Vatican newspaper editor: We support the U.S. bishops but have hopes for Obama

ppvian240708 L'Osservatore Romano Editor Giovanni Maria Vian

Gian Maria Vian, the editor-in-chief of L’Osservatore Romano who has come under fire for his  his alleged “pro-Obama” stance, clarified today in an interview that the Vatican’s daily newspaper is and has always been supportive of the U.S. bishops, but it is also hopeful that Obama will be a pro-life president.

In a lengthy interview with Delia Gallagher published today by the National Review Online, Vian spoke first about his recent book “In Defense of Pius XII.”

Later, explaining his controversial assertion that “Obama is not a pro-abortion president,” Vian said, “I made that statement in an interview with an Italian journalist of Il Riformista who 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.”

Vian conceded in the National Review interview that “Senator Obama made decisions that certainly cannot be defined as pro-life, to use the American term. He was, rather, pro-choice. Yet I believe that the senator’s activity prior to his presidential election is one thing, and the political line he is following as president of the United States is another.”

“We have noticed,” the editor of L'Osservatore said, “that his entire program prior to his election was more radical than it is revealing itself to be now that he is president. So this is what I meant when I said he didn’t sound like a pro-abortion president. Besides, he stated that the Freedom of Choice Act is no longer a top priority of the administration.”

“Naturally,” he added, “it is also a sort of wishful thinking. Let’s hope that my conviction is confirmed by the political actions of the administration. This is basically the same attitude of watching, waiting, and hope of the Catholic bishops of the United States.”

“I admit that it is legitimate to be diffident in the face of the words of a president who previously has demonstrated a pro-choice line, but I hope that he changes. 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,” Vian told Gallagher during the interview.

Gian Maria Vian also spoke about what he called “the infamous article on (Obama’s) first 100 days” published by L’Osservatore Romano.

“The article on the first 100 days,” he revealed, “was written by the head of international news, Dr. Giuseppe Fiorentino. I reviewed it and added some things on the ethical questions saying, again, that this greater moderation shown by the President compared to the propaganda of then-Senator Obama does not mitigate criticism, especially in the field of bio-engineering, the use of embryonic stem cells, and, in general, with respect to ethical questions. That he is more moderate than expected does not mean that there is approval, obviously, on the part of the Holy See, or of its newspaper.”

Vian also strongly denied that L’Osservatore Romano’s  editorial line is undercutting the U.S. bishops.

“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.”

“Unfortunately,” he lamented, “L’Osservatore Romano is misused by everyone for their own agenda: The theo-cons, the neo-cons use it for their purposes; liberals try to use it to say the Vatican is distancing itself from the bishops. This is unacceptable; it has never happened and I deny that accusation most fervently. 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.”

Vian also revealed that he learned “indirectly” of the reactions of cardinals and bishops in the United States, mostly critical to the stance taken by the Vatican newspaper.

Nevertheless, he said that “in politics, there are no dogmas; there are no dogmas of faith. A Catholic can vote Republican or Democrat. In fact, there were Catholics who voted Democratic.”

The editor-in-chief of L’Osservatore Romano said he understand why some U.S. Catholics feel that the Vatican, predominantly European, does not understand their particular situation.

“Naturally, any American who is versed in politics will be more prepared than I am on the topic. I am European, Italian, and have a cultural formation obviously different from an American, but this does not equal a liberal point of view, in the American meaning of liberal. Or a socialist point of view. I don’t recognize myself in this description,” he said.

Nevertheless, Vian insisted that he doesn't think “Obama has yet defined a precise line on certain questions. Of course his decisions on international help for reproductive health are dangerous because they could signify supporting the campaign in favor of abortion, which is unacceptable. Were this to be confirmed, it would be unacceptable.

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“But I don’t think one can ask for a condemnation or a benediction a priori. We need to see day by day what happens. At L’Osservatore Romano we are doing that — waiting and seeing — and we hope that the wishes of the bishops find confirmation and we hope that Obama does not follow pro-choice politics.” 

“Obama is now president of the United States. He is president of the United States! Let’s hope his politics are good and if not, we will criticize him,” Vian said.

Vian said that he thinks 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—they would be better informed. … “[B]ut getting information from bloggers is like going to the bar where everyone has his own opinion,” he concluded.

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