Whom Will Obama Choose for Vatican Ambassador?

Will President Obama choose an opponent of abortion rights in order to avoid more controversy?

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By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country

Whom should President Obama appoint as his ambassador to the Vatican? The White House isn't discussing its selection process, but the question is receiving attention these days among politically connected Catholics.

Democrats for Life of America has published its short list, below. Other names that have surfaced in the media are Doug Kmiec and Caroline Kennedy. Either would inflame Catholic conservatives, given Kmiec's kind words for Obama's abortion reduction plan and the president's embryonic stem cell research policies and Kennedy's apparent pro-abortion rights stand.

Liberal Catholic Thomas Reese has written that it's not necessary for Obama to pick someone who toes the Catholic Church line on abortion:

What the Vatican wants is someone who is competent and respected in the White House and the State Department. Vatican officials would value someone who is plugged in, who can give them accurate inside information and communicate their views to top officials including the president. Orthodoxy may be required for theologians and bishops, but not for ambassadors....

It is ironic that Catholic conservatives, who are insisting on the appointment of a pro-life ambassador, are trying to impose an orthodoxy test for political office just as the anti-Catholic forces predicted the church would when Kennedy was running for president....

Wisely, the Catholic bishops have remained silent on the topic...because they realize that diplomatic relations are a matter between the Holy See and the U.S. Government and have nothing to do with the Catholic Church in America. They certainly have nothing to do with Catholic doctrine.

But given the controversy generated by the president's upcoming appearance at the University of Notre Dame, will the White House want an unequivocally antiabortion rights pick in order to avoid more news stories about apoplectic Catholic conservatives (which often read as stories about widespread Catholic disillusionment)?

The president still has many ambassadorships to fill, and it could be a while until he appoints an envoy to the Holy See. But if he chooses someone who's sure to turn off conservatives, it will be a clear sign the administration thinks the Notre Dame controversy is consigned to the far Catholic right.

Here is Democrats for Life's short list. Add your favored candidate in comments.

  • JANET ROBERT who is the current Board Chair of Democrats For Life of America, currently heads up a progressive talk radio station. Robert, like her parents, are long-time supporters of the pro-life movement and social justice causes. Janet's father, Bruce Robert, was knighted by Pope John Paul II for his longstanding support of the Church. Janet is a strong financial supporter of pro-life democrats who currently serve and are running for the U.S. Congress. She is an alumni of Notre Dame.
  • TIM ROEMER who served as a Democratic member of Congress from Indiana from 1990-2002. He was a leading member of the 9/11 Commission and is the son-in-law of former U.S. Senator J. Bennett Johnston (D-LA). As a member of Congress, Roemer co-sponsored legislation to expand Head Start for child care coverage of women moving from welfare to work. He is an alumni of Notre Dame. Roemer is married, with four children.
  • RAY FLYNN was Ambassador to the Holy See from 1993-1997 under President Clinton. He also served as a City Councilman in Boston from 1978-1984 and Mayor of Boston from 1984-1993. In 1999, he became President of Catholic Alliance, a national lay Catholic political advocacy group recognized by the Vatican. Flynn is an alumni of Providence College.
  • PAT CASEY is the scion of a well-known Pennsylvania political family. He is one of the sons of the late Governor Robert P. Casey and the brother of U.S. Senator Bob Casey, Jr. Pat Casey is an attorney and made two unsuccessful bids for U.S. Congress in Pennsylvania, where his staunch defense of pro-life legislation was a significant factor in his defeats but Casey refused to waiver on his beliefs. He is an alumni of Holy Cross College and married with two children.
  • The Rev. JIM WALLIS is the only non-Roman Catholic of this group. Rather he is an ordained minister in the Plymouth Brethren denomination. Wallis eschews political labels but focuses on advocacy for peace and justice. He is considered a strong supporter of religious renewal effort in the progressive communities. He is an alumni of Michigan State University. He is married to the Reverend Joy Carroll, who the title character of The Vicar of Dibley was based