The White House announced this evening that Obama has nominated Dr. Miguel Díaz, a Catholic theologian and scholar, to serve as ambassador to the Vatican. It’s an interesting pick on several different levels. The U.S. and the Holy See have only had formal diplomatic relations since 1984, and in those 25 years, most of the ambassadors have been politicians or personal friends of the president who appointed them. Ronald Reagan appointed William Wilson, a California businessman; Bill Clinton appointed former Boston mayor Ray Flynn in his first term and Liddy Boggs in his second; George W. Bush chose Jim Nicholson, the former RNC chair, to be his first Vatican ambassador.
That pattern changed last year when Bush appointed Harvard law professor Mary Ann Glendon to serve as the U.S. representative to the Vatican for the remainder of his term. Glendon has studied and written about bio-ethics and other moral issues throughout her career. But the selection of Díaz marks the first time that a Catholic expert has filled the position.
The choice also reflects the changing face of American Catholicism. The church is no longer defined by Irish and Italian Catholics. One-third of U.S. Catholics are Hispanic, and they are rapidly becoming the future of the church. When you narrow the scope to church-attending Catholics under age 30, a full 60% are Hispanic. The Cuban-American Díaz will be in a position to communicate that reality directly to the Vatican.