ROME - Miguel Diaz, preparing to leave his post as U.S.
ambassador to the Holy See, acknowledged tensions between the
Obama administration and the U.S. Catholic bishops, but said
his goal always was to build bridges between the U.S.
government and the Vatican.
Meeting a small group of reporters Nov. 8, Diaz said he grew
up "on the hyphen" of being a Cuban American proud of both
heritages; he said his experience balancing two identities
informed how he dealt with the tensions of being an American
Catholic and a representative of the U.S. government.
Those tensions became particularly acute in the past year
after the Department of Health and Human Services mandated
that nearly all health plans, including those offered by most
Catholic-sponsored universities and agencies, would be
required to cover sterilizations and contraceptives,
including some that can cause an abortion.
Diaz, a theologian who has served as ambassador since 2009,
paid a farewell visit to Pope Benedict XVI Nov. 5 and was
scheduled to leave Rome a few days later, joining his family
in Dayton, Ohio, where he was to become professor of faith
and culture at the Marianist-run University of Dayton.
Diaz insisted the HHS mandate and the U.S. bishops' strong
objections to it as a violation of religious freedom was a
"domestic matter" that did not come under his responsibility
as a foreign-policy representative.
However, even Pope Benedict XVI voiced concerns about the
mandate. He told a group of U.S. bishops in January, "Of
particular concern are certain attempts being made to limit
that most cherished of American freedoms, the freedom of
religion. Many of you have pointed out that concerted efforts
have been made to deny the right of conscientious objection
on the part of Catholic individuals and institutions with
regard to cooperation in intrinsically evil practices."
Diaz said, "Obviously, as a Catholic and an ambassador and a
representative of President Obama, I am not ignorant of the
tensions that have existed domestically speaking."
"I love my government and I love my church and when there are
tensions and disagreements it's not something that I like,"
he said, so his response was to try to focus on strengthening
cooperation in areas where his government and church do
As for his own opinion about Obamacare and particularly the
HHS mandate, Diaz has kept that private during his term as
ambassador, but that does not mean he won't speak about the
issue once he returns to the United States. "Stay tuned," he
told Catholic News Service in a private interview Nov. 9.
During his tenure, he told reporters Nov. 8, the embassy
worked on areas of common concern, engaging in diplomatic
conversations, sponsoring conferences and networking on a
range of issues, including preventing mother-to-child
transmission of HIV-AIDS, promoting more ethical and just
economies, assisting migrants and preventing human
"No one said to me, 'I am not going to engage on trafficking
in persons,' 'I am not going to engage with you on
HIV-AIDS,'" because of the Catholic Church's serious
disagreements with the Obama administration on the HHS
mandate, he told reporters. "We managed to build common
ground. From the beginning, I said I know there are going to
be differences, but let's try to work together."
In his interview the next morning with CNS, he said, "What
inspired me to serve this president and this administration
was the 'Yes, we can,'" Obama's 2008 campaign slogan that
Diaz said fit with his own vision of Christian anthropology,
which emphasizes "we're in this together. The human person is
intrinsically relational. ... We stand or fall together."
He said one of the reasons he's so happy to be going to the
University of Dayton is its program on the American Catholic
experience, which will give him an opportunity to study and
discuss further "how to reconcile your patriotism and
American identity with your Catholic identity."
After almost three years in Rome with his wife and four
children, he said, "Italy has awakened in me a great love for
beauty. In the United States we often judge things as being
either right or wrong, but here," he said, speaking in
Italian, judgments more often are "beautiful or ugly. There's
an aesthetic sense to life. ... In order for something to be
right, it has to be beautiful," and that applies to
conversations and presentations of truth as well as to