John Allen on Pres. Obama and Miguel Diaz

From the National Catholic Reporter, the ultra-left wing dissenting weekly, the nearly ubiquitous John L. Allen has some obervations about Pres. Obama and future Ambassador Miguel Diaz.

My emphases and comments.

With Diaz nomination, Obama passes major Catholic test  [Passes a… what?  "Catholic" test?  We must discover what this strange claim might mean.]
By John L Allen Jr
Created May 28, 2009

By extending an olive branch to pro-lifers during his commencement address at Notre Dame, President Barack Obama seemed to pass his first major Catholic test. This week, by naming an envoy to the Vatican who doesn’t have a public track record of challenging the bishops on abortion, he’s in effect passed his second.  [Hang on.  I cannot pass over a claim that what Pres. Obama did at Notre Dame was "extend an olive branch" unless the wood of that branch was part of a Trojan Horse.  That was nothing less than subversion.  What "test" was he passing?  Does anyone think the President’s little suggestion of a "sensible conscience clause" was truly an irenic gesture?  See Novak and my own comments elsewhere.]

For extra credit, he demonstrated a good grasp of the changing demographics of American Catholicism by appointing a Hispanic. [Pres. Obama knows a voting block when he sees it.] Measured against what one might have expected from a pro-choice Democrat [VP Biden] and a non-Catholic, Obama’s Catholic report card so far appears to look pretty good.

On Wednesday, the White House announced the appointment of Miguel Diaz, 45, an associate professor of theology at the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University, as the ambassador of the United States to the Holy See. Born in Cuba, Diaz and his family left when he was eight, eventually settling in Miami. He has working-class roots; his father was a waiter and his mother a seamstress. Assuming Diaz is confirmed by the Senate, [And this is the wind driving the many gears of the mill these days…] his first major task ought to be arranging a meeting between Obama and Pope Benedict XVI around the time of the G-8 meeting in Italy this July.

Early Vatican reaction seems positive. Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the pope’s ambassador to the United States, called the Diaz appointment “an excellent choice of a representative who knows both the United States and the Catholic Church very well,” in an interview on Thursday with Italy’s ANSA news service.

Sambi added that as a Cuban-America immigrant, Diaz also “is a good representative of Spanish-speaking Catholics” in America.

That’s not to say, of course, that the choice is utterly uncontroversial. [Safe to say.] Diaz served on a Catholic advisory board for Obama during the 2008 campaign, and recently signed a letter in support of the nomination of Kathleen Sebelius as Health and Human Services Secretary despite her record of favoring abortion rights. One conservative Catholic media outlet thus styled the Diaz appointment “the first payback of the Obama administration to Catholics who have been unconditionally supporting his policies and appointments.” The fact that the usual Catholic suspects in the pro-Obama camp immediately hailed the appointment has also stoked concern in more conservative circles[True.  If they are in favor of the appointment, something must be wrong.]

Yet Diaz is described by colleagues as broadly pro-life, and in any event he has never been among the most prominent Catholic apologists for a “soft” position on abortion. ["Broadly" pro-life.  Is that the right position for a Catholic?  "Broadly" could mean just about anything.] In that sense, no one in the Vatican is likely to style the appointment as provocative. [And even if it was not seen in a good light, some in the Secretariat of State would  set theological concerns aside for the sake of a meeting in July.] (Rome may have other concerns, chief among them the extent to which a fairly obscure theology professor from Minnesota is likely to carry serious political weight inside the Obama administration. That remains to be seen.)  [Why is that, Mr. Allen, because fly-over Minnesota doesn’t count for anything important?]

Some Catholics may also be alarmed by Diaz’s fondness for Latin American liberation theology, [D’ya think?] which became a bête noir of the Catholic right during the 1970s and ’80s due to its affinities with Marxism and class struggle. References to figures such as Gustavo Gutíerrez and Ignacio Ellacuría run through Diaz’s writings, and one news outlet referred to Diaz as a “Cuban liberation theologian” in its headline. [I wonder if that is fair.]  For the record, that’s not really accurate. In his writings, Diaz distinguishes between the “preferential option for the poor” in Latin America and the “preferential option for culture” in Hispanic theology in the United States, focused on the survival of Latino/a identity[Hmmm.  I must observe that Joseph Ratzinger uses some principles of Liberation Theology as starting points for a liturgial theology in his A New Song For The Lord.  Think about it: Christ is Lord and Liberator.  This is what Christ, the true Actor, is also in liturgy.  So, a citation of a liberation theologian doesn’t deserve an automatic censure.]

