The U.S. ambassador to the Holy See

THE U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE HOLY SEE…. Tim Fernholz reminds us today that there’s a simmering controversy surrounding, of all things, who Barack Obama is likely to send to the Vatican as the U.S. ambassador.

Now, it’s worth noting from the outset that the existence of such a position is itself awkward. While I can appreciate the fact that the Vatican has some unique hierarchical qualities, the federal government of the United States does not name ambassadors to represent us with any other faith tradition. Moreover, as long as the position has existed, it has gone to a Roman Catholic, which raises additional questions about a possible religious test for public office and church-state issues.

That said, Steve Bainbridge had a much-discussed item the other day, arguing that Obama would be insulting the church if he picked Douglas Kmiec, a prominent and devout conservative Catholic, and former dean of Catholic University’s law school, to be the U.S. ambassador to the Holy See.

I take it that, as a general rule, one should not choose ambassadors whose appointment will insult the country to which they are credentialed. One would not expect Obama to appoint a known anti-Zionist as ambassador to Israel, for example. Yet, while Winters and other pro-Obama US Catholics might delight in tweaking the Holy father by appointing Kmiec as ambassador to the Vatican, it would be tantamount to sending Norman Finkelstein to Israel. Doug Kmiec chose to turn his back on a life time of support for conservative and, in particular, pro-life causes to endorse Barack Obama…. The Vatican has made clear that a Kmiec appointment would be most unwelcome…. [T]o appoint Doug Kmiec as ambassador to the Holy See would be an insult to both the Vatican and to “serious, loyal” Catholics everywhere.

I find all of this quite odd. Kmiec is not anti-Catholic or anti-Vatican. On the contrary, he’s a practicing, mass-attending, life-long Catholic who is both politically conservative and an opponent of abortion rights. He endorsed Obama anyway. This should disqualify him from an ambassadorship?

I would have assumed the opposite. A 54% majority of Catholic voters supported Obama on Election Day, and Obama is probably going to pick one of them to be the ambassador to the Vatican. Shouldn’t conservatives be thrilled if he picks a politically conservative Catholic who agrees with the church on abortion? Isn’t that the opposite of an “insult”?

To Bainbridge, voting for Obama seems to be a deal-breaker. Newsflash: if conservatives are waiting for Obama to pick a prominent Catholic who voted for McCain/Palin, I suspect they’ll be waiting for a long time.