The puzzling editorial in L’Osservatore Romano

A lot of people have written to me with links and asking me to comment on the signed editorial in L’Osservatore Romano on the first 100 days of the administration of President Obama.

Quite a few people are worked up about this.

I admit that it left me scratching my head.

But I have a couple observations.

First, and most importantly, in the world of L’Osservatore Romano a signed editorial like this has the least weight.  You might be able to say that an editorial signed by the actual editor might have more… but it wouldn’t be nearly as weighty as an unsigned editorial.

Second, I know the editor of L’Osservatore Romano a little.  He is trying to give the paper a new direction and role.  I think he is trying to bring in a few more voices here and there and open it to being also a journal of discussion, to engage the world.  To this end, he is bringing pieces from various writers, including non-Catholics. 

Fiorentino is a staffer of L’OR and it might have sounded like an official position of the paper, but it wasn’t.  I would not be in the least surprised it some of the Euro-progressivists in the Secretariat of State weren’t in favor of this editorial, but it wasn’t unsigned.

Also, a spy tells me that the scholars of the Pontifical Academy for life were rather miffed about this.

Also, a friend noted:

Read the recent address of Mary Ann Glendon to the Holy Father (and the Pope’s speech to the Academy).  You can tell what she is alluding to. Michael Schooyans’ lecture for the plenary session was dedicated to Obama’s messianism and was NOT laudatory.  Fiorentino’s article was not bereft of good points and observations.  But the general sense of it was totally off base. The author seems to believe his own spin on reality. He totally ignores important facts of the ideology at work with Obama’s administration and covers it with the fig leaf of "moderation".  The adminstration only shows moderation when it is forced on them by the system and the vocal – unexpected – opposition of so many bishops and believers, Catholic and non-Catholic alike. I wonder if Fiorentino knows anything of the debate in the U.S. hierarchy  (and the U.S. at large) aside from what he reads in the headlines of La Repubblica.

You might want also to read this piece on Lifesite, paying attention to my friend Msgr. Barreiro’s comments on Ostpolitik.

Today I made a reference to Ostpolitik in my examination of the slimy editorial in America.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. EDG says:

    Father, did you read the great article in La Chiesa? It discussed the two groups in the Vatican, one that is sympathetic towards Obama and his policies or thinks they should be (obviously, the L’Osservatore crowd), and the other that actually understands the implications of what is going on in the US. Oddly enough, one of the good guys was a Belgian, a scholar named (IIRC) Schoonyns, who gave an address that was extremely orthodox but also seemed to move beyond the theoretical and towards a practical understanding of the dynamics of the Obama cult.

  2. Sharon says:

    Don’t articles in that paper have to be approved by someone in the Vatican?

  3. Jacob says:

    It’s an editorial signed by a specific person. Regardless of its content, only that specific person is responsible for it. Why there may be those who want to include the editors who included it and allowed it to be printed in the first place, I would surmise that Mr. Vian and his associates were looking to broaden the paper’s scope without backing the editorial’s position by lending it the full weight of the paper. Perhaps they’ll learn a lesson by this and move forward.

  4. GOR says:

    Father, I take your point about L’Osservatore Romano editorial being signed and thus not an ‘official’ position – but how many others will advert to this? Already, people are pointing to it as a quasi official or ‘Vatican’ approval of the Obama agenda. Yes, I know OR is not the Bollettino, but to many people it represents the Vatican viewpoint and what it publishes is seen to carry weight.

    I can appreciate Prof. Vian’s objective to broaden the scope of the paper, but he should also be sensitive to the appearances given. It does no service to the people on the ground in the US when a seemingly authoritative Catholic publication, so close to the Vatican, appears to give cover to the machinations of the current administration in Washington.

    After all, it is not as if it were the National Catholic Reporter…

  5. Virgil says:

    The L’OR editorial begs an inetersting question: Who was the guy (or gal) who first used the epithet, “the most pro-abortion President in history?”

    Every President since Reagan has talked a lot about abortion during every capaign, and while in office, no matter which side of the discussion they take. But generally, because the action is at the level of the laws of each of 50 states, Presidents can’t do much. Federal funding and aid programs are really the only bits in Washington’s control, and they are more controlled by Congress than by the executive.

    If the President has a role, it’s more rhetorical. Every Republican needs to talk about a Human Life Amendment or some other way of stopping this tragedy by criminalizing it. Every Democrat needs to talk about FOCA or some other way of making sure that abortion continues to be considered a choice rather than a murder.

    Here’s my confusion. Obama is the first Dem president to talk openly and actively about reducing abortion. In the past, even implying that abortion was a bad thing could get a Dem in trouble with his base. (Look at Casey in Pennsylvania.) Obama has taken a big political risk in opening the discussion, and actually proposing and pushing real legislation to reduce abortion. And yet, he’s “the most pro-abortion President in history?”

    Had Obama not made his stupid comment about FOCA, I would be tempted to call his “the most pro-life Democrat President since Roe v Wade.” (Okay, the bar is set pretty low on that one, but c’mon!)

  6. Kevin in Texas says:

    Hi Virgil,

    I agree that some people have been using that term as a rhetorical bombshell, sometimes to good effect, at other times merely as an ad hominem attack. Context is critical, of course, so those who list all of the actions taken by this president to roll back protections for the unborn and the born on life issues, then use that phrase at the end, can be seen as backing up that term with facts.

