This observer, like many others in the United States, took exception to the expressed opinion of Gian Maria Vian, Director and Editor-in-chief of L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper that “Obama is not a pro-abortion president.” I was ‘shocked, shocked’, to discover that he would make such an evaluation and even more ‘shocked, shocked’ that he would publish his evaluation of Obama in the Vatican’s newspaper.

I say the preceding in mock horror because I am not really shocked. I have come to expect such outrageous expression of opinion from Gian Maria Vian. Like so many Italian journalists he is infected with an anti-American virus which was manifested by so many other Italians in their hatred of the two Bush presidencies and the two Gulf/Iraq wars.

The sad reality is that so many Catholics and others believe that L’Osservatore Romano represents the thinking of the Pope since it is the newspaper of the Vatican. Nothing could be further from the truth. It represents the thinking of the Vatican’s Secretary of State. Some would say that surely the Secretary of State represents the thinking of the Pope. I would answer, no, not necessarily so.

The Pope sees the world through the prism of Saint Peter, being concerned primarily with faith and morals, not only of Catholics, but of all peoples. The Secretary of State see the world through the prism of Caesar, being concerned with the governance of the Vatican City State and its international relations with all other states in the world.

The Pope meets daily with the world’s bishops who come on their own or at his request to meet with him to discuss the Church, universal and local, especially the local church of which they are the shepherd. The Secretary of State meets daily with the Church’s nuncios and other diplomats to discuss with them the affairs of state of all the nations in the world.

Two men, two different areas of concern and interest. Of course the two areas frequently overlap, but each area is so vast in its complexity that it is beyond understanding how each man copes with the vast amount of information which assaults them every day.

The have help, of course. They have the help of a large corps of archbishops, bishops, monsingnori, priests, religious and laity who work in the Vatican. These people receive daily the vast flood of mail and other forms of communication and digest it and produce summaries which are forwarded up the chain of command.

Gian Maria Vian is a layman. Gian Maria Vian is a journalist. He is no different from journalists around the world, except, perhaps that his family connections with the Church should give him a unique perspective on all matters. But, he reflects the thinking of his boss, the Secretary of State, and so we must be prepared for more of this same type of journalism from him. Italians in general love America, perhaps because they have so many relatives in America. Italians in journalism do not love America with the same degree of affection. On the contrary, they are contrarions when it comes to some of the issues that Catholics in America are concerned about.

Della Gallagher probably did not realize that her response, “Some would say they are only words and it is his voting record and actions which speak more loudly.” to the statement by Vian made a few moments before that the speech Obama made at Notre Dame contaned words that “…should be appreciated” echoed Obama now famous put down of his opponent’s speeches during the 2008 campaign: “words, just words.”

Barack Hussein Obama is the most pro-abortion president the United States has ever had. His rhetoric, his smooth delivery of ‘words’ stand in sharp stark contrast to his actions: canceling the Mexico City policy which kept US dollars from funding abortions abroad, canceling the military paying for abortions, appointing extreme pro-abortion people to his cabinet, etc.

But don’t look to L’Osservatore Romano to take notice of that, Vian is too busy promoting good relations between the worlds governments.

June 17, 2009, 4:00 a.m.

Vian’s Choice
An interview with the editor-in-chief of L’Osservatore Romano.

By Delia Gallagher

When the director of the Vatican newspaper, Gian Maria Vian, declared a few weeks ago that “Obama is not a pro-abortion president” — a comment that came after an editorial which, on balance, spoke positively of the U.S. president’s first 100 days — ire was raised across the Atlantic. Many U.S. commentators on the Vatican roundly reviled him as a lone, liberal voice: unrepresentative of “real” Vatican thinking, ignorant of U.S. politics, and in charge of a paper that is not taken seriously at the Vatican. He was even called a traitor and pro-abortion.

U.S. commentators may take umbrage at what he says, but they are wrong not to take him seriously. American Catholics who wish to understand the sometimes vastly different Vatican view of things would do well to know more about Vian and why he said what he did.

