Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Independent: New US Ambassador was denied Communion by a priest

7.7.9 by Noel Grima

The appointment of Douglas Kmiec, the Pepperdine University law professor who once served in the Reagan administration, as US ambassador to Malta, which was announced last week, is somewhat of a poisoned chalice by President Obama to Malta.

For the US President is sending to Malta not just one who supported him, although a Republican, but also one who, though a Catholic and a pro-life person, has fallen foul of some leaders within the Catholic Church in the US for his public stances regarding abortion and other pro-life issues. This culminated with a priest refusing to give Communion to him at a Mass, although the priest was later reprimanded and forced to apologise by his archbishop. The amount of hatemail and hate comments about him is simply unbelievable. It is also for this reason that he was refused by the Vatican as Barack Obama’s choice for US Ambassador to the Holy See.

Kmiec, who was once law school dean at the Catholic University of America and a longtime law professor at Notre Dame University, worked in the Reagan administration and was long considered a conservative legal scholar. He also worked in the administration of President George H.W. Bush.

“Though originally a supporter of Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, Kmiec has been a high-profile defender of the Obama administration and its personnel choices,” reported the LegalTimes blog. “He recently has come to the defence of Dawn Johnsen, nominated to head the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, even as Republicans have held up Johnsen’s nomination because of her views on abortion and national security.”

Kmiec has also expressed support for President Obama’s nomination of federal judge Sonia Sotomayor for a seat on the US Supreme Court. In an article from the National Catholic Reporter cited on the White House website, Kmiec is quoted as describing Sotomayor as “a woman who cares deeply about justice”.

On March 23, 2008, Kmiec, once rumoured to be under consideration by the Reagan administration as a possible nominee to the US Supreme Court, stunned his colleagues by announcing in an article in the daily web magazine Slate that he was backing Sen. Barack Obama in his quest for the presidency.

“Today I endorse Barack Obama for president of the United States,” wrote Kmiec. “I believe him to be a person of integrity, intelligence, and genuine good will. I take him at his word that he wants to move the nation beyond its religious and racial divides and that he wants to return the United States to that company of nations committed to human rights...”

As he explained in an interview with the Chicago Tribune, “One of the things I kept discovering... was that Obama was sounding more Catholic than most Catholics I know.” The issues that drew Kmiec’s attention were wages, health care, and the cost of the Iraq war. To those fellow Catholics and pro-life advocates who were surprised at his position, he argued that Obama’s desire to “alleviate social conditions that correlate with abortion”, such as poverty, was convincing.

In his endorsement of Obama, Kmiec described himself as a Republican and a Catholic who believes in traditional marriage and that life begins at conception, but said he was “convinced, based upon his public pronouncements and his personal writing, that on each of these questions he is not closed to understanding opposing points of view and, as best as it is humanly possible, he will respect and accommodate them.”

Kmiec was apparently fully aware of the impact his Obama endorsement would have, writing: “No doubt some of my friends will see this as a matter of party or intellectual treachery.”

In April 2008, a priest denied communion to Kmiec at a Mass for the Ventura/LA North chapter of Legatus, a group made up of well-to-do Catholics in business. The priest was later forced to apologise to Kmiec by Cardinal Roger Mahony.

Kmiec confirmed the incident with Nina Totenberg, NPR’s legal correspondent and E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post wrote a column, noting how John Kerry and other Catholic public officials had been threatened with communion denial in 2004 because of their pro-choice position, but the first actual denial was experienced by Kmiec, a Catholic layman.

Since then, Kmiec has publicly criticised archbishops Raymond Burke and Charles Chaput, and Bishop Joseph Naumann for saying Catholics who support abortion should be denied communion. Denial of communion, said Kmiec, is a form of “intimidation”.

When Pope Benedict XVI chided pro-abortion House Speaker Nancy Pelosi during a visit to the Vatican earlier this year, Kmiec wrote in Time magazine that the Pope’s remarks were “intrusive”. He was later criticised by Cardinal Justin Rigali, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities, after Kmiec wrote an article defending President Obama’s position on embryonic stem cell research. More recently, Kmiec has called for the replacement of state-sanctioned marriages with “civil licences,” which would pave the way for state recognition of same-sex relationships and leave the question of marriage to the beliefs of particular churches.

