my use of the phrase "lunatic fringe" and worried that I was implying that anyone who disagreed with Professor Kmiec's arguments was a lunatic. I apologize for the broad brush-stroke: I have heard the word "traitor" invoked in regards to Mr. Kmiec and it was such people whom I had in mind when I wrote that sentence. I stand by my assertion that it is a kind of lunacy to question Mr. Kmiec's pro-life credentials but, of course, anyone can question his arguments.
Anonymous | 11/25/2008 - 3:52pm
"Until they deal with these issues cogently, making compromise when necessary (and such compromise is required in weighing the rights of the child against those of the mother - including mothers who would not even think of abortion)." Sorry Mr. Binder but that is not the Catholic Church teaching on the matter. You cannot directly procure an abortion even to save the life of the mother. There are very few acceptable instances where indirectly an abortion might occur when the mother is being treated for a disease/illness but that is not the same thing as what you are demanding.
Anonymous | 11/25/2008 - 12:13pm
As someone who was just added to the Foreign Service register, I would happily staff the Kmiec mission to the Holy See :).
Anonymous | 11/25/2008 - 12:54am
Are you serious? Prof. Kmiec's twisted logic has led him to support a compromise on Prop. 8 and a pro-abortion president. Our faith is ''apostolic''- in simple terms, either the authority of the bishops means something or it does not. If, like Kmiec, you do not believe that the bishops are authoritative and that legal arguments and semantics can be used to twist Catholic truths, what type of Catholic are you? Not the kind that should represent the US at the Vatican. If Obama were to appoint Kmiec, it would be a slap in the face to Catholics and the Vatican. Why not choose someone from Catholics for Choice- it would represent the faith as well as Kmiec.
Anonymous | 11/23/2008 - 9:10pm
This is a joke....right! You are playing the devil's advocate? I doubt that the Pope would welcome an ambassador who actually believed Obama was the real pro-life candidate.
Anonymous | 11/23/2008 - 8:59pm
The first job for a new US ambassador is to pick up where the US State department left off in 1998 with the Eizenstat/Slany Report which alleged money laundering of Axis war loot by the clerics associated with the Vatican. The Vatican however has stonewalled on the issue since 1998 - some pressure on the Holy See to come clean is well deserved.
Anonymous | 11/29/2008 - 12:29pm
"criminalization of abortion will not work" Neither has the criminalization of rape, drunk driving, child abuse, or any other evil. They still take place on a daily basis. It was all a waste of time.
Anonymous | 11/29/2008 - 10:17am
Those who oppose abortion are not extremists. They are upholding the law of God. How could any Catholic in good conscience support Obama- a man who is pledged to sign into law FOCA? There is no half way house on abortion.
Anonymous | 11/26/2008 - 6:45pm
Those of us who know Doug Kmiec understand that he is not looking for a job, loves his family and church in that order. Idon't think he has taken the wrong side or has sold us out. Don't rule out the idea that he is trying to help Obama see the Catholic side of the abortion issue and can do more good educating the other side. I trust Doug to the right thing and his record shows this. If he can help move Obama even a little he will have accomplished much.
Anonymous | 11/26/2008 - 11:35am
Mr. Bindner, That's just the problem, you are only willing to allow for legal protection of the unborn if we do such and such first, i.e. provide a living wage. While it's important to provide a living wage for all workers and all families, we can never place that as a prerequisite for protecting innocent life. We cannot say, "Well, since wages are low we can still kill babies." That is monstrous and certainly cannot be regarded as true justice, and certainly cannot be regarded as having a proper care for the unborn, the least among us. Yes, I am aware of your publicly stated position, and unfortunately it puts you directly outside of communion with the Church. Your publicly stated opinion directly contradicts the truth which is taught by the deposit of faith, which says that all human life must be respected and protected. You cannot compromise on life. And by the way, one does not have to criminalize abortion to make it illegal. I personally want to see it a criminal offense for a doctor or nurse to kill a human life through abortion, but it is certainly possible to make it illegal and also decriminalized. So please don't use that as an excuse.
