RNS: Obama Names Hispanic Theologian as Vatican Envoy

Posted by Kendall Harmon

President Obama has nominated Hispanic theologian Miguel H. Diaz as the next U.S. ambassador to the Vatican.

Diaz, a professor of theology at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University in Minnesota, was nominated as U.S. ambassador to the Holy See on Wednesday (May 27).

If the nomination is approved by the Senate, Diaz, 45, would be the ninth ambassador and the first Hispanic in the post since Washington and the Vatican established full diplomatic relations in 1984.

Diaz was Obama’s second high-profile Hispanic Catholic nominee in as many days, following the president’s choice of Judge Sonia Sotomayor for the U.S. Supreme Court. Observers said Diaz is a subtle, if perhaps unintentional, acknowledgment of the growing ranks of Hispanics in the U.S. church.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchReligion & Culture* Economics, PoliticsPolitics in GeneralOffice of the PresidentPresident Barack Obama* Religion News & CommentaryOther ChurchesRoman CatholicPope Benedict XVI

Posted May 29, 2009 at 9:56 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

1. interested observer wrote:

President Obama is perfecting the art of insulting Roman Catholics.  The only reason this is so effective is that are many Roman Catholics who do not follow the teachings of the Church, and many have been allowed to remain in positions of influence and authority.  Obama’s selection of this theologian is a calculated insult to Pope Benedict XVI; I wonder how the Holy Father will react.  I will be the first to admit that we (RCs) have brought it on ourselves through unfaithfulness.

May 29, 1:04 pm | [comment link]
2. John Wilkins wrote:

Smart move. 

1) Catholic
2) Catholic professor of theology
3) At a Catholic Seminary
4) A Hispanic
5) A Cuban

Let’s see how the opposing party spins this. 

#1 - you think Obama made this selection without sending feelers to the Vatican already? 

He could have selected Fr. Cutie, instead.

May 29, 1:27 pm | [comment link]
3. Hippo_Regius wrote:


All of this might be true, except for the fact that Prof. Miguel H. Diaz is a Liberation Theologian, of which theology B16 has been quite critical. This move is, in some respects, just as controversial as Caroline Kennedy’s. Cf. the Catholic News Agency’s article on it.

Liberation Theology is. . .Unpleasant. Finding out why is fairly easy to do, so I’ll let folks have at it.

May 29, 1:36 pm | [comment link]
4. Dee in Iowa wrote:

# 1 - I am asking in all sincerety…..you state that you are RC, and by your statement, indicate that you do follow the teachings of the church.  This established, I would like to know if you know, for fact,  that Mr. Diaz does not follow the teachings of the church.  With his credentials, I would think that would be the only reason to disqualify him.  I’m sure the hearings would delve into his credentials, moral as well as qualifications.  Perhaps you would be able to enlighten the committee….

May 29, 1:39 pm | [comment link]
5. interested observer wrote:

No problem.  Diaz’s stands on abortion and his understanding of liberation theology are the most obvious places to begin. 

The label “Catholic theologian” means nothing in terms of being a “believing Catholic” or even a “believing Christian” based on standard Christian creeds.  The label “Catholic university” or “Catholic college” refers to the founders but again have little to no meaning in terms of what is taught, the nature of the faculty, etc. currently.

Episcopalians may have a wide range of beliefs, but RCs are linked to the interpretation of Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition through the Catechism.  It is foundational as far as the Roman Catholic Church goes.  Do all people who profess to be Catholics comply with this standard?  No.  Does it remain the standard?  Yes.  I understand why this concept is foreign to Episcopalians, but just because you do not accept it or even undersand it in no way invalidates it for RCs.

May 29, 2:07 pm | [comment link]
6. Bill C wrote:

#4:  I am quite sure that the Vatican will determine for itself whether or not Mr. Diaz follows the teachings of the church, including his beliefs regarding the sanctity of life and the practice of abortion of children. 

#2:  “1) Catholic
      2) Catholic professor of theology
      3) At a Catholic Seminary
      4) A Hispanic
      5) A Cuban

I would expect the Vatican to have no position on 4 and 5.  Regarding 1), 2), and 3), being any or all of those three will, I am sure, be of interest to the Vatican.  However, once again, and since there are catholics (including RCs working as theologians in RC seminaries) who do not believe in the Right to Life, your comment seems to be more to spin your own top than that of the ‘opposition’ as you so kindly call us.

