Obama Surprises with Vatican Envoy Choice
By Jacqueline L. Salmon
Miguel Diaz, President Obama's pick for U.S. ambassador to the Vatican comes as a surprise to those who watch these things closely.
A Cuban-born theologian who served as an adviser to Obama's presidential campaign, Diaz (who opposes abortion) ended up with the nomination after such higher-profile names as Caroline Kennedy and Douglas Kmiec were bandied about. If approved, Diaz would be the first Latino Vatican ambassador since the Vatican and the U.S. established full diplomatic ties 25 years ago.
Catholic blogger Michael Sean Winters calls Diaz an "unexpected" choice but a "serious Catholic" chosen at a time when Obama's relationship with the U.S. Catholic church has been difficult.
More than 60 American bishops voiced their disapproval of his commencement speech at the University of Notre Dame recently, with some blasting the president for his support for legalized abortion. It also comes at a time when Obama will need the U.S. Catholic hierarchy as he pushes ahead with monumental battles over health care reform, which the church largely supports (assuming the package doesn't include government-subsidized abortions).
Back to Diaz. Currently an associate professor of theology at St. John's University and the College of St. Benedict, he's a board member of the Catholic Theological Society and past president of the Academy of Catholic Hispanic Theologians. His area of expertise is Hispanic Catholics. He is the author "On Being Human: U.S. Hispanic and Rahnerian Perspectives," and an editor of "From the Heart of Our People: Latino/a Explorations in Catholic Systemic Theology."
Last December, he told an interviewer at the St. Cloud Times in Minnesota that, "the Democratic Party in this election really made a conscious decision that religion had a place in politics. The platform and vision Obama had resonated with my own theological and philosophical ideas."
At Obama's inauguration, Diaz told the Catholic News Service that Obama was "committed to working" with people who defend "life in the womb" and respects people who hold positions he does not agree with.
Diaz is deeply involved with the more progressive arm of the U.S. Catholic church. He serves as a theological adviser to Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, which cheered his nomination last night, saying he "has always connected his impressive body of academic scholarship and intellectual rigor with an unwavering commitment to living out the social justice tenets of our faith."
At InsideCatholic.com, conservative blogger Deal Hudson had this to say: "He's a young associate professor at a small Catholic University, which when compared with Mary Ann Glendon [the previous Vatican ambassador] is quite a step down." Diaz's "academic credentials are good for his age, but far from spectacular. He's clearly a liberal and has publicly supported Obama and the nomination of Gov. Sebelius. From the Vatican point of view, the question will be whether he is really pro-life."
The Diaz nomination, along with the nomination earlier this week of Judge Sonia Sotomayor as Supreme Court justice, can do nothing but help Obama, who already is popular among Latinos. More than two-thirds of Latinos voted for Obama over John McCain, a 14-point Democratic gain over 2004, in the presidential election.
Jacqueline L. Salmon
May 28, 2009; 6:45 AM ET
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