Anonymous | 11/25/2008 - 12:57pm
Mr. Binder, The fact that you think an innocent child's life should be the subject of a compromise says all one needs to hear about your relevance to the issue - which is to say, none. Sure, continue to disparage those of us fighting for the right to life of the least among us, the unborn. But remember, one day you will be asked to give an account, and the Lord will ask you, "What have you done for these least of mine?" Do you really want to have to answer, "Lord, I considered them a bargaining tool and used them to make compromises, not really caring whether or not they were allowed to live." Good luck with that.
Anonymous | 11/25/2008 - 12:52pm
Why you continue to dismiss as "extremist" and attempt to paint as somehow crazy those Catholics who think that a vote for Obama was unacceptable is simply beyond me. It's as if you are antagonizing simply for the sake of provocation, and your charge has no merit whatsoever. Even among Catholics who did end up voting for him, be sure that many of them took that question very seriously because most Catholics are aware of how out of touch with Catholic teaching Obama's radical abortion views are. Some still decided that there were overriding reasons to cast a vote for him, many of them, such as myself, saw no such justification. But your continuing demonization of honest Catholics who really did take that question seriously and did not regard it as "ridiculous" as you would have us believe most Catholics did is simply uncalled for. Just because you clearly did not wrestle with this vote in your conscience does not mean that people who did were extremists or right-wing nut jobs. I am neither extremist nor right-wing, I am merely Catholic, and that Catholic conscience informs my vote always. I never fully align with right or left, because neither comes close to representing perfectly the full spectrum of Catholic teaching. However, I do recognize that not all issues are of equal importance, which the Church also teaches as true, and it was for that reason that I found an Obama vote to be unacceptable, as did millions of other Catholics with me. Mr. Winters, you already have very little respect among authentic Catholics, and your continued incendiary remarks do nothing to help your standing. You continue to place yourself outside of Church teaching, and yet wish to malign those of us who take this teaching seriously, and don't instead choose political preferences before responsibilities to our faith. You have certainly rendered unto Caesar, but you seem to continuously forget to render unto God.
Anonymous | 11/24/2008 - 1:09pm
Of course Prof. Kmiec should be named ambassador to the Vatican. After all, he sold his soul for the job. It is only fair that President Obama should keep his end of the bargain. Plus, who better than Prof. Kmiec can explain how the Freedom of Choice Act is a pro-life initiative that will reduce abortions?
Anonymous | 11/24/2008 - 11:53am
An excellent idea and the comeuppance the Right to Life movement deserves, including and especially the Bishops who have abetted it as an arm of the Republican Party. If the RTL movement wishes to be relevant, it must deal seriously with the issues raised by recognizing the right to life of the unborn. Until they deal with these issues cogently, making compromise when necessary (and such compromise is required in weighing the rights of the child against those of the mother - including mothers who would not even think of abortion). There are those who would say that no compromise should be considered. They need to look in the mirror if they are wondering who to blame for the continuing scourge of abortion.
Anonymous | 11/24/2008 - 7:46pm
to parochus and others, to simply focus on abortion is the forest for the trees argument. to have catholics of all people focused solely on abortion when the poor are slipping even further into decline, two wars with the tens of thousands of dead and wounded, the pining for republicans who are not even remotely pro-life, (to cut back on a social safety net, to increase the use of capitol punishment, to block adoption services,) you have given ground on what it is to be catholic. social justice,;you remember.
Anonymous | 11/24/2008 - 12:49am
Stranger things have happened. Niccolo Machiavelli was sent by the Florentine chancery to the papal court of Julius II.
Anonymous | 11/23/2008 - 10:25pm
Oh why not? I'm sure the best thing we can do as Catholics is to throw our hats in with the most radical pro-abortion president in the country's history. How can that be bad?
Anonymous | 11/23/2008 - 8:49pm
I agree that Kmiec would be a good choice as far as informing Obama on the Holy See and would represent a bipartisan approach. But I wonder if his relationship to the campaign and the fight that American bishops seem to be itching for would be best served by him. Can you imagine some of more conservative prelates issuing statments and hints about refusal of communion to our Vatican ambassador? Perhaps there's another role possible for him. And what did Glendon accomplish that was noteworthy? A serious not a sarcastic question...