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Irony & the Obama Catholic

NOR readers might remember the name Douglas Kmiec. He was the subject of our January 2009 New Oxford Note “What We Have Here Is a Failure to Communicate (Catholic Teaching).” Well, he’s in the news again — and there’s not a little irony involved. Kmiec, an articulate and outspoken law professor from California’s Pepperdine University, became Barack Obama’s number-one high-profile Catholic supporter during the 2008 presidential campaign. The prof authored Can a Catholic Support Him? Asking the Big Questions about Barack Obama, arguing that Obama — and not John McCain — was deserving of the Catholic vote, due mainly to Obama’s social-justice agenda and his expressed commitment to “improving interfaith relations.” Because he considers himself a “conservative prolife Catholic,” Kmiec was the ideal bullhorn to claim that, despite being regarded as “the most pro-abortion presidential candidate in history,” Obama still deserved the Catholic stamp of approval. Kmiec’s primary campaign message: It’s O.K. to vote for a pro-abortion politician. For his successful efforts rallying Catholic voters, Kmiec was rewarded with an ambassadorship to the tiny Mediterranean nation of Malta, sometimes referred to as Europe’s “last Catholic outpost.”

In April, however, the U.S. State Department publicly expressed some serious misgivings about Kmiec’s service as ambassador in Malta. In an April 7 audit by the inspector general, Kmiec is characterized as a slacker diplomat who tends to hole up in his residence and churn out writings of a too-churchy nature. “His official schedule has been uncharacteristically light for an ambassador at a post of this size, and on average he spends several hours of each work day in the residence, much of which appears to be devoted to his nonofficial writings,” the report stated.

The State Department also maintained that Kmiec’s “unconventional approach” included the “belief that he was given a special mandate to promote President Obama’s interfaith initiatives.” Kmiec didn’t argue. In fact, he wrote an open letter to Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rod­ham Clinton claiming that he had been granted that very thing. He explained that his choice to spend significant time writing about religious affairs was his way of “following the President’s direction as practical wisdom and the Holy Spirit would guide him.”

Apparently the Holy Spirit did guide Kmiec — to resign his ambassadorship. In what appears to be a knee-jerk reaction, Kmiec said he had no choice but to offer his resignation to President Obama. He doesn’t exactly make clear why he had “no choice,” especially since he assured everyone he was not, by any wild stretch of the imagination, forced to resign. The real blow, however, came a few days later when Obama accepted his resignation, something Kmiec was hoping wouldn’t happen. “A groundswell effort to reach the President to ask him to decline my offered resignation went unanswered,” Kmiec told the Associated Press on April 27.

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