Ambassador To Malta Resigns After Flap Over His Promotion Of Religion

The U.S. ambassador to Malta has resigned after allegations that he spent too much of his time writing and speaking about his Roman Catholic faith.

Douglas W. Kmiec, a former professor at Pepperdine University School of Law, told President Barack Obama that he will step down on Aug. 15. The move comes after a report by the U.S. State Department’s inspector general asserting that Kmiec was neglecting his diplomatic duties and focusing instead on writing articles and delivering speeches about Catholicism and the need for inter-faith cooperation.

The report asserted that Kmiec had “devoted considerable time to writing articles for publication in the United States as well as in Malta…[that] detracted from his attention to core mission goals.” It went on to say that Kmiec should have spent more time managing embassy staff and meeting with government officials in Malta.

Kmiec, who served in the administrations of Presidents Ronald W. Reagan and George H.W. Bush, was an unexpected backer of Obama in 2008. During the campaign, Kmiec said he admired the way Obama used religion to unite and not divide people. He came under fire from some conservative Catholics for his support of Obama.

In an April 13 letter to Obama, Kmiec took issue with the State Department’s report and defended his actions.

“There is little question that the only true and lasting peace will be one that incorporates sensitivity to the world’s faith traditions in diplomacy,” Kmiec wrote. He added, “[I]f I may be forgiven dissent from the view adopted by the Inspector General, it is that I doubt very much whether one could ever spend too much time on this subject.”

On April 24, Kmiec published an open letter again defending his actions.

“By now, many know that these are my final weeks in Malta,” wrote Kmiec. “An unfortunate rebuke for refusing to either suppress the relevance of faith in my life and writing, or to disregard the President’s assignment to promote inter-faith dialogue, has prompted me to offer my resignation to the President.”

Added Kmiec, “I may have been rebuked by a group holding their hymnals upside down, but at the very same time in the White House, President Barack Obama held a prayer breakfast.”

Kmiec called the move against him “soulless, secular censorship”; he had earlier decried the State Department for holding a “flawed and narrow vision of our diplomatic mission.”

In late April, officials with the State Department responded. Spokesman Evan Owen said the department often takes religion into consideration.

“I can’t imagine an agency that has a broader portfolio,” Owen said. “We have an ambassador for religious freedom; we have an office for international religious freedom. We publish two reports a year on religious freedom. We maintain lists of countries of particular concern for religious freedom.”

Although Kmiec proposed resigning on Aug. 15 – a Catholic holiday known as the Feast of the Assumption – the State Department asked him to leave by the end of May.

Malta is a series of islands in the Mediterranean Sea between Sicily and North Africa. It has a population of about 413,000. Catholicism is the state religion, and its laws are heavily influenced by that faith. Both abortion and divorce are illegal.