Vatican Newspaper Editor Digs Deeper Hole

Deal W. Hudson
June 18, 2009

In an interview published at National Review Online, Gian Maria Vian, editor of L’Osservatore Romano, responded to his critics. Vian makes it clear that he doesn’t have a high opinion of writers, like me, who have taken him to task for his treatment of President Barack Obama:

I think that if American Catholics could read L’Osservatore Romano every day, and did not trust wire reports – although some of the agency writers are very good… but getting information from bloggers is like going to the bar where everyone has his own opinion (emphasis added).

Well, let’s all raise our glasses, take a stiff drink, and look at what Vian had to say for himself.

First of all, Vian seems impressed with the longtime relationship of his family (going back three generations) to the Vatican newspaper, but also seems unmindful about his responsibilities to the Church as editor of L’Osservatore Romano. Regarding his comment to an Italian newspaper that he did not believe Obama was “pro-abortion,” he explained:

I made that statement in an interview to an Italian journalist of Il Riformistawho called me on the day the president was at Notre Dame for the controversial ceremony of the conferring of the law degree honoris causa. I was in Barcelona; I gave the interview over the phone and based my observation primarily on the speech President Obama gave on that occasion – a speech which demonstrated openness. In this sense, I said that he didn’t seem a pro-abortion president.

“He didn’t seem a pro-abortion president,” based upon a single speech. Vian ignored everything Obama did as a state senator and as a U.S. senator; what he has said over his entire political career about support for abortion-on-demand, NARAL, Planned Parenthood, and FOCA; and, finally, what Obama has already done as president, including ending the Mexico City policy, ending conscience protection for medical care workers, and appointing Catholic pro-aborts to significant administration positions.

When pressed about Obama’s record by the interviewer, Delia Gallagher (who did a great job), Vian resorted to the excuse that he did the interview “on the fly” and that he hopes Obama will change:

I hope that he understands that a politics of pro-life is good politics, not because it is religious, not because it is Catholic, but because it is human. This is what the Church repeatedly says, and in particular, Pope Benedict XVI. The appeal to natural law is important because it is not based on religious principles; it is based on human principles which can be agreed on by all.

Vian and I are in complete agreement on that. But I would ask him a simple question: “Why does Obama need to change if he is already not pro-abortion?”

Gallagher then asked Vian about his newspaper’s praise of Obama’s first 100 days. Vian defended what the paper had to say, saying it mirrors his personal opinion, and then added:

I realize that Obama is much more pro-choice than McCain, who was his adversary, but Obama won, and let’s hope that that his actions on these themes are less radical than they have been before the elections. At least that is the case so far.

“Much more pro-choice than McCain”? Apart from McCain’s position on fetal stem cell research, there is really nothing to criticize in McCain’s voting record on abortion – certainly nothing to justify the label “pro-choice.”

But here is Vian’s most muddled statement of all, and the one most disconnected from the reality of American politics and its relation to the Church. Gallagher asked Vian if his newspaper has been publishing articles undercutting the position of the U.S. bishops.

No. In our international religious news we systematically support the position of the U.S. bishops. I said very clearly that to consider L’Osservatore Romano as distant or not supportive of the U.S. Bishops’ Conference is false, it is a game played by those who want only to use our paper to paint a picture of divided Catholics… L’Osservatore Romano has never distanced itself from the bishops. In fact, after the comments which appeared primarily on the Internet from the U.S., we reiterated that the paper is absolutely at the side of the American bishops and that their position cannot be considered a political stance.

Gallagher then asked Vian what he meant by “a political stance?”

Well, they say that the conference, or at least the presidency of the U.S. Bishops’ Conference, has a conservative Republican line – no. On questions such as the defense of life the bishops speak in the same way to Republicans as they do to Democrats (emphasis added).

I take it that Vian was saying that “they,” meaning unnamed Internet bloggers, are arguing that the USCCB and Francis Cardinal George, the president of the USCCB, have a “conservative Republican line.”

Pardon me, but I need another drink from the bar to ponder that one.

Finally, it must be difficult for Vian to understand that defending the Church’s teaching on abortion in the United States may appear merely “political” to him, but it’s a Catholic obligation.

What I think Vian is struggling to describe is this: On the abortion issue, the Republican Party is closer to the teaching of the Catholic Church than the Democrats. Is that so hard for Vian to say? Yes, this point has been made endlessly – not about either the USCCB or Cardinal George, who would not want to be labeled a Republican, but in terms of specific documents, including the Catechism and the encyclicals of John Paul II and Benedict XVI (not to mention a few documents from the bishops’ conference).

Once again, Gian Maria Vian has attempted to clear the air regarding articles in the Vatican newspaper, as well as his own quoted comments, about Obama and abortion. He has succeeded only in demonstrating that he is unaware of his own responsibility as editor of L’Osservatore Romano and badly out of touch with the various intersections of the Church and politics in the United States.

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