FaithWorld

U.S. envoy Diaz: A Cuban-born Midwestern theologian in Pope Benedict’s Court

diaz-and-pope-1A few days after he presented his credentials to Pope Benedict as new U.S. ambassador to the United States, Miguel Humberto Diaz, invited a few journalists to his residence on Rome’s Gianicolo Hill for a chat. It was his first meeting with the media in his new role and I was the only member of a major international news organisation to be invited to the first round.

Diaz, a very amiable man, is the first Hispanic and the first theologian to fill the post of U.S. ambassador. He took questions in English and Italian on a range of topics but most of the comments were centered on what he wanted to make out of the post. Here are some excerpts. The questions have been synthesized to reflect the conversation: (Photos: Ambassador Diaz and Pope Benedict, October 2, 2009. REUTERS/Osservatore Romano)

How did you get the news that President Obama had chosen you as new envoy and how did you feel?

“When the call came in from the White House I was, like anybody would be, pleasantly surprised and honored and humbled to have this opportunity to serve my country, to serve under this president. I had been part of an advisory team of Catholic theologians and activists during the campaign.

“One of my desires for this president was that this kind of engagement between religious ideas, public service, people of faith and service to one’s country could continue beyond the campaign. I was of the opinion that of religious thinkers could continue to participate in some kind of ongoing advisory group. When I first received the call i thought  that the president was going to ask me to do …  instead I was very honored that the president had selected me to become the next ambassador to the Holy See”

U.S. ambassador Diaz: theologian envoy to theologian pope

diaz-1Miguel Humberto Diaz might sound like the name of an ambassador from Spain or any Latin American country, but in fact it belongs to the new American ambassador to the Vatican.

And if any further proof  were needed that things are changing in Obama’s America, consider this: The surnames of the previous ambassadors to the Vatican were: Wilson, Shakespeare, Melady, Glendon, Flynn, Boggs,  Nicholson, Rooney, and Glendon.

In my coverage of the Vatican, I knew most of them well, a few of them very well,  and at least three — Melady, Flynn and Nicholson (two Republicans and a Democrat) — became friends who still keep in touch. Their kindness then and now will always be appreciated.

U.S. religious/secular abortion divide is stark

Among the areas covered in the just released Pew survey of American public opinion about abortion, one that grabbed my attention asked about factors that influence people’s opinion about the issue.

For those who support abortion rights, only 11 percent cited religious beliefs as the primary influence on their views on the topic; among those who say abortion should be illegal, 53 percent cited faith as their guiding reason. Overall 32 percent of those surveyed cited religious beliefs as the main factor behind their views on abortion.

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None of this, mind you, is surprising. Opposition to abortion rights in the United States has been driven primarily by religious conservatives — evangelical and Catholic mostly — and so the figure fits the usual narrative. Few people cite faith as a reason to support abortion rights and so the 11 percent figure in that regard is also what you would expect.

Would Polanski get a pass if he were a paedophile priest?

polanskiIt’s hard to watch France’s political and cultural elite rush to support filmmaker Roman Polanski against extradition to the United States on a decades-old sex charge and not wonder exactly how they interpret the national motto liberté, égalité, fraternité.” It’s tempting to ask whether they’re defending the liberty to break the law and skip town, respecting the equality of all before the law and championing a brotherhood of artists who can do no wrong. (Photo: Roman Polanski, 19 Feb 2009/Hannibal Hanschke)

Here in Paris, Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner declared the arrest was “a bit sinister … frankly, (arresting) a man of such talent recognised around the world, recognised in the country where he was arrested — that’s not very nice.” He and his Polish counterpart have written to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about the issue. Culture Minister Frédéric Mitterrand said “just as there is a generous America that we like, there’s also an America that scares us, and that’s the America that has just shown us its face.” Directors, actors and intellectuals have been signing a petition demanding Polanski’s immediate release.

Almost all the focus is on the argument that Polanski is a brilliant director, the charge of unlawful sex with a 13-year old dates back to 1977 and the victim herself says she wants the whole issue to be forgotten.  Almost completely ignored is the fact that he fled the U.S. to escape sentencing, which added a crime to the original crime. There is such a widespread assumption that all artists and intellectuals would automatically support Polanski that Paris papers today — both the left-of-centre Libération and the conservative Le Figaro — wrote with an air of surprise that Hollywood was not storming the barricades to back him.

U.S. conservative Christians rally against Obama agenda

U.S. conservative Christians, a key base for the out-of-power Republican Party, gathered in Washington on Friday to rally the faithful against President Barack Obama’s agenda, including his top domestic priority of healthcare reform.