Gian Maria Vian is firmly ensconced in the Vatican inner circle: He was personally tapped by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican secretary of state, and the pope’s trusted right-hand man, for the job as editor-in-chief. He has known and worked with Bertone for 25 years. His family have been close collaborators with popes for over a century: Pope Benedict XVI called the Vian family “illustrious . . . with a great tradition of faithful service to the Holy See.”

Vian’s grandfather, Agostino, wrote for L’Osservatore Romano and was married in 1903 by Pius X, then patriarch of Venice. His father, Nello, also a contributor to the paper, was chief Vatican librarian and close friend of Paul VI; Gian Maria was baptized by Paul VI in St. Peter’s Basilica.

In other words: He’s not coming out of left field.

Since taking the helm of L’Osservatore Romano in October 2007, he has been widely praised in Italy for renewing the paper, transforming it from an unread chronicle to a sure place for eye-catching and original articles: Ask Vatican journalists, and they will tell you they now read the paper to get their stories.

Just last Wednesday, I attended the book launch of Vian’s new volume, In Defense of Pius XII (not yet published in English). At the event, the former editor of Italy’s conservative daily, Corriere della Sera, lauded L’Osservatore Romano under Gian Maria’s leadership. Sitting next to Vian, in the front row, was Cardinal Bertone.

All this is not to say that Vian’s views are those of the secretary of state or the pope. His statement is an “unofficial” view; and sometimes, for an organization with diplomatic responsibilities, an unofficial view is convenient. Diplomats in Rome read L’Osservatore precisely because they know it reflects Vatican thinking at the highest levels.

In my analysis, Vian’s statement and the L’Osservatore Romano’s appraisal of the Obama presidency so far may be the Vatican’s unofficial way of “raising the bar” for the new American president who is expected to visit the pope in July. What better way to receive the man who will have great power over important issues than in a climate of confident expectation, rather than condemnation? Even if “they” did not say it, they may not mind that it has been said.

DELIA GALLAGHER: You were quoted as saying, “It is my clear conviction: Obama is not a pro-abortion president.” On what basis do you hold this conviction?

GIAN MARIA VIAN: I made that statement in an interview to 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.

GALLAGHER: What do you mean?

VIAN: He considered abortion, at least in his speech at Notre Dame, as something to prevent and, above all, he said, we must proceed in the attempt to widen the consensus as much as possible because he realizes that it is a very delicate issue.

Of course, 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 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, 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.

GALLAGHER: Did you hear from the pope or the secretary of state about your comment that Obama is not a pro-abortion president?

VIAN: No. It was an interview on the fly. As usual, I didn’t ask permission from either the secretariat of state or the pope. It was an impression that I communicated based on the speech he had just given. President Obama said we should try to confront this question without too much division, that it is a tragedy, a frightening drama, let’s look for common ground — I think his words should be appreciated.

GALLAGHER: Some would say they are only words and it is his voting record and actions which speak more loudly.

VIAN: 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. This is what the Church repeatedly says, and in particular Pope Benedict XVI. The appeal to natural law is important because it is not based on religious principles, it is based on human principles which can be agreed on by all.

GALLAGHER: So you were fully aware of the record of the senator, the criticisms of the U.S. bishops, and the political situation in the U.S.?

VIAN: When we published the infamous article on the first 100 days, we wrote that the moderation that President Obama had so far demonstrated compared to what was expected in no way eliminated the reasons for criticism that the U.S. Bishops Conference expressed many times.

So mine was not an ingenuous statement. I must say that it was an interview which mirrored my personal point of view and that what is more important is what is published in L’Osservatore Romano. The editorial line of the paper is above all reflected by what is published in the paper, but the two things aren’t that far apart.

I realize that Obama is much more pro-choice than McCain, who was his adversary, but Obama won and let’s hope that that his actions on these themes are less radical than they have been before the elections. At least that is the case so far.

GALLAGHER: On the article judging President Obama’s first 100 days: Did you hear any reaction from the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Bertone?

VIAN: No. Naturally we spoke about it because it created a lot of noise but he did not say that it was an article that wasn’t right or should not have been printed.

The article on the first 100 days 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.