Pro-life websites claimed the organisations Kmiec helped advance, Catholics United and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, are front groups for the Democratic Party funded by ‘anti-Catholic billionaire’ George Soros who also funds Catholics for a Free Choice. Their purpose is to promote liberalism and democratic political candidates.

They also claimed he misrepresented the bishops’ document on politics, Faithful Citizenship, to convince Catholics one can be justified in voting for pro-abortion candidates. Archbishop Chaput of Denver challenged him to deliver a pro-life Obama.

He also claimed that Kansas under radical pro-abortion Kathleen Sibelius reduced abortions and she was responsible. Sibelius’ policies had nothing to do with it according to researcher Michael New at the University of Alabama.

Kmiec has proposed an end to state’s recognising legal marriage as a “solution” to the gay marriage debate. Legal scholar Robert George has called that a “terrible idea” that would undermine the family.

In July 2008 Fr. Richard John Neuhaus called Kmiec “deeply confused” and guilty of “tortured reasoning and misrepresentation of the positions of others.” Tom Roeser also wrote a powerful piece on Kmiec’s ‘betrayal’ in March of 2008 during the campaign. He lamented that Kmiec, a friend, appeared to be selling out for ambition.

In the midst of the election, Kmiec proceeded to write Can A Catholic Support Him?: Asking the Big Question About Barack Obama (2008) to explain his support for Senator Obama in light of Catholic principles. The book’s introduction was written by West Wing actor Martin Sheen. Sheen and Kmiec would do a series of radio and video commentaries for the Matthew 25 network in support of Obama. Kmiec also campaigned for the candidate as part of his “Faith, Family and Values Tour”.

Pope Benedict XVI is expected to meet with President Obama at the Vatican on July 10, reports the Catholic News Service.

The long-expected meeting will take place after President Obama attends a G8 July 8-10 summit in the Italian town of L’Aquila.

During the meeting the pope is expected to address the president on his aggressively anti-life policies, including the reintroduction of taxpayer funding for embryo-destructive research and abortion overseas.

It is uncertain whether the newly-nominated US Ambassador to the Holy See, Miguel Diaz, a Hispanic student of Karl Rahner, will be present for the meeting, as Congress has reportedly not yet scheduled Diaz’s confirmation hearing.

Pro-lifers were dismayed at the pick as Diaz numbered among a group of dissident Catholics, including professor Kmiec.

Italian sources quoted by Alberto Simoni on Tempi, said Obama’s first choice, Caroline Kennedy, was rejected by the Vatican. Then, when Kmiec was suggested, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Secretary of State, made it clear to the Americans that a pro-choice candidate would not be accepted.

In a piece published on the popular web portal Catholic Exchange, author and columnist Louie Verrecchio outlines “Catholic News Service’s failure to consistently apply reliably Catholic editorial standards” throughout the tenure of Editor-in-Chief and Director Anthony Spence who joined CNS in 2004.

Earlier this year, Verrecchio notes, the situation at CNS “had become so problematic that Archbishop Raymond Burke, Prefect of the Apostolic Segnatura at the Vatican, was moved to take the extraordinarily bold step of criticising CNS from Rome, saying, ‘The bishops need to look at our Catholic News Service; they need to review their coverage of [the Church’s moral and social teachings] and give some new direction.’”

Among the problems Verrecchio documents is CNS’ syndication and distribution of columns written by Douglas Kmiec.

“How can anyone explain why Catholic News Service – an organ of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference – would grant Kmiec’s opinions a de facto Imprimatur by syndicating his columns for distribution to Catholic publications all over the world,” Verrecchio asks?

Days before the arguments in front of the Supreme Court of California on Proposition 8, the amendment to the state constitution which limited marriage to opposite-sex couples, Kmiec and his colleague Shelley Ross Saxer, co-wrote an editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle. They opened by explaining “One of us (Saxer) opposed Prop. 8 for civil rights reasons; Kmiec supported it for reasons of religious liberty. Today, both of us believe the arguments in support of Prop. 8 fail each of these interests.”

Of this view, Time wrote: “The Pepperdine idea puts into a play a new way of thinking – and whether it’s part of the court’s decision in the Prop 8 case or whether it makes its way into a new referendum, the idea of getting governments out of the marriage business offers a creative way of thinking about a problem that is otherwise likely to be around for a long, long time.”

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