President Barack Obama has named a 45-year-old theology professor as the new U.S. ambassador to the Vatican.
The post will be filled by Miguel H. Diaz, a professor at St. John’s University and the College of St. Benedict, partnered schools that are both located in Minnesota.
“If confirmed by the U.S. Senate,” said Diaz in a statement, “I will continue the work of my predecessors and build upon 25 years of formal diplomatic relations with the Holy See. I wish to be a bridge between our nation and the Holy See.”
Media sources describe the Cuban-born Diaz as a “pro-life” Democrat and Roman Catholic who ardently supported Obama’s run for the White House. The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that Vatican officials had signed off in advance on the selection of Diaz.
Although Diaz opposes legal abortion, he was one of 26 prominent Catholics to sign a letter supporting Kathleen Sebelius’ appointment to head the Department of Health and Human Services. Sebelius, a pro-choice Catholic, came under fire from Religious Right groups, which tried unsuccessfully to derail her nomination.
Since President Ronald Reagan established full diplomatic relations with the Vatican in 1984, every American ambassador to the Holy See has been a “pro-life” Catholic. Some critics say the post is marred by a de facto “religious test” for public office.
There have been reports that Obama had difficulty filling the slot. The Washington Times reported in April that church officials rejected at least three candidates put forth by Obama to be U.S. ambassador. The prospects were apparently blackballed because they hold pro-choice views on abortion.
The Times, citing an Italian journalist, reported, “Papal advisers told Mr. Obama’s aides privately that the candidates failed to meet the Vatican’s most basic qualification on the abortion issue.”
When U.S.-Vatican ties were proposed during the Reagan administration, Americans United strongly opposed the move and warned that there would be problems down the line. AU argued that the U.S. government should not have formal diplomatic relations with a church. (The U.S. ambassador goes not to the Vatican City State, an alleged nation of about 110 acres within the city of Rome, but to the Holy See – the international headquarters of the church.)
Americans United tried to raise some of these issues in court, challenging the diplomatic exchange on church-state grounds in 1984. However, a federal appeals court refused to deal with the issue and dismissed the lawsuit.
The court said the plaintiffs lacked “standing” – that is, the right to sue – and that a judicial ruling on a diplomatic matter would violate the constitutional separation of powers.