On the ethical question, Michael Novak accused me in the Italian paper, Liberal, of actually being pro-abortion. Given the fact that Novak has come to visit us at the paper and was very kind and said he would be happy to write for us and is besides a gentleman, I responded to his article in a very cordial manner saying that such an accusation towards the newspaper of the pope, that it is a pro-abortion paper, makes me smile, so as not to say in a more crude manner that it is ridiculous.

GALLAGHER: Should a reader interpret the editorial line of the newspaper to be also that of the pope and the secretariat of state?

VIAN: Well, we need to distinguish something here. The paper is not official: It is not the expression, in every single part, of the point of view of the Vatican, that is, of the secretariat of state. But it is obvious that it is an authoritative point of view of the Holy See, because ours is the only newspaper of the Holy See and has a century and a half of history. We were started during the American Civil War. We were started in 1861. It’s a paper with a very long history and it has always been rightly interpreted as the expression of the thought of the Holy See, without a doubt, but that is not to say that every word that comes out in the paper is exactly the thought of the pope or the secretary of state.

GALLAGHER: But the average reader would assume that he will find in the Vatican’s newspaper an editorial line that is in agreement with the pope.

VIAN: Let’s say that L’Osservatore Romano expresses a line generally in agreement with the Holy See. This is obvious because the paper is owned by the Holy See. My editor, in the Italian sense of the owner of the paper, is the pope, via the secretariat of state. I could not possibly create a paper in disagreement with the owner, just as no newspaper director could create a paper in dissension with the owner. If I ran the newspaper like that, I would have already been fired.

GALLAGHER: Do you receive regular feedback from Cardinal Bertone or the pope on articles that you publish?

VIAN: I am here since the fall of 2007 and I have never had a problem. The pope and the secretary of state have so far given me and the newspaper their full confidence.

I know the paper very well: My grandfather wrote for this paper, my father wrote for this paper, my brother wrote for this paper, and I wrote for this paper from 1977 until 1987 — and then 20 years later I’ve come back as director. I knew the paper very well, it was the newspaper that arrived at home every day when I was a child.

I did not imagine I would find the autonomy that I have found here. Sure, we have made mistakes. But I jokingly say that it’s my editor, the owner, who is infallible, not me, not us.

We make mistakes, but so far not the pope, the secretary of state, or anyone in the secretariat of state has ever said, ‘You’ve made a serious error.’

They are happy that we do our job and we are happy that they do their jobs. We work in autonomy except in a few areas of particular interest on international questions and then we work in close collaboration with the secretariat of state.

GALLAGHER: What are those areas?

VIAN: Nuclear themes, disarmament, Iran for example, Korea, but especially Iran. In general, the Near and Middle East is a sensitive area. Then there is China. On these international themes we are in constant contact with the secretariat of state.

GALLAGHER: Does that mean they review your articles, make suggestions?

VIAN: We send them the articles, but only on those international themes. And I must say that it’s very rare that they tell us no, you can’t publish this because, although I’m new, my journalists know their work very well. Apart from that, they send us the texts of the pope and there is really nothing else, to tell the truth.

I decide the editorial line of the paper, which I evaluate together with the heads of the paper’s departments: Vatican, international, cultural, and religious news.

GALLAGHER: So the pope does not intervene directly?

VIAN: The first request of the pope was: more room for international news, more attention to the Eastern Christians — Catholics such as the Maronites and the Melkites, but also the Orthodox churches — and more space for women.

GALLAGHER: What did the pope mean by “more space for women”?

VIAN: The pope wishes to highlight as much as possible the role of women in the Church and in the Roman Curia. Ssome even said that he had wanted a woman as director of L’Osservatore Romano, which has always been directed by lay people.

I interpreted his request of more space for women as indicating both a desire to increase the number of women working at the paper — about a quarter of our staff are women — and I hired the first full-time woman journalist in the history of the paper, as well as giving more space to stories and issues about women. On bioethical issues, particularly abortion, I prefer that we have a woman write the story.

Our interview with Mary Ann Glendon, then U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, was conducted by a woman, Prof. Lucetta Scaraffia, and published on the front page of the paper with a full-color photo of the two.

GALLAGHER: Mary Ann Glendon declined to receive an award and speak at Notre Dame, to protest the Obama invitation and support the bishops . . .

