Thursday, March 11, 2010

Mr President's "Mr Catholic"

You might not know the figure standing behind President Obama by sight... but when the Commander-in-Chief seeks to speak Catholic, odds are the result's an echo of Denis McDonough's voice.

The finding once noted 'round these parts, the 40 year-old Deputy National Security Adviser and Chief of Staff at the National Security Council was just one White House adviser who Religion News Service's Dan Burke profiled this week in a wider look at Obama's "spiritual cabinet":
When Denis McDonough was in eighth grade, he heard his older brother, a Catholic priest, deliver a homily entirely in Spanish. McDonough soon learned Spanish himself, and became an expert on bridging cultural gaps.

Now... McDonough is working to strengthen international bonds strained by the Bush administration’s go-it-alone approach to foreign policy.

Traveling by the president’s side on overseas missions, the 40-year-old Minnesotan is a crucial player in Obama’s quest to engage Muslims, find common cause with the Vatican, and restore the country’s moral authority.

McDonough helped craft Obama’s landmark address to Muslims last June in Cairo, and the robust defense of American foreign policy—including the waging of “just wars”—during the president’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in Norway.

A key component of Obama’s foreign policy is the Catholic concept of the common good, McDonough said. “It’s a general posture of seeking engagement to find mutual interests, but also realizes that there is real evil in the world that we must confront,” he said in an interview at his West Wing office. “The president also recognizes that we are strongest when we work together with our allies.”

In addition, McDonough has schooled Obama on the internal politics of the Catholic Church, an institution he knows intimately. His brother Kevin was vicar general of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, another brother is a priest-turned-theologian, and his best friend in Washington is a Redemptorist priest. A graduate of St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minn., he helped vet a young theologian on the faculty, Miguel Diaz, to become ambassador to the Vatican last May.
Likewise among Burke's list of ad intra luminaries sought out by the Prez: DC's retired Cardinal Theodore McCarrick -- now a globe-trotting goodwill ambassador for causes of all sorts -- who directly preceded Obama as Notre Dame's commencement speaker in 2008.

This weekend, in keeping with 130 years of tradition, the Golden Dome will announce the 2010 winner of the Stateside church's most prestigious award -- the university's Laetare Medal, declined last year by Ambassador Mary Ann Glendon amid the heated protest over Notre Dame's decision to award an honorary doctorate to the President given Obama's stance in support of legal abortion.