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Obama’s falling poll numbers and what they depict as his ultra-liberal views on abortion rights, healthcare and climate change are galvanizing a group that could prove vital to Republican prospects of taking back control of Congress in the 2010 congressional elections or the White House in 2012.

Conservative activists see exploitable opportunities in Obama’s policies and performance that also can stir more centrist voters, such as suspicions of “big government” and the almost uniquely American skepticism of global warming that prevails in much of the heartland.

U.S. “Religious Right” riled but lacks committed Christian leader

USA/Wanted: a leader for the U.S. social conservative movement. Must be able to press all the right buttons, be a committed Christian and have a vision to propel the Republican Party back to power.

U.S. social and religious conservatives will be searching for someone to fill that void as they gather in Washington this Friday to Sunday for the fourth annual summit of self-styled “Values Voters.” (Photo: Conservative protesters near the U.S. Capitol in Washington, 12 Sept 2009/Mike Theiler)

Dubbed the “Religious Right,” they have been stirred by a summer of discontent when their activists went on the offensive against Democratic President Barack Obama’s top domestic priority of healthcare reform, taking part in widely publicized town hall meetings on the issue that often turned raucous.

Adapting the U.S. “Koran for Dummies” for French readers

koran-for-dummies-175coran-pour-les-nuls-175If you don’t know anything about the Koran but want to learn, does it make any difference if you’re an American “dummy” or a French “nul”? That  isn’t meant to cast doubts about knowledge on either side of the Atlantic. But it does arise now that the French version of the American guide to Islam’s holy book has just been published in Paris.

The book at right is based on the original text at left, but it would be wrong to call it a translation. First Editions, the French publisher of the “Pour les Nuls” (“For Dummies”) books, took the U.S. original and asked a leading Paris-based Islam specialist, Franco-Algerian Malek Chebel, to adapt it for French readers.

Chebel, who has also just published his own translation of the Koran and an accompanying “encyclopedic dictionary,” explained at the book presentation here that he had to make several changes. The original text by Sohaib Sultan, now the Muslim chaplain at Princeton University, was fine for U.S. readers, he said. “There weren’t errors,” he explained, “but I had to make some fundamental changes. I told the editor, she checked with the American publishers and asked if they agreed. They went along with it. So I worked from that basis and the book became a French book.”

POLL – Is reforming U.S. health care a moral issue?

obama-healthThe heated debate over United States health care reform revolves around practical issues like its expected costs or the government-run “public option.” But when President Barack Obama addressed Congress on the issue, he quoted a letter from the late Senator Ted Kennedy saying: “What we face is above all a moral issue; at stake are not just the details of policy, but fundamental principles of social justice and the character of our country.” (Photo: President Obama addressing Congress, 9 Sept 2009/Jason Reed)

Religious leaders and politicians supporting health care reform sometimes frame the issue in moral terms. But the term “moral” rarely pops up in the Washington debate and — apart from the Kennedy quote — it didn’t figure in Obama’s speech either. The president did discuss the issue of character, which is a moral term, and used the word often enough for it to appear in the Wordle web cloud below. But he avoided repeating what might be considered a religiously loaded word in a crucial political speech.

What do you think?

poll by twiigs.com

Here’s the word cloud of Obama’s speech. Even “character” is pretty hard to find (click to enlarge the image).

Fewer Americans see Islam as violent-Pew poll

The percentage of Americans who believe Islam encourages violence has declined and very basic knowledge about the faith has shown modest increases, according to a new survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. Thirty-eight percent of those polled believed Islam was more likely than other faiths to encourage violence, down from the 45 percent who held this view two years earlier.OBAMA/

Most Americans — 58 percent – also believe Muslims are discriminated against. In fact, they see them as a group second only to gays and lesbians in terms of the discrimination they face. These findings suggest unexpected empathy for a community whose leaders often claim they are regarded with suspicion and hostility.

The survey also reports that Americans are generally learning more about Islam and that increasing familiarity with the religion correlates with a decline in belief that Islam promotes violence.

Poll – Should Ted Kennedy have a Catholic funeral?

kennedyOur post “Catholic comments on Ted Kennedy, pro and con” showed readers were deeply split on whether the late senator should have a Roman Catholic funeral. The naysayers argued that his support for choice on abortion and other disagreements with Church doctrine disqualify him from a religious ceremony. Those for a church funeral argued that he helped advance many causes championed by Catholic social teaching.

Those opposing a Mass of Christian Burial for Kennedy predominated, but not all readers take the time to write a comment. One-click poll questions sometimes give a different picture from comment pages. So here’s a simple question:

poll by twiigs.com (Photo: Ted Kennedy in the Senate, 8 Jan 2009/Larry Downing)

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