Vatican vetoes Barack Obama's nominees for US ambassador
Caroline Kennedy deemed unacceptable because of abortion views
The Vatican has vetoed three of Barack Obama's potential nominees as US ambassador amid a growing dispute between the White House and the Roman Catholic church over the new administration's support for abortion rights and the lifting of a ban on stem cell research.
Vatican sources told Italy's Il Giornale newspaper that among those rejected were Caroline Kennedy and two other Roman Catholics who were unacceptable to the pope because they have publicly stood against church dogma.
The conservative Il Giornale described the vetoes as part of a "trial of strength between Barack Obama and the US church that involves the Holy See", amid uproar among the church's hierarchy after America's principal Catholic university, Notre Dame, invited the president to give an address and receive an honorary degree next month.
Conservative Catholic groups called the potential nomination of John Kennedy's daughter, who is a prominent Obama supporter, "inappropriate" and "a calculated insult to the Holy See" because of her outspoken support for abortion rights.
The Vatican also rejected another potential nominee, Douglas Kmiec, a professor of constitutional law at Pepperdine University and former head of the office of legal counsel for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush Sr. Kmiec, a Republican who endorsed Obama during the last election campaign, has said that Catholics who support the right to abortion need not follow the church's admonition to vote for an anti-abortion presidential candidate.
The Vatican is maintaining the official line that there have been no formal rejections of Obama's ambassadorial nominees because none has been officially put forward.
There is unhappiness in Washington that the Vatican should veto its choices because they do not adhere to Catholic teachings. But the White House has been caught off guard by the intensity of the backlash within parts of the US Catholic community, which is divided over whether private religious beliefs should decide public policy.
Some Catholic bishops swiftly challenged the president over his lifting of the ban on stem cell research and restrictions on the funding of overseas family planning groups that perform abortions.
Bishops and priests have also joined university alumni in criticising Notre Dame's president, the Rev John Jenkins, for inviting Obama to speak and offering him an honorary degree.
Cardinal Francis George, the head of the US conference of Catholic bishops, told an anti-abortion rally that the university had veered away from church teachings. "Notre Dame didn't understand what it means to be Catholic when they issued this invitation," he said.
Jenkins defended the invitation as honouring an "inspiring leader" who is healing racial wounds. The Notre Dame president said that listening to Obama did not mean the university endorsed his positions but it was a "basis for further positive engagement".
But that has been dismissed by some bishops, who point to a declaration they made five years ago saying that "the Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honour those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles".
However, Catholic public opinion is not solidly behind the church hierarchy, with a recent Gallup poll finding that 63% of American Catholics consider embryonic stem cell research to be morally acceptable. Richard Allen, a Notre Dame graduate who served as President Reagan's national security adviser, argues that Obama should be permitted to speak but said he should not be honoured with a degree.
"It's important to remember that Notre Dame is a Catholic institution. The school openly flouts the guidelines of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops when it bestows an honorary degree upon a president who supports something anathema to the faith: abortion," he said.
Another university, Arizona State, has declined to give Obama an honorary degree when he speaks there before his Notre Dame address. The university denies any slight is intended.