May 29, 2:09 pm | [comment link]
7. interested observer wrote:

Oops “understand”.  I don’t see my mistakes until after the I hits the send button.

May 29, 2:10 pm | [comment link]
8. interested observer wrote:

#6.  You have made my point.  this is not my interpretation.  It is the RCCs interpretation ..clearly and widely written. 

I didn’t calling you the “opposition” ... that reflects your opinion.  What I said is that the understanding is different between Episcopalians and Catholics.  Let me be clearer: RCs recognize an authoritative teaching magisterium.  As far as I know, that is a foreign concept to Episcopalians.

May 29, 2:18 pm | [comment link]
9. William P. Sulik wrote:

#2 - Alberto Cutie would have made sense for the Clinton administration.  For this administration sending over a representative of the Church of Marx makes sense.

This is typical for a man who gives the finger to everyone he disagrees with.

May 29, 2:25 pm | [comment link]
10. libraryjim wrote:

The Vatican still has the option of refusing to acknowledge the appointment.

May 29, 2:48 pm | [comment link]
11. libraryjim wrote:

You know, I hit preview, read it over, and submitted without catching my error:

The Vatican still has the option of refusing to accept the appointment.

May 29, 2:49 pm | [comment link]
12. John Wilkins wrote:

#9 you interpreted a joke as giving the finger?  I’ll stop teasing then. 

Or do you mean Obama? 

I admit, I’m not sure if Diaz is actually a liberation theologian.  There seem to be far more references to Rahner than Gutierrez in his bibliography, and most of the work seems within the norm of current Theological scholarship.  If anything, I suggest the Holy Father will find his conversations with Diaz worthwhile. 

I personally don’t find liberation theology unpleasant.  There is a shrill strand that accommodates a Marxist critique of capitalism.  Diaz may have a theological anthropology that is more complex than a blog discussion would allow.  I admit, I rarely see coherent discussions of Liberation theology on blogs.  There are good reasons to critique it; but it also raises some good questions about incarnation. 

Obama chose a good Catholic who understands the language of Catholicism.  However, I wonder if Diaz can handle the complexities of Vatican politics.

May 29, 3:03 pm | [comment link]
13. interested observer wrote:

#12 “Good Catholic”.  What do you assume this means?  (From a Catholic point of view, it doesn’t mean anything in particular.)

May 29, 3:20 pm | [comment link]
14. William P. Sulik wrote:

Not you, John, Mr. Obama. 

to Hillary:

to McCain:

I seem to recall other instances of his ability to emulate his predecessor with his school boy behavior.

I was 9 when the Soviet tanks rolled through Prague to put down the fresh air of Prague Spring - I don’t have any tolerance for Marxists.  To learn that Diaz is an apologist for that ideology…. well,  I imagine he will appoint a Holocaust denier to be the ambassador to Israel.

May 29, 3:40 pm | [comment link]
15. Eugene wrote:

If he is allowed to teach theology in a Catholic University he is in good standing in the RC Church.

May 29, 4:09 pm | [comment link]
16. William P. Sulik wrote:

I have just seen John Allen’s note for the NCR and can see I may have gone way overboard. 


I relied on several media reports characterizing Mr. Diaz as a full-blown liberation theologian - for me code words for Marxist - and he may, in fact, not be.  Allen writes:

References to figures such as Gustavo Gutíerrez and Ignacio Ellacuría run through Diaz’s writings, and one news outlet referred to Diaz as a “Cuban liberation theologian” in its headline. For the record, that’s not really accurate. In his writings, Diaz distinguishes between the “preferential option for the poor” in Latin America and the “preferential option for culture” in Hispanic theology in the United States, focused on the survival of Latino/a identity.

He further writes:

Diaz is described by colleagues as broadly pro-life, and in any event he has never been among the most prominent Catholic apologists for a “soft” position on abortion. In that sense, no one in the Vatican is likely to style the appointment as provocative. (Rome may have other concerns, chief among them the extent to which a fairly obscure theology professor from Minnesota is likely to carry serious political weight inside the Obama administration.

May 29, 4:30 pm | [comment link]
17. John Wilkins wrote:

William, I think that liberation theologians are a bit different than those who marched into Czechoslovakia.  I was about that age when I was learning about the death squads and assassination crews in Latin America.  You remember Prague; I remember Romero. 