Anyway, Diaz is nobody’s idea of a radical. [Well… Mr. Allen needs to read the views of some of the people who comment here…. but I digress…] He’s never defended armed revolution, or celebrated a “church from below” in opposition to the hierarchy. His accent has been largely on the importance of community, especially in light of the struggles of immigrant families. In one paper he coined the phrase, “outside the survival of community there is no salvation,” a play on the traditional theological maxim extra ecclesiam nulla salus (“outside the church there is no salvation”).

Looking down the line, the key question is how Diaz’s term in Rome might shape up. [Indeed… inter alia many people become more Catholic after spending some time in Rome…] In that light, the distinctive thing about being the Ambassador to the Holy See is that it’s very much an “ideas” job, which means that it’s better suited for an academic than many other diplomatic assignments one could imagine. The ambassador doesn’t have to worry about trade relationships, security questions, visa policies, and so on — the nuts-and-bolts matters that loom large in most diplomatic postings. The embassy also doesn’t have a large staff or internal bureaucracy. As a result, the ambassador has considerable scope to think outside the box, at least by the normal standards of overseas diplomacy.

The Diaz appointment would seem to open the door to partnerships with the Vatican in at least four areas.

I will let you read the rest over there and come back to discuss it here.

The four areas are Immigration, Cuba, North-South Solidarity, Changing Demographics.

Mr. Allen, a friend of mine, is usually an asute observer and thought-provoking analyst.  He is, IMO, dead wrong about what Pres. Obama did at Notre Dame.  But his first look at Miguel Diaz is interesting.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Rancher says:

    They just don’t get it. You can’t pick and choose what elements of Catholic teaching you want to believe just like you can’t be half pregnant. You are either a true believing Ctholic who accepts all of what the Catholic Church believes and teaches or you are something else. Diaz is something else and NCR is REALLY something else.

  2. Charivari Rob says:

    “…because fly-over Minnesota doesn’t count for …”

    After the little incident with the airborne photo-op near the Statue of Liberty a couple of weeks ago, I hope the Obama Administration collectively cringes any time the term fly-over appears in the same article as the President’s name.

    “The embassy also doesn’t have a large staff or internal bureaucracy.”

    Does the Holy See have any spare bureaucracy it can loan him if he needs it?

  3. Fr. Francis says:

    Fr. Z, I love your blog! While skeptical about John Allen’s optimistic interpretation of the various gestures of the President, I must say I am impressed by his seemingly instantaneous grasp of Prof. Diaz’s theological work. Mr. Allen once again reveals his value as a rarely knowledgeable Catholic journalist.

  4. chironomo says:

    There were olive branches extended, and they definitely are part of a Trojan Horse. The dignified thing for the Vatican to do would be to refuse (or marginalize) this appointee…..

  5. Fr. Michael Woolley says:

    Based on what I’ve read about him on this blog, I think John Allen would have been a good pick for Ambassador, at least better than Diaz.

  6. problem says:

    I have had various interactions with Archbp Sambi. Not a limelight.

  7. Romulus says:

    As a journalist, Mr. Allen’s living depends on timely access to sources. I can’t help wondering if a perceived need to make nice has influenced this piece. He’d like to have his phone calls returned, I’m sure.

    IMO, this appointment represents a political judgment on the part of Dr. Obama: namely, that the Catholicism of the majority of Hispanic Americans is more sentimental than a matter of deep faith; as such, they will not resent or resist attempts to attenuate their Catholic identity.

  8. I am not Spartacus says:

    In part because of his own background, Diaz has made immigration a key theme of his theological work. In one essay, for example, he develops a theology of community against the backdrop of what he termed a “fear and rejection of others,” as exemplified in “legislation proposed before the House of Representatives to make English the official language of the United States, the rise of the Minutemen in Arizona, ongoing government raids on immigrant communities throughout the U.S., and various acts of prejudice against resident ‘aliens’ such as Muslims living in this country.”

