By Russell Shaw
European secular liberals and certain people at the Vatican may not have many things in common, but there’s one thing they unquestionably do share: high hopes for the presidency of Barack Obama. The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to President Obama was a reminder of that, as was an American archbishop’s published complaint around the same time regarding the pro-Obama slant of some elements at the Holy See.
I have no intention of rehashing the furor over the Nobel committee’s selection of Obama. Since this is the kind of simple, one-dimensional issue that media love to go on about, journalists have had great fun with it, pro and con. For my money, The Washington Post, a certified Obama supporter, got it right in calling the Peace Prize “odd” and remarking: “It is no criticism of Mr. Obama to note that, barely nine months into his presidency, his goals are still goals.” Enough said.
For people who’ve been confused by things happening at the Vatican since early this year, the Nobel committee’s action seemed eerily familiar in some respects. Vatican voices have hailed the American president for months, and it hasn’t always been easy to say just why.
First it was L’Osservatore Romano, the semi-official Vatican newspaper, then more recently Cardinal Georges Cottier, an elderly Swiss churchman who was official papal theologian under Pope John Paul II. The newspaper and the cardinal publicly pinned high hopes on Obama in the absence of much real achievement and despite his well-publicized support for legalized abortion.
Inevitably, this has had the look of policy. But if it’s that, the roots of such a policy on the part of the Holy See are not immediately clear. What exactly does the Vatican expect to get from Obama? An Israeli-Palestinian settlement? Meaningful steps toward nuclear disarmament? These surely are worthy goals, but other American presidents before now have pursued them, with limited success so far.
Note, though, that L’Osservatore Romano was critical of the Nobel to Obama. Perhaps earlier criticism has sunk in at its editorial offices.
Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Denver recently had the courage to stand up and say: Enough. In an article published in an Italian magazine, he took polite but strong exception to Cardinal Cottier’s dismissive view of Catholics who criticized Notre Dame University’s decision to give President Obama an honorary degree last spring. The critics included 80 bishops and some 300,000 American Catholics who signed petitions of protest.
Remarking that “the pastoral realities of any country are best known by the local bishops,” Archbishop Chaput said Catholic frustration with the university’s action in honoring Obama had nothing to do with “whether he is a good or bad man” and everything to do with his “deeply troubling views on abortion law and related social issues.”
Meanwhile, things are rapidly coming to a head in Congress over health care reform in general and the issue of abortion coverage in particular.
President Obama has promised that there will be no government funding of abortion and any reform program will include a conscience clause allowing abortion opponents to opt out. But the key legislative proposals in play at present provide for abortion funding and have no conscience clause.
Will Obama deliver on his promises or will he not? Time is running out. Maybe those Catholics who are eager to pay homage to our pro-abortion president — including those at the Vatican — should wait to see what actually happens. Unless, like the Nobel committee, they think promises without performance are good enough.
Russell Shaw is an OSV contributing editor.