Foreign Affairs

Vatican Reportedly Rejects Three Obama Choices for Ambassador

Well, at least they all paid their taxes.  At least we think so.

That’s apparently the only non-controversial thing about President Obama’s personnel choices: one, a a militant gay rights activist appointed to the Faith-Based Initiatives Advisory Council, and three more pro-choice Catholic picks for ambassador to the Vatican who have all reportedly been rejected.  

I spoke with Dr. Bill Donohue, President and CEO of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, the nation’s largest Catholic civil rights organization, about these nominations, appointments and behind-the-scenes maneuvers.  Although Donahue could not give names of those rejected by the church, he was willing to talk to HUMAN EVENTS about the Obama administration’s apparently unpleasant task.

“The chatter on the streets this week is that at least three nominees have been shot down by the Vatican,” Donohue said.  “I mean, the Obama administration is smart enough at least not to say we’ve chosen Caroline Kennedy, and then just let the boys in the Vatican find out by reading the New York Times.  They’re vetting a few.  The reports are that three have been shot down already. One would expect that the reason for it is that [the Vatican] wants someone who is pro-life.  I would bet my last dollar that the Vatican would take a pro-life Protestant or Jew before they’d take a pro-abortion Catholic.  After all, being an ambassador to the Vatican doesn’t mean you must be Catholic: it means that you must be someone who is not anathema to their way of thinking.  If they can’t find another Ray Flynn, that says something about the Democratic Party.”

We also spoke of Harry Knox, who currently serves as the religion and faith program director for the Human Rights Campaign, a militant gay rights organization.  Knox was appointed by the president to serve on the faith-based council.  

“When Pope Benedict XVI recently said that condoms are not the answer to HIV/AIDS, he was simply voicing common sense: the promiscuous distribution of condoms has coincided with a precipitous increase in HIV/AIDS. But to gay activists like Knox, the pope is a liar. Indeed, he instructed the pope to ‘start telling the truth about condom use,’ holding the Holy Father accountable for ‘endangering people’s lives.’ He never explained how calls for abstinence could possibly jeopardize anyone’s life.  Knox even went so far as to say that because the Knights of Columbus — like most Americans — oppose gay marriage, they are ‘foot soldiers of a discredited army of oppression.’”

Rep. Mike Pence (Ind.), the House Republican Conference chairman, called on Obama to withdraw the appointment.

“For years, the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives has made available taxpayer resources to private faith-based organizations who offer critical support to their local communities,” Pence said.  “Unfortunately, the President’s recent appointment to his advisory council makes a mockery out of the religious beliefs of countless Americans.  This selection furthers the divisive politics the American people have rejected and the President promised to abandon.  Appointing a man who has publicly attacked the Pope and other religious leaders for their support of traditional marriage is deeply offensive to millions of Americans and the faith-based community he is appointed to serve. I call on the President to withdraw this appointment and select a person who can serve the faith-based community with the respect and dignity it deserves.”

Dr. Donohue and I also spoke of Obama’s support for the Freedom of Choice Act and what that would mean to Catholic hospitals around the country that would be in jeopardy of closure if their healthcare providers, as a matter of conscience, refused to perform abortions.

Donohue said, “In July, I’ll be doing this job for 16 years.  I’ve often been somewhat dismayed by the lack of a vigorous response on the part of our bishops.  Now I have seen over the last six months an invigorated episcopate — that is to say that the bishops have become more stalwart, more defiant, more vocal than I have ever seen them before as a collective body.  What has done it, and maybe not the world’s best motivator, but I’ll take it.  It’s a four letter word that begins with ‘f’: it’s called fear.  The fear is that Catholic hospitals if the Freedom of Choice Act were to be passed — and Obama’s already said he’d sign it, he told that to Planned Parenthood in July 2007 — that could arguably close down Catholic hospitals because none of them, of course, would accept federal funds if there’s a condition of accepting the cash that you have to perform abortions.”

“The first right is not freedom of speech — it’s freedom of religion,” Donohue continued.  “And freedom of religion is ineluctably tied to freedom of conscience.  People like Solzhenizyn who suffered under the Soviets understood this very, very well.  They can stop me from voting, they can stop me from speaking but they cannot control my conscience. … Clearly the most elementary exercise of the right to freedom of religion is to refuse to do something that you find morally repugnant.

“We understand that Obama won the election and that he has the right to appoint people of his preference up to a point.  The point is crossed when you get people like Harry Knox who is a bigot and you take away fundamental First Amendment rights like right of conscience, when you start toying with the idea, you start dangling it out there that Catholic hospitals had better get in a single line and do what they want them to do or they’re going to close them down, this is sending an unmistakable message that has really gotten through. … Anyone who would take the Catholic vote with such a cavalier attitude, it’s bound to come back and haunt them.”


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