    My take on this president is mixed; objectively speaking is the most active president in history in terms of promoting (whether by votes in the past or executive moves in the present, since his election) initiatives inimical to a culture of life. However, I also recognize that he is a politician and not a theologian (that much is obvious from his relationship with bombastic hate preacher Jeremiah Wright), and I think Obama is a very deeply confused person on the issues that pertain to life. Because so many of his initiatives violate the Natural Law written by God on our hearts, he and many of his supporters are neck-deep in cognitive dissonance. To preserve their sanity as well as their extremist political support (e.g., NOW and NARAL), they choose to ignore this rather than to engage their consciences in honest, objectively-oriented discussions on life issues, demonizing those who disagree with their anti-life policies. In a deeply sad way, this makes twisted sense in light of Original Sin and the stain of our fallen nature on our souls. Not to go on a tangent, but you can see this among radical gay activists (certainly not all homosexuals) who cannot bear the cognitive dissonance of living a lifestyle which both traditional family values supporters and their consciences scream at them as being wrong and dangerous. Such radicals often respond by diving further into the murky depths of their sin in an attempt to “thumb their noses” at those dour traditionalists (and quiet their consciences). These are often the people seen “dressing up” (or going nearly naked) as sex slaves and such in gay rights parades.

    Obama has not had the benefit of true Christian formation in his life, so he lacks any sort of theological understanding of the significance of his anti-life beliefs. He must, then, see those beliefs with respect to his political career and those who support him. This is all very sad and tragic, of course, and it speaks to why we, as Christians, must seriously redouble our efforts to pray that the Holy Spirit change his heart and soul, giving him the grace to see the truth of the actions he has taken and the votes he has made against life.

    Kevin in Texas

    P.S. I want to be 100% clear that in no way am I an Obama apologist or a defender of his beliefs and actions inimical to life. We must do everything we can as Catholics on both the political and spiritual planes to fight for a culture of life. However, we must also try to understand, for our own sakes, the spiritual void in which many atheists and agnostics live (and I most definitely believe that Obama is an agnostic), many of whom are so active in pro-choice and anti-family political movements.

  7. RBrown says:


    I disagree with most of what you say.

    1. The President can control certain abortions and abortion funding (e.g., in military hospitals) by Executive Order.

    2. Although Congress can pass legislation for funding abortions, the Executive Branch can decide not to spend the money. Very often, the execution of programs is a matter of regulations, and those can be modified by the President. For example, discrimination for sexual preference is not against the law, BUT it is against the official hiring procedures of Civil Service.

    3. IMHO, when Obama talks about reducing abortions, he is simply trying to be on both sides of an issue.

    The best way for him to reduce abortions is to appoint an anti-Roe Justice to replace Souter. Although overturning Roe will only throw the decision back to the states, it would at least make it possible for states to prohibit or regulate it.

    The only Presidential possibility for reducing abortions is increased federal spending for contraception, which of course often means abortifacients

    4. It is fairly well known that, even though the Repubs failed to overturn Roe, they at least tried. Scalia, Thomas, Alito, and Roberts are firmly anti Roe. And Souter and esp Kennedy were thought to be in the anti-Roe camp when they were nominated.

  8. Virgil says:

    Thanks Kevin. Thanks RBrown. Both pretty cogent answers.

    I, however, find myself often in a position of being an apologist for Obama. (Among my American friends, anyway. My Italian friends are pretty much in agreement with the L’OR editorial – they think that BHO is the Pro-Life movement’s best chance for success, since they can’t seem to get over the Bush “War and Toruture Thing”!)

    Anyway,… I share an anecdote. When I was a freshman at a well-known Catholic university, we hosted a dinner with C Everett Koop, who was Reagan’s AG at the time. I was an idealistic pro-lifer and Republican and asked him point-blank why Reagan had done nothing to stop the abortion menace. His response? “Presidents can’t actually do anything about it. Just pray for a Human Life Amendment.”

    Hence, I tend to accept my Italian friends’ arguments. At least Obama is taking action, even if it is in both directions. At the same time as he’s paying homage to the standard Dem thing, he’s actually proposed legislation that respects both sides of the issue. I don’t think he’s agnostic, just a milquetoast UCC boy. (SOme years ago, I was to his parish and met the infamous JW, and I must admit I was bored.)

    I think that some Catholics in the Pro-Life movement are looking a gift horse in the mouth. History has yet to be written, but if we play our cards right, BHO could be the President to preside over an end (or at least a continuting dimishishment) of this holocaust.

  9. E. Osodemo says:

    I think the Oservatore Romano is becoming a problem, a real problem,it looks more like a comunist or masonic news paper than anything else. Masonic for sure.Oso

  10. Aaron says:


    I honestly think Obama’s talk about reducing abortions is nothing more than political boiler-plate. Anyone who was remotely committed to reducting abortions would see that paying for abortions is one of the worst possible ways to achieve that end (and funding the other services of PP et al. is only the slightest logical distinction away from directly paying for the abortions, while he has also opened the way for direct funding through ESCR).

    As for the OR editorial goes, though, as I’ve wondered about the tone of the piece the thought has occurred to me that perhaps Obama really doesn’t look that bad compared to the many truly godless regimes in power in Europe right now. When you line him up against the Spanish Socialists, for instance, it is probably easier to say “Not that bad.” It’s still a bad message to send – it’s precisely the message Fr. Jenkins at ND is sending – but it’s a bit more understandable from the European perspective.

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