Ambassador-designate cites commonalty with pope

President Obama’s nominee for ambassador to the Vatican, Miguel Diaz, told senators Wednesday (July 22) that his socially conscious scholarship gives him common ground with fellow theologian Pope Benedict XVI, which could further U.S. policies and interests in Rome.

“My commitment to creating dialogue related to cultural diversity, immigration, poverty and the role of religion and society prepares me well for this endeavor,” Diaz told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

A relative unknown before being tapped by the Obama administration on May 27, Diaz has taught theology at the College of Saint Benedict and St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minn., since 2004. A handful of his students, as well as his wife and four children, attended Wednesday’s hearing.

If confirmed, he will be the first theologian to serve as ambassador to the Holy See since the U.S. established formal diplomatic ties with the Vatican 25 years ago. Former appointees have included political figures and businessmen.

However, Diaz was quick to tell the panel that “my experience is not limited to the realm of books, articles and the classroom.”

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The 45-year-old scholar, a first-generation college graduate who immigrated to the U.S. from Cuba as a child, also lifted up his civic activism and Latino heritage.

“As a Cuban American, my identity has been shaped by two cultures,” said the nominee, who speaks English, Spanish and Italian fluently. “I strongly believe this has made me more open to others.”

Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., a Catholic himself, presided over the hearing. When Casey asked the would-be diplomat how the recent meeting between president and pontiff would affect his work, Diaz said, “President Obama set a great foundation for our work in years to come.”

Diaz said he would continue to address the challenges discussed in that session, including the Middle East peace process, outreach to Muslims worldwide, bioethics and abortion.

Diaz was mum about his own views on abortion during the proceedings. Anti-abortion Catholics criticized his support for Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, a Catholic who supports abortion rights. Diaz also campaigned for Obama, as a member of the then-candidate’s Catholic advisory board.

Before questioning began, Diaz was introduced by Minnesota’s two Democratic senators, Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken. Calling Diaz a “dedicated bridge-builder,” Klobuchar said “he knows and loves America, and he knows and loves the Catholic Church.”

Diaz will need the support of the Foreign Relations Committee, and later the Senate as a whole, before he can begin serving in Rome. His confirmation is widely expected to be easily approved.

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