VIAN: It was a brave choice and I have the greatest respect for it and for Mary Ann Glendon. She is a well-respected intellectual and a courageous woman who was a very good American ambassador to the Holy See.

GALLAGHER: Do you think your editorial line could be seen as undercutting the U.S. bishops?

VIAN: No. 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, 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 and that their position cannot be considered a political stance.

GALLAGHER: What do you mean by a political stance?

VIAN: Well, they say that the conference, or at least the presidency of the U.S. bishops’ conference, has a conservative Republican line — no. On questions such as the defense of life the bishops speak in the same way to Republicans as they do to Democrats.

GALLAGHER: But you have said that Obama is not a pro-abortion president, which is not the position of many U.S. bishops.

VIAN: I don’t know the opinion of all of the American bishops, but we have collaborators in the U.S., and I am in contact with the English section of the secretariat of state and also have personal contact with some American bishops.

GALLAGHER: Have you heard from any of the bishops on this topic?

VIAN: Recently and directly, no. I learned indirectly of the reactions of cardinals and bishops in the United States and their opinions are very varied. Besides, 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.

GALLAGHER: But if a Catholic in good conscience should not vote for a candidate who supports abortion, often they can only choose the Republican.

VIAN: In fact, the paper has never taken political positions, not in Italy, Spain, nor in the U.S., also because the Holy See has diplomatic relations with countries and therefore institutional relationships with different states outside of particular administrations — so it would be absurd if the Holy See were to support Republicans rather than Democrats.

GALLAGHER: Some U.S. Catholics feel that the Vatican, predominantly European, does not understand their particular situation; that there is a more liberal, leftist, socialist European culture here that influences the way you see the U.S.

VIAN: I respect this point of view. 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.

There is a problem between Europe and America, this is true. Pope Benedict says that the U.S. has much to teach Europe because it gives public space to religion that is not invasive but democratic, respectful of all opinions. On his pastoral visit to the U.S., the pope cited a beautiful distinction of the United States: He said that the United States is a secular country for love of religion. I second that sentiment entirely. I, too, believe Europeans must learn from the U.S. how to be more open to a serious consideration of religion and its public consequences.

At the same time, Americans should not assume that everything that comes from Europe is leftist and should be ignored.

I have always had great respect and admiration for America, perhaps also because my father studied, in the early Thirties, library science in Ann Arbor, Michigan, sent by the Vatican Library; and he always had great memories of his time there. I have always enjoyed American Catholics because they offer a new point of view, younger and very useful sometimes for the whole Church.

GALLAGHER: How much do you think your thinking about President Obama represents the thinking at the Vatican?

VIAN: I don’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. 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; not because we want him to follow Catholic politics, but because we hope and want Obama to guide politics at the service of the weakest, and the weakest are the unborn, the embryos.

GALLAGHER: And the fact that he has not done so as senator . . .

VIAN: I thought that — and Dr. Fiorentino too — McCain would win. I was impressed by McCain’s fair-play attitude in conceding the election, when he said: Obama is also my president. I met former president Bush when I came with the pope to the White House and I thought he was very likeable. I think Bush was very courageous in his politics from many points of view, of course with errors that he has admitted. but I believe history will reevaluate him. But 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.

It is not the job of the director of L’Osservatore Romano to conduct the foreign affairs of the Holy See. I just do the newspaper and try to do it as best I can, in a balanced way. I try to correctly inform my readers on the present administration, as I did with the previous one. If the present administration makes morally inadmissible choices, we will report it as such by reporting the criticism of the administration that the U.S. bishops make.

GALLAGHER: Some say the newspaper isn’t taken very seriously at the Vatican . . .

VIAN: L’Osservatore Romano counts here and I hope that it will continue to count and become even more important.

I have said that there has been a misunderstanding because people don’t read L’Osservatore Romano, which I understand because it’s in Italian. Unfortunately we don’t have the money to translate every single article into English.

I think 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 . . . but getting information from bloggers is like going to the bar where everyone has his own opinion. But debate is good. I’m happy that L’Osservatore Romano is being talked about.
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About abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
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