But you’ll have to find me a chapter where Diaz justifies Marxism outside of the general, fundamental claim that Marxists make about culture:  that capitalism is the most powerful force in shaping human relations.    The intellectual “heirs” of Marx are anyone who claims that capitalism changes human societies. 

Otherwise, placing him in the category of a Marxist apologist is slander and libel.

May 29, 4:35 pm | [comment link]
18. interested observer wrote:

#15 Really?  And you based this on what?

There have been multiple scandals about “Catholic theologians” at “Catholic universities” and seminaries world-wide.  There have been whole books written on the scandals in Catholic seminaries not to mention huge concerns from the Vatican on the state of Catholic seminaries in the U.S.A.  (The media understandably focuses on the issue of homosexuality in the seminaries ...  but is far from the only concern.)

The most high profile Vatican fight with an American theologian was with Fr. Charles Curran.  It has been a while.  Most of the others have a much lower profiles. 

We are now talking about a Roman Catholic who is acceptable to the Vatican as an ambassador.  That is the standard.  One of the issues that is likely to be a benchmark is the issue of abortion or any other life issues.  Diaz is not in alignment with the Magisterium on this issue.  It is a fundamental issue. 

It is not that complicated.

May 29, 4:58 pm | [comment link]
19. mari wrote:

Diaz is also an apologist for Obama’s all abortion, all the time agenda. I hope he’s denied.

May 29, 6:24 pm | [comment link]
20. libraryjim wrote:

Re: Liberation Theology, John Paul II condemned it as being incompatible with RCC teaching.

May 29, 6:51 pm | [comment link]
21. John Wilkins wrote:

Library Jim, the problem with this discussion is that liberation theology is a bit more of challenging subject than one can get from wikipedia. 

In so far as Liberation Theology welcomes class conflict, a vulgar understanding of marxism and embraces violence, it is wrong.  It is not wrong in its assertion that the meek will inherit the earth. 

How is Diaz in alignment with the Vatican on abortion?  It doesn’t seem that he is advocating that women have abortions.  It does seem that he talks with pro-choice people to figure out ways to reduce abortions.  He might reject utopianism.  Of course, interested observer, perhaps you might offer the name of someone who could represent the Obama administration to the Vatican.  Or do you suggest that it is impossible?

May 29, 8:08 pm | [comment link]
22. libraryjim wrote:

Somehow, I don’t think the late Pope John Paul II got his information on Liberation Theology from Wikipedia, so he must have had more substantial information on which to base his condemnation of it.

May 29, 8:49 pm | [comment link]
23. Ladytenor wrote:

We are talking about an ambassadorship here, yes?  An ambassador represents the interests of his own nation to the nation to which he is assigned.  Surely the president did not ask (nor should he care) whether the government of China approves of the personal beliefs—religious, political or otherwise—of Gov. Huntsman. 

I would expect that both the ambassador-nominate and the Vatican can be professional about this government relationship, whatever the pope thinks of the ambassador’s personal religious beliefs.

May 29, 11:48 pm | [comment link]
24. Monksgate wrote:

As Ladytenor (#23) and others remind us, this is an appointment to an ambassadorial position, not an academic post in a seminary or university.  My guess is that the review/acceptance process, even in Rome, will focus on political issues more than theological.  From the little I know of Diaz, his theological positions are not scandalous or even particularly disturbing.  I gather that his identification as a “liberation theologian” is a loose identification with a rather loosely defined approach to theology.  (I’m open to correction on this impression, of course.)  If there are anomalies in his theological perspective, his time in Rome could very well provide a stronger means of challenging them than is perhaps the case at a small seminary in Minnesota.  Whatever his service in Rome does or does not accomplish for Obama’s administration, Diaz might very well become a stronger theologian from his experience, one who is able to contribute significantly to questions of how Hispanic Catholics achieve incluturation in non-Hispanic societies (which is, I think, one of his major research interests).  After all, if demographic projections are correct, Hispanic Catholics are and will be vital to the life and witness of the RC Church in the U.S.