    That paragraph is packed sardine-tight with tendentious Anti-American ideological extremism.

    It is an indefensible rhetorical device to describe as a “fear and rejection of others” the quite common sense attempt to legislate English as our official language. That it is our official language used to be a tautology.

    How can one have a “community” if one does not even speak the same language? (See City of God I forget the book. I think it is Book 10, chapter 8, I’ll check in a minute).

    “The Minutemen” is a great example of democratic patriotism. Mexico uses its Army to keep illegal aliens from entering their country from
    their South and I don’t see any negative hub-bub about that.

    Gov’t raids on “immigrant communities?” What, are the Feds rounding-up Italians in the North End of Boston?

    Notice how we are singled-out as fearful and rejectful for wanting to preserve our heritage whereas the illegal aliens are anointed with the words “Immigration communities” as though they are just poor law-abiding families being picked-on by the big white meanies?

    Acts of prejudice against Muslims? Is he serious? The silent jihad is proceeding steadily apace in America and yet he accuses us of prejudice.

    As far as I can tell, He is not an Ambassador of America. He is an Ambassador against America.

    The more I learn about him the worse he sounds

  9. gary says:

    I think that this is the first time I’ve seen Fr. Z describe Allen as “nearly ubiquitous” without the accompanying compound adjective “fair-minded.” Just sayin’… ;-)

  10. tertullian says:

    “…Indeed… inter alia many people become more Catholic after spending some time in Rome…”

    with the exception of a few Italian Cardinals…

  11. Tzard says:

    By “broadly pro-life” – I immediately think “Seamless garment”..

    This thread is not the place to discuss that problem, but that’s what I read “between the lines” in the frequent use of that term.


  12. I am not Spartacus says:

    Wow. My memory ain’t what it used to be. The City of God Reference should have been to Book XIX:

    Now the world, like a confluence of water, is obviously more full of danger than the other communities by reason of its greater size. To begin with, on this level the diversity of languages separates man from man….When men cannot communicate their thoughts to each other, simply because of difference of language, all the similarity of their common human nature is of no avail to unite them in fellowship. So true is this that a man would be more cheerful with his dog for company than with a foreigner. I shall be told that the Imperial City has been at pains to impose on conquered peoples not only her yoke but her language also, as a bond of peace and fellowship, so that there should be no lack of interpreters but even a profusion of them. True; but think of the cost of this achievement! Consider the scale of those wars, with all that slaughter of human beings, all the human blood that was shed!

    One reality of what our Anarcho-Tyranny (Sam Francis’ excellent and descriptive neologism) of existence is,is that the more chaos introduced into it the greater the need for a large and powerful and intrusive government to keep “order.”

    Whenever the Post-Christian Modern State uses Christian Rhetoric to try an convince us that open borders is a way for we Christians to practice our virtues of acceptance and love and…blah, blah, blah,… ask yourself the ancient question; Cui Buno?

    And then remind yourself that the Modern Post-Cristian State always undertakes a policy or practice that benefits itself. It certainly ain’t in existence to succor, sustain, profit, or reward you as a Christian.

  13. I am not Spartacus says:

    FYI, Cardinal Ratzinger on Liberation Theology:

    2. An analysis of the phenomenon of liberation theology reveals that it constitutes a fundamental threat to the faith of the Church. At the same time it must be borne in mind that no error could persist unless it contained a grain of truth. Indeed, an error is all the more dangerous, the greater that grain of truth is, for then the temptation it exerts is all the greater.

  14. JohnE says:

    The term “broadly pro-life” sounds like “generally pro-life” to me.

    I am also a little worried that someone as bright as John Allen would describe Obama’s speech at Notre Dame as “extending an olive branch to pro-lifers”. It sounded to me like the common ground Obama spoke of was the sheer side of an icy cliff.

  15. Peggy says:

    I want to say “big deal” not to any worries about Diaz. Once I saw that he published with Orbis books, I reached a conclusion about him. I am strongly opposed to their liberation theology agenda. I presume that must be the connection between Diaz and Obie. What I mean by “big deal” is this idea that Diaz is great to help the Vatican and US work together on the 4 issues named.

