Two Catholic commentators are lamenting the “sorry ignorance of recent American history” displayed by L'Osservatore Romano—the newspaper published by the Vatican—in its favorable reaction to President Obama's recent commencement speech at Notre Dame. However, they caution, readers should not make the mistake of thinking that the newspaper speaks for the Catholic Church.
Pope John Paul II's official biographer, George Weigel, wrote in an article for National Review Online that the pieces published by L'Osservatore Romano have caused pro-administration American journalists and activists to leap with “barely concealed glee” on the chance to trumpet the claim that “the Vatican” believes the U.S. Catholic bishops overreacted to Notre Dame’s award of an honorary doctorate of laws to President Obama.
Furthermore, Weigel says, journalists are writing that “the Vatican” is “taking a wait-and-see, so-far-so-good attitude toward Obama after the horrors of the arch-demon Bush.”
Perhaps this argument might hold water if one was ignorant of the way the Holy See operates, but the fact is that there is no such thing as “the Vatican,” which is “as complex and confused a bureaucracy as one finds in national governments,” the Catholic commentator writes.
The truth of the matter is that the Vatican-published newspaper is seldom used as the forum for delivering the Church's position in matters “of faith, morals, or public-policy judgment.”
“The exceptions are when a senior churchman offers a commentary on a recent papal document (an encyclical, for instance), or on those exceedingly rare occasions when an editorial in the paper is followed by three dots, or periods, a traditional convention signaling that the opinion being expressed is from 'high authority,'” Weigel explains.
“In other words,” writes Weigel, “without those dots, there is nothing here but opinion, to be weighed and judged as any opinion is weighed and judged — on its tether to facts and its argumentation.”
While there are middle-and lower-level officials at the Holy See who are “enamored of Barack Obama,” no one can doubt that that the new administration “poses the gravest challenges to the Holy See’s positions on the life issues since the Clinton administration tried and failed to get abortion-on-demand declared a fundamental international human right.”
Charging L'Osservatore Romano with displaying a “sorry ignorance of recent American history (including the history of the civil-rights movement) and a fideist credulity about the magic of Barack Obama,” Weigel says that people should not draw the conclusion that the secular media has: assuming “that the pope and his most senior advisers have drunk the Obama Kool-Aid and wish the American bishops would chill out...”
Catholic political commentator Deal Hudson, is also weighing-in on the newspaper flap, writing on InsideCatholic.com that “something is seriously wrong at L'Osservatore Romano.”
First on Hudson's list of gaffes is the Vatican newspaper's glowing assessment of President Obama's first 100 days in office. The paper, he points out, failed to mention the cancellation of the Mexico City Policy, Obama's pro-abortion rights administration appointments, increased funding for abortion providers and the “widely-recognized White House strategy of approximating the effect of FOCA in a piecemeal fashion.”
The last straw for Hudson came when a Monday article in L'Osservatore praised Obama's speech at Notre Dame for seeking "common ground" on abortion.
“It's now clear that the paper needs a new editor,” Hudson states, pointing out that “the article did not even mention the 79 U.S. bishops who openly criticized Notre Dame for giving Obama an honor at its recent commencement. One of those bishops was the president of the USCCB, Cardinal George of Chicago.”
Hudson also notes that the paper doesn't speak for the Church, but that regardless of that, “damage will be done by the Associated Press story being published around the country, giving the impression that the Vatican officially approves of both Notre Dame's decision and -- most tragically -- Obama's position on abortion.”
“It should be mentioned, as the Catholic News Agency notes, that the same edition of OR contained an article criticizing Obama with quotes from Archbishop Chaput, which both the Associated Press and the USCCB's news service did not mention,” the commentator adds.
In the end, Hudson holds out hope that Gian Maria Vian, the editor of L'Osservatore Romano, is “simply misinformed.”
“If so, that can be corrected, and Vian can begin publishing accurate information and commentary on the new administration. If not, the Vatican newspaper definitely needs new leadership.”