May 30, 6:28 am | [comment link]
25. Nikolaus wrote:

Ladytenor is only partly correct.  An ambassador does represent his/her nations interests in a foreign post.  However, this is a diplomatic role and the sending nation should not offend the host by appointing an unsuitable ambassador.  The first act of a new ambassador is to present his credentials to the host, who is free to accept or reject them.  It would seem that diplomacy is Mr. Obama’s Achilles Heel - or at least one of them.  I may be mistaken but I don’t believe Dr. Diaz is the first to be appointed by our freshman president.  I think the first (two?) were anti-life and were rejected.

May 30, 11:11 am | [comment link]
26. Nikolaus wrote:

I should have done my research first.  Obama first appointed Caroline Kennedy and was rejected for her support of the anti-life agenda. 

Slightly edited by elf.

May 30, 11:22 am | [comment link]
27. John Wilkins wrote:

Library Jim, in what letter or encyclical did John Paul use the words “liberation theology?”

May 30, 12:50 pm | [comment link]
28. Nikolaus wrote:

Slightly edited by elf.

??  Perhaps the elves need to switch to decaf or put away the Christmas candy, but have it your way.

One wonders where the President gets his advice.

May 30, 1:34 pm | [comment link]
29. libraryjim wrote:

I’m going to assume that Pope JPII knows a lot more about Liberation Theology in the Catholic Church than you do.  His statements may not have been in an encyclical but he did strongly condemn the movement in his visit to South America, a speech carried or reported on by every network and cable news outlet of the time. 

Cardinal Ratinger (currently known as Pope Benedict XVI) also strongly laid out a case against this perversion of the “Theology of Liberation” in Instruction on Certain Aspects of “Theology of Liberation” in 1984, especially for the adoption of Marxist thought, which he also termed as being incompatible with Catholic theology:

7. We noted above (cf. 3) that an authentic theology of liberation will be one which is rooted in the Word of God, correctly interpreted.

8. But from a descriptive standpoint, it helps to speak of theologies of liberation, since the expression embraces a number of theological positions, or even sometimes ideological ones, which are not simply different but more often incompatible with one another.

9. In this present document, we will only be discussing developments of that current of thought which, under the name “theology of liberation”, proposes a novel interpretation of both the content of faith and of Christian existence which seriously departs from the faith of the Church and, in fact, actually constitutes a practical negation. (emphasis added)

10. Concepts uncritically borrowed from Marxist ideology and recourse to theses of a biblical hermeneutic marked by rationalism are at the basis of the new interpretation which is corrupting whatever was authentic in the generous initial commitment on behalf of the poor.
15. The theses of the “theologies of liberation” are widely popularized under a simplified form, in formation sessions or in what are called “base groups” which lack the necessary catechetical and theological preparation as well as the capacity for discernment. Thus these theses are accepted by generous men and women without any critical judgment being made.

16. That is why pastors must look after the quality and the content of catechesis and formation which should always present the whole message of salvation and the imperatives of true liberation within the framework of this whole message.

17. In this full presentation of Christianity, it is proper to emphasize those essential aspects which the “theologies of liberation” especially tend to misunderstand or to eliminate, namely: God and true man; the sovereignty of grace; and the true nature of the means of salvation, especially of the Church and the sacraments. One should also keep in mind the true meaning of ethics in which the distinction between good and evil is not relativized, the real meaning of sin, the necessity for conversion, and the universality of the law of fraternal love. One needs to be on guard against the politicization of existence which, misunderstanding the entire meaning of the Kingdom of God and the transcendence of the person, begins to sacralize politics and betray the religion of the people in favor of the projects of the revolution.

This instruction was adopted at an Ordinary Meeting of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and was approved at an audience granted to the undersigned Cardinal Prefect by his Holiness Pope John Paul II, who ordered its publication.

Given at Rome, at the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, on August 6, 1984, the Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord.

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger

Alberto Bovone
Titular Archbishop of Caesarea in Numidia

May 30, 3:26 pm | [comment link]
30. libraryjim wrote:

Note: there should have been a “....” break between the end of quoted passage “17” and the italicized paragraph starting “This instruction was adopted…” They do NOT follow one another in the original.  I posted a few paragraphs.  The entire document can be read at the embedded link.

JE <><

May 30, 3:32 pm | [comment link]
Registered members must log in to comment.

Next entry (above): Scientology on trial in France

Previous entry (below): (London) Times—The hidden massacre: Sri Lanka’s final offensive against Tamil Tigers

Return to blog homepage

Return to Mobile view (headlines)