    1. Immigration: Why would/should the Vatican weigh in on US immigration law in detail beyond the principle it has already put forth?
    2. Cuba. Sure, Diaz might have a personal interest, but he doesn’t seem to be of the typical Cuban-American point of view on Cuba. He might be useful or not. I have no idea whether Obie’s agenda is consistent with the Vatican’s.
    3. North-South solidarity? Whoopdie-doo. I’m afraid of what Obie’d do on that. He’s bleeding us dry already. There won’t be much to give up.
    4. Changing demographics. Interesting, but not vital. What should this mean for the Vatican?

  16. Matthew W. I. Dunn says:

    Despite Fr. Z’s frequent attestations to his unbiased commentary, I’m supposing there is a reason why the good Mr. Allen, Jr., works for such a left-wing and dissenting organ as NCR. [I am sure that one of those reasons is that they can actually pay their writers well! That is not a small issue when you have people to support. At the same time, I think that for the most part Allen reports facts accurately and that you can tell when he is offering his own opinions.]

    I have read many of Allen, Jr.’s reportage — usually, on religious pluralism and the Vatican investigations thereof — which seems decidedly left- and well as dissent-leaning.

    So, no surprise.

  17. Londiniensis says:

    The changing demographic in the United States is indoubtedly of interest to the Vatican. On projections by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2008, by 2050 Hispanic-Americans will make up 30% of the population (2008 15%), while non-Hispanic whites will make up 46% (2008 68%). The comparable figures for African-Americans and Asian-Americans are 15% (14%) and 9% (5%). Report is at

    On a lighter note, even Homer nods and John Allen’s use of the term “broadly” will no doubt come back to haunt him. In all clarity, one can be as “broadly” pro-life as one can be “broadly” honest, i.e. not-quite, i.e. not.

  18. In my continuing effort to calm jangled nerves:

    1. Always remind yourself of the basic premise that, if you don’t like President Obama, you are not going to like any appointee from him. If you start from expectation of neutral to positive, you are only setting yourself up for more teeth-grinding.

    2. With that in mind, this appointment doesn’t seem that bad. Coulda been a lot worse. Was it a political choice. Of course it was! That’s how it works. Remember point one, above.

    3. In the grand scheme of things, the U.S. ambassador to the Vatican isn’t super important. It has value; but there are 100 other decisions President Obama can and will make that are more consequential.

  19. MargaretMN says:

    I understand “preferential option for the poor.” There is some basis in scripture for that and Fr. Z is right, you can’t immediately reduce the concept of Liberation in theology to “liberation theology” which the current pope in his previous role did much to combat, largely by revealing that it was a translation of Marxist concepts into Christian terms, to hook the poor and less educated into supporting revolutionary causes which brought them neither peace nor liberation in the end. As an urban politician, President Obama knows that preachers demanding justice are useful tools.

    I do not get “preferential option for culture.” If it means promoting religious syncretism with pagan overtones because both derive from one culture, I suspect most of us here would have a problem with that. If it means promoting one culture over a universal catholic tradition, it’s still a problem. What we have here and with the Sotomayor nomination is an exposition of the idea that there is a “hispanic culture” and secondly, that it somehow can be frozen in place. Think of what our Catholic communties would be like if Germans, Poles, Czechs, Irish, etc. All had demanded to retain worship and community separate, instead of blending together by the second or third generation.

  20. Girgadis says:

    What’s wrong with being “broadly pro-life” IF that definition means unconditionally
    opposed to abortion, euthanasia and embryonic stem-cell research in addition
    to being opposed to torture, needless wars and the taking of human life for
    any reason other than VALID cases of self-defense?

  21. EDG says:

    Girgadis, I don’t think that’s what the definition of “broadly pro-life” means.

    Your definition is far from their definition. Theirs means the seamless garment, saying that more welfare and non-parental-consent abortions actually promote life because they take away any negative impact. This is not true.

    Socialist Spain has become our leader in this. Zapatero’s government had a female minister come out the other day and say, yes, we all know the fetus [feto] is a living being [ser vivo] but it’s not a human being [ser humano].

