Obama's New Vatican Ambassador: Another Nod to Catholic Church's New U.S. Complexion

The selection of Diaz is another acknowledgment of the Catholic Church's new complexion in the U.S.

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By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country

In announcing his selection of a Hispanic Roman Catholic theologian as Vatican ambassador last night, days after picking a Hispanic Catholic for the Supreme Court, Barack Obama continues his campaign to acknowledge the new Latino complexion of the Catholic Church in America in a big way.

Obama's selection of the Cuban-born Miguel Diaz as ambassador to the Holy See offers a striking contrast to the Vatican's own recent decision a few months ago to forgo a Latino figure to serve as archbishop of New York, the closest thing that America has to a pope. The church instead chose Timothy Dolan, a white Irish-American who represents the fastest-shrinking component of the Catholic Church in America.

Prominent lefty Catholic Thomas Reese characterizes the church's shifting demographics today:

One out of three Catholics has left the church according to a study by the Pew Forum. The only reason Catholics continue to be a stable percentage of the U.S. population is that Hispanics are making up for the white Catholics who are leaving.

In picking a well-respected theologian with apparently close ties to the Catholic Church—Diaz is a former academic dean at a regional seminary in Florida and a board member of the Catholic Theological Society of America—as its envoy to Rome, Obama will most likely avoid kicking up the kind of conservative Catholic opposition that would have ensued had he chosen a Catholic Democratic politician.

Even a purportedly antiabortion-rights Democrat would have provoked attacks from the right if he or she had anything less than a 100 percent antiabortion-rights voting record.

And by declining to appoint a politician or Democratic donor to the post, friends of the administration say Obama signaled that he was taking this pick seriously. In fact, there appears to be little if any precedent for plucking a theologian for the post.

Some other facts about Diaz:

—According to the Associated Press, he served on the Obama campaign's Catholic advisory board during the presidential campaign.

—Diaz is the first person in his family to go to college. His father, Felix, worked as a waiter and his mother, Silvia, as a data entry operator.

—He's married to a theologian and has four children.

—Diaz is a former president of the Academy of Catholic Hispanic Theologians of the United States.

—He was one of 26 big-name Catholics to sign a s tatement praising Kathleen Sebelius as "a woman of deep faith" when her appointment to head the Health and Human Services Department was under attack from conservative Catholics earlier this year.