The Washington Times - July 22, 2009, 12:18PM

What is with the Obama administration’s new Vatican appointee?

I showed up at the Senate Dirksen building today to attend confirmation hearings for several proposed ambassadors to places like Morocco, Saudi Arabia and the Netherlands and to meet Miguel Humberto Diaz, the Minnesota college professor on the brink of becoming ambassador to the Holy See. Mr. Diaz had not been doing interviews ever since his appointment was announced in May.

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To start with, fellow Catholic Sen. Bob Casey, the presiding member of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, hardly grilled the nominee. His major question: What was Mr. Diaz’s sense of the recent meeting at the Vatican between Pope Benedict XVI and the president? The nominee responded that the pair discussed outreach to Muslims, Middle East peace, Cuba, the political situation in Honduras and the pope’s encyclicals on “bioethics and abortion.” Now the former would have been the just-released Caritas in Veritate and I’m guessing the latter was the Dignitas Personae, released late last year.

His recitation differs somewhat from the official Vatican press release so it’s possible Mr. Diaz got some information from the White House

Mr. Diaz’s brief prepared speech and replies to Mr. Casey’s questions were so bland and boilerplate that I didn’t even take notes. And Mr. Casey seemed far more interested in questioning the would-be ambassador to Saudi Arabia on anti-Semