Monday, December 20, 2004

EXCLUSIVE -- MUST CREDIT: The Bushies' Roman Offering

While you weren't looking, the White House is preparing its big thank-you to Catholic conservatives for their part in swinging the President's re-election.

Conversations with apparatchicks in Washington and beyond indicate that Karl Rove, Bush's senior political adviser, is consulting with friendly clerical and lay voices in the American church on the impending appointment of Jim Nicholson's successor as ambassador to the Holy See. While the resignation of mission heads is expected at the turn of every new presidential cycle, the opening was assured by the president's nomination of Nicholson as secretary of Veterans Affairs on December 9.

In his November 26 Word from Rome, John Allen speculated that "Word about a successor is expected sometime soon." And it seems Rome's waiting -- The Times of London, in a piece about Vatican anxiety over the future of the British mission to the Holy See, last week quoted Joaquin Navarro-Valls' observation that Washington traditionally sends a businessman, as was Nicholson, who made his living in real estate before rising up the ranks at the RNC.

For all the squabbling and gnashing of teeth over Iraq, the outgoing ambassador won the genuine respect of the Curia for his intense focus on one of the Holy See's causes celebre -- human trafficking. Nicholson succeeded in ramping it up on the U.S. agenda, even to the point of holding a high-profile Justice Department conference being held in Philadelphia last year, with the eager cooperation of the local ordinary. (As if you're surprised?)

This time, it's safe to say that we'll be seeing a more prominent doctrinaire take up residence at Villa Richardson. (Michael Novak, anyone? Weigel?) It seems the post would've been Deal Hudson's in a walk, were it not for his highly un-Catholic escapades revealed by NCR earlier this year. (And he dared take on the Jesuits for heterodoxy....) But it's clear that whoever is sent will be a more forceful, theologically-versed voice for the administration's policy, so that in case of another diplomatic impasse, the mission head will be directly able to press Washington's case at the Secretariat of State, as Novak was flown in to do in the run-up to war.

Developing.... Stay tuned.


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