To The "Traitor," Go The Spoils? Kmiec & The Ambassadorship

kmiec

There has been some talk in Catholic circles recently of Douglas Kmiec being appointed U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican. Many American Catholic contributors have expressed their opinions of Mr. Kmiec during the recent election. To be clear, the problem with Kmiec was not that he supported Obama, it was that he consistently advanced disingenuous or highly questionable arguments, arguably distorting Catholic teaching, to make the case. Apparently, rumors have surfaced that many in the Vatican are similarly displeased with Mr. Kmiec, and that the Vatican might take the unusual step of vetoing Mr. Kmiec’s nomination should he be appointed.

John Allen, one of the best reporters on Church matters, argues here both that vetoing the appointment of Mr. Kmiec would be unwise, and that President-elect Obama would be unwise to appoint Kmiec:

First, governments try to be restrained in spurning proposed ambassadors in order to avoid a tit-for-tat cycle in which we turn down your guy to make a political point, so you turn down ours, and round and round we go. Such a practice could slow down nominations, produce a chilling effect in diplomatic relations, and perhaps even prompt some states to wonder why they bother sending ambassadors to the Vatican at all.

Second, to reject a nominee on the basis of his public positions is, in effect, to insist that ambassadors must agree with the church rather than the governments they allegedly represent. Not only would that turn the traditional role of an ambassador on its head, but it would also seem to ensure that such people — should they ever be found — would be of questionable value as go-betweens, since they wouldn’t really have the confidence of the leader who sent them. That could hamper the effectiveness of Vatican diplomacy, especially where it’s needed the most.

Third, the Vatican has waged titanic battles over the centuries to assert its independence, not just from secular powers, but also from undue influence by national churches. That was partly the point, for example, of struggles in the 18th century against Gallicanism in France, Febronianism in Germany, and so on. Assigning a veto power over the Vatican’s approval of prospective ambassadors to local Catholic sentiment, however well-motivated in a given case, could undercut this bedrock principle.

For these reasons, the Vatican would be wise not to indulge a heat-of-the-moment instinct to settle scores from the election in evaluating potential ambassadors, whoever the nominee turns out to be. This is a situation in which the Vatican’s legendary distance from local passions would serve it well.

* * *

Having said all that, the smart move for Obama would be not to force the Vatican’s hand….

Read the whole thing here. I think Allen makes a pretty good case. Thoughts?

Note: The description of Kmiec as a ‘traitor,’ is taken from a Catholic News Agency report (linked to in the post), in which a Secretary of State official stated that prominent American Catholics at the Vatican, including Cardinal James Francis Stafford and Archbishop Raymond Burke, view Kmiec as a ‘traitor’.

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