Deal W. Hudson
May 28, 2009
The 2012 Obama campaign message to Catholics has already been written. Here it is, conveniently laid out by the official Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, and its editor, Giovanni Maria Vian:
“[President Obama] is not a pro-abortion president.” – Giovanni Maria Vian, in an interview with a Vatican analyst from the Italian daily Il Riformista
“The president invited Americans of every faith and ideological conviction to ‘work in common effort’ to reduce the number of abortions.” – L’Osservatore Romano, on President Obama’s May 13, 2009, speech at the University of Notre Dame
For President Obama’s Catholic outreach effort, this is a dream come true. Obama’s Catholic advisers have received a virtual Vatican imprimatur on his abortion reduction message to Catholics. The Obama campaign, the Democratic National Committee, Catholics United, and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good will trumpet this message loudly and in unison.
It doesn’t matter that not everything published in L’Osservatore Romano represents the official position of the Vatican. That is a distinction that 99.9 percent of Catholic voters will neither know nor grasp. All that will matter on the ground is that the Vatican newspaper and its editor have confirmed what Obama’s Catholic supporters have claimed all along: Obama seeks a “common ground on abortion,” avoids harsh polemics, prudently seeks to “reduce abortions,” and cannot, therefore, be called “pro-abortion.”
The subliminal suggestion will be: The Vatican believes this, so why not you? This is how smart political campaigns use the media – especially media with an authoritative and respected voice. And what’s more authoritative and trustworthy to Catholics than the Vatican newspaper?
Thus far, there have been no statements from any Vatican official explaining that neither its newspaper commentary on Obama nor its editors should be treated as the official voice of the Vatican or the Holy Father.
Meanwhile, there have been two articles in L’Osservatore Romano over the past few days that acknowledge, for the first time, the U.S. bishops’ criticism of Obama’s appearance at Notre Dame. The second article also contained criticism from Francis Cardinal George of Obama’s decision to rescind the conscience protection laws for medical care personnel, and from Msgr. David Malloy, General Secretary of the USCCB, on Obama’s move to enlarge the scope of federally funded fetal stem cell research.
As the Catholic News Agency noted:
The two back to back articles in L’Osservatore Romano reflecting the U.S. episcopate’s critical stand to Obama have followed a series of complaints from several bishops and pro-life Catholics.
But these two articles are not sufficient to solve the problem created by L’Osservatore Romano‘s coverage of President Obama. No matter how many articles they now publish containing criticisms of the president, the two articles praising his first 100 days, his Notre Dame speech, and the statement Vian made to an Italian daily, all remain unchallenged. They still provide a legitimate copy for Obama’s 2012 campaign material.
Until the Vatican makes a statement officially distancing itself from the two articles in L’Osservatore Romano and Vian’s interview, the virtual imprimatur on the Obama White House remains intact. That statement should come from Rev. Federico Lombardi, S.J., the embattled director of the Vatican Press Office. But because he is not in charge of the Vatican newspaper, he will need the green light from either the Holy Father himself or the office of the Secretary of State, before he’s able to say what needs to be said.
This is one problem that could be easily solved before it grows into yet another unnecessary public controversy for the Vatican.