    And the Church was silent. The only person who said anything was a radio commentator who would be the Spanish equivalent of Rush Limbaugh (that means a large audience but contempt from the “right kind of people.”)

  22. Mum26 says:

    Mr. Diaz can think outside the box for as long as he wishes, so long as he thinks completely inside the Catholic box.

    I am suspicious, very suspicious. Nothing good has come from the current administration so far. And I am not going to hold my breath that this is it.

    Blessings, Mum26

  23. EDG says:

    I’m extremely upset about this. I don’t want to criticize John Allen, although I will say honestly that I feel no more positive about him than about Kmiec.

    But I think Obama is setting the stage for an attack on Rome. Obama is not smart enough or knowledgeable enough to do this, but whoever is behind him is certainly pulling the right strings. Obama is vicious and wants his way, and he is attacking Rome directly.

    Appointing this twinkie “theologian” who taught at Boynton Beach (the Pink Palace) and was regarded as a lightweight even there is a real slap in the face. But actually, it was clever, because Obama’s crew is playing identity politics and while they realize that most people in the US who are members of or descended from Spanish-speaking families are Catholic, they also know that US Spanish-language Catholicism is extremely weak, afflicted by charismatic nonsense on one side and La Raza Hispanic identity politics on the other.

    BXVI may have remarked on Jesus the Liberator, but he meant it the right way: that is, Our Lord liberated us from our past, from sin, from fear, from hatred – but He did not come to take away our individual wills and make us subjects of a government that smites its enemies and gives us handouts, which is the essence of “Liberation Theology.”

    The sad thing is that Rome probably doesn’t even realize this.

  24. Girgadis says:

    Thanks for explaining EDG.

  25. Hugh says:

    “He has never been among the most prominent Catholic apologists for a “soft” position on abortion.”

    I’m guessing we’re supposed to be impressed?

    On the other hand …

    “But because thou art … neither cold, not hot, I will begin to vomit thee out of my mouth.” (Rev 3:16)

  26. Aaron says:

    Yeah, what should we expect from the next candidate? “He doesn’t even own any abortion clinics. Pro-lifers should love him!”

  27. little gal says:

    “Obama is vicious and wants his way, and he is attacking Rome directly.”

    Look to his inner circle, those who have funded him and moved him along politically in the past and currently. What are their motives and goals? IMO, he is someone’e instrument.

  28. TNCath says:

    John Allen, Jr. wrote: “Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the pope’s ambassador to the United States, called the Diaz appointment ‘an excellent choice of a representative who knows both the United States and the Catholic Church very well,’ in an interview on Thursday with Italy’s ANSA news service.”

    So, what’s up with Archbishop Sambi? He was conspicuously silent on the Notre Dame affair. Isn’t this the same Archbishop Sambi who was so outspoken when he was the Apostolic Delgate to Jeruselem and Palestine? Mr. Allen’s comments do not surprise me, but Archbishop Sambi’s certainly do. Very disappointing.

  29. Johnny Domer says:

    I’ve often thought what America would be like if talk radio, fox news, blogs, the “conservative media” did not exist. I’m now thinking it would probably just look like Europe, which seemingly doesn’t have any sort of alternative media. I thought that if my lone perception of world affairs was MSNBC, I’d probably have no choice but to be a liberal…do you think that this sort of liberal-media influenced worldview is what affects the sorts of people who work in the Secretariat of State, at L’Osservatore Romano, etc.? If all I watched were MSNBC, I guess I’d think Obama was peachy too.

  30. Far from being an olive branch, I see President Obama’s speech as an attempt to divide an conquer. So far, all the “Catholics” that he has chosen support positions contrary to the Church, possibly an “American Patriotic Catholic Church?”

  31. Peter - historian says:

    I must say I am extremely disappointed by what came from Mr Allen’s quarters this time, all the more so because I have usually eagerly waited for and found edifying what he wrote. Now, alas, John is way wide of the mark. Surprising for a man of his intellect and insight. I will keep hoping it was just a minor human nature slip up. Although I’m probably too optimistic, unfortunately.

  32. I am not Spartacus says:

    Diaz served on a Catholic advisory board for Obama during the 2008 campaign, and recently signed a letter in support of the nomination of Kathleen Sebelius as Health and Human Services Secretary despite her record of favoring abortion rights

    It seems to me that Prof Diaz is broadly pro-monster.

