Miguel Diaz was named as President Obama’s appointment to serve as papal nuncio a few days ago. Both friends and critics have spoken widely about Diaz but few seem to understand who he really is. His story provides a glimpse inside the debate over abortion in the Catholic Church and the wider culture.
Diaz is a 45-year-old professor at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota. (I have been on the campus of St. John’s. It is a Benedictine university with a beautiful campus!) Diaz brings some interesting credentials to this new appointment. He is fluent in Italian, French, Spanish and English and has a doctorate in theology from Notre Dame. His academic work was on the Trinity and immigration and the Hispanic experience. He is a board member of the Catholic Theological Society of America, former president of the Catholic Hispanic Theologians of the United States and is a member of the Karl Rahner Society. For those who do not recognize these affiliations they represent the less traditional/conservative Catholic mainstream within academia.
It is wrong, however, to suggest that Diaz is pro-choice, though pro-life advocates are wary of his appointment. Diaz has made it very clear that he is a committed Catholic on the issue of life but he confuses people because of his support for various pro-choice Democrats, including Barack Obama and Governor Kathleen Sebelius. He even served as a member of the Catholic advisory team Obama assembled before the 2008 election and gave $1,000 to the Obama campaign.
Evangelical author and professor Paul Kengor writes: “In Diaz, it looks like Obama got exactly the kind of Catholic he wants: one who doesn’t let his alleged pro-life convictions get in the way. Is that what the Vatican is looking for?” Diaz has said Obama desires to work with Catholics who are pro-life and deeply respects people who hold this position. Kengor obviously views this stance with a wary eye.
The argument Obama, and his pro-life friends, make is that they are committed to reducing the number of abortions. Many believe this is true and assume that since Roe v. Wade cannot be reversed in the foreseeable future this is a good policy in the present circumstances. At the same time these pro-life Obama supporters believe there is much more to a Christian application of social policy than the single issue of legal abortion.
Benedictine Abbot John Klassen, of St. John’s Abbey, said:
Professor Miguel Diaz is a skilled Trinitarian theologian who is passionate both as a teacher and a scholar. He is a strong proponent of the necessity of the Church to become deeply and broadly multicultural, to recognize and appreciate the role that culture plays in a living faith. Born in Havana, Cuba, his is a leading Hispanic theologian in the United States” (From a statement on the St. John’s University Website).
A friend of Diaz called him a “brilliant theologian . . . just a phenomenal man.” This same individual told Our Sunday’s Visitor, a conservative Catholic publisher, that Diaz “believes relationships between human beings should mirror the relationship of God the Father, God the Son and the Holy Spirit.” And this same person described Diaz as “incredibly open to dialogue.”
This appointment mirrors the stance the Obama administration has taken. The president advances some of the most indefensible positions on life issues in American history while at the same time he shows personal respect for the people he opposes. When Alan Keyes ran against Barack Obama, in the 2004 U. S Senate race in Illinois, Keyes argued that Obama was not a Christian. Keyes, a fervent conservative Catholic, ran some very strong ads to which Obama expressed real dismay in his book, The Audacity of Hope.
The problem here is fairly evident and it is not new. Raymond Flynn, also a papal nuncio and pro-life Democrat., says he was reprimanded by the Clinton White House for his pro-life stance. But Flynn says he was never told to change his position. Flynn actually gained a great deal of credibility with Pope John Paul II who knew he was acting with courage in the way he dealt with the White House. Will Diaz do the same? My guess is that he will. But many will still find his stance unacceptable.
Diaz will replace Mary Ann Glendon, who was appointed by President George W. Bush in 2007 and left her post when Obama took office. Many Catholics, and non-Catholics like me, will be watching to see if Diaz acts with courage. Let us pray that he does. Meanwhile the debate will go on and Christians would do well to learn some of the people skills that Dr. Diaz is praised for having in abundance.