As President Barack Obama continues to focus on his political base and push through policies that are anathema to the pro-life movement, he is having difficulty finding a suitable candidate to represent his administration at the Vatican.
According to Massimo Franco, author of "Parallel Empires," a recently published book on U.S.-Vatican relations, the Obama administration has put forward three candidates for consideration but each of them have been deemed insufficiently pro-life by the Vatican.
One of the few conditions the Vatican places on diplomats accredited to the Holy See is that they hold pro-life views in line with Church teaching.
Franco says the administration is now looking for a professional diplomat rather than a political appointee because finding an authentically pro-life candidate within the Democratic Party is proving impossible. The task is further hampered by the administration’s desire to reward individuals who gave donations to Obama’s campaign.
Since the U.S. opened formal diplomatic relations with the Vatican 25 years ago under President Reagan, all ambassadors have been political appointees and pro-life Catholics of varying degrees, even under the Clinton administration.
However, in view of the absence of qualified Catholic candidates, insiders say another option could be for the administration to choose a non-Catholic pro-life candidate rather than a Catholic whose record on pro-life issues is at odds with Church teaching.
“There may be room for such an appointment and it could be a good choice,” said Franco, “but at the moment I can’t imagine it happening.”
The post of U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See has been vacant since Jan. 19, when Harvard law professor Mary Ann Glendon left the position. Commentators say that unless an appointment is made by mid-April, the Obama administration could face the embarrassing possibility of having no ambassador in place when the president visits Italy in July for the G8 summit. That would make any encounter between Pope Benedict XVI and President Obama not impossible but unlikely.
In the short time he has been in office, President Obama has pushed through or proposed a raft of policies that have greatly disappointed members of the pro-life movement, and raised serious concerns in the Vatican.
These include proposing to rescind conscience rights of physicians and others, especially in the context of abortion; permitting U.S. government funding of organizations sponsoring abortion provision around the world; nominating an aggressively pro-choice Catholic, Kathleen Sibelius, to the Secretary of Health and Human Services; and allowing federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research.
Two weeks ago, the administration said it would formally endorse a U.N. statement calling for the worldwide decriminalization of homosexuality, a measure that former President George W. Bush had refused to sign and that the Vatican also opposed. A week earlier, the administration said it would endorse radical international guidelines on HIV/AIDS, which call for criminalizing critics of homosexuality.
The president of the Vatican’s Academy for Life, Archbishop Rino Fisichella, criticised Obama’s embryonic stem cell decision as a "victory of politics over ethics”. Archbishop Raymond Burke, the American head of the Church’s highest court, the Apostolic Signatura, said in a recent interview the appointment of Sibelius was “the source of the greatest embarrassment” because of her pro-abortion record, and that she “should not be entrusted” to the job.
To help clear up some of these disagreements, a meeting between the Pope and the President is seen by some as a matter of urgency, particularly in view of Obama’s campaign pledge to build consensus between both sides of the pro-life debate. Failure to do so will confirm what some Vatican officials already suspect of Obama: that his talk of reaching out to all sides was empty talk, designed to deceive.
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