    Obama’s extreme pro-abortion record was well-known in the pro-life community. Who didn’t know that he was totally in support of not only late term abortions but he was also in favor of what can only be called infanticide.

    The same goes for Sebelius who in addition to her record, is friends with the American Mengele, Doc Tiller the baby killer.

    If Prof Diaz is broadly pro-life, I’m an astronaut.

  33. Brian2 says:

    On the lighter side… the real loser here is Doug Kmiec. He has spent the last year so kissing up to Obama, alienating many of his old friends and allies, to say nothing of his principles, and gets in return… not the supreme court, not the Vatican job but only the shaft.

  34. irishgirl says:

    Joe of St. Therese-I’m thinking the same thing…divide and conquer.

    This is scary…I guess BO couldn’t find any real pro-life Catholics to be Ambassador.

  35. RBrown says:

    I have read many of Allen, Jr.’s reportage—usually, on religious pluralism and the Vatican investigations thereof—which seems decidedly left- and well as dissent-leaning.
    So, no surprise.
    Comment by Matthew W. I. Dunn

    His work on Opus Dei was very fair.

  36. RBrown says:

    I’ve often thought what America would be like if talk radio, fox news, blogs, the “conservative media” did not exist. I’m now thinking it would probably just look like Europe, which seemingly doesn’t have any sort of alternative media.
    Comment by Johnny Domer

    France has Le Figaro, and Italy has Il Tempo, both of which tend to be conservative. And Italian Catholic newspapers don’t tend toward sentimentalism, like their US counterparts.

    Eleven years of living in Europe left me with the impression that European Catholics (or conservatives) don’t need to be bucked up by the likes of O’Reilly and Hannity.

  37. ED says:

    Knowing this Obama character he’s putting this “theologian” so when ever the Pope makes a pronouncement he’ll use his liberal false theology to explain it to the press, wait and see.

  38. Londiniensis says:

    I have just “tweeted” this: There is a video (1hr 20m) available on CSPAN of the discussion, moderated by Mary Ann Glendon, between Robert George and Douglas Kmiec on “The Obama Administration and the Sanctity of Human Life: Is there a common ground on life issues? What is the right response by ‘Pro-Life’ Citizens?”

  39. mpm says:

    What we have here and with the Sotomayor nomination is an exposition of the idea that there is a “hispanic culture” and secondly, that it somehow can be frozen in place.
    Comment by MargaretMN — 28 May 2009 @ 6:02 pm

    Well, I don’t know about freezing it, but there certainly is an Hispanic Culture which extends from Spain all throughout North, Central and South America. A very beautiful, warm and originally Catholic culture, I might add. And “Hispanic” (meaning Spanish) is the name for that culture. It wasn’t until our non-racial Government felt the absolute need to find a pidgeon-hole for everybody that it was used as it is in the U.S. these days. During President Polk’s war with Mexico, a lot of American military were very taken with it, as well. Stonewall Jackson almost became a Catholic, he was so taken with the culture of the family of a young senorita he was considering marrying, until orders came down to get back on the boat!

    I just don’t see why that culture or any other culture is the proper subject of “theology”, except where the theologian critiques it where it needs critiquing.

    I have read elsewhere that Mr. Diaz does hold and teach the Catholic Church’s teaching on the sanctity of human life, in the narrow sense. I’m willing to accept that. If not, we’ll soon know about it. Ray Flynn of Boston was not the most orthodox Catholic when he started out as Ambassador — by his own admission — but getting to know Pope John Paul II make him think more deeply.

  40. B Knotts says:

    I wonder if there is a preferential option for other cultures, or just the Hispanic culture? How about Filipino, or Irish, or Appalachian? Are these less important? If so, why?

    I’m a little puzzled what any of this has to do with theology.

  41. Carlos says:

    @Romulus who said “the Catholicism of the majority of Hispanic Americans is more sentimental than a matter of deep faith”… WOW… I am one of “those”… be careful with that statement. Why are you saying that?
    @Spartacus who said “The Minutemen” is a great example of democratic patriotism”… The founder was arrested, by the way, for domestic violence.

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