Thursday, June 18, 2009

From the Editor: Vian on Obama, Part 26,431

After months of the Vatican daily's relatively sanguine assessments of the Obama administration coupled with not-so-sanguine reactions in some quarters closer to home, National Review features an intense interview with the editor of L'Osservatore Romano, Gian Maria Vian.

Conducted by CNN and ITV alum Delia Gallagher, it's best to read the whole thing -- and carefully so.

Here, however, some snips:
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.

[SVILUPPO: Novak's response.]

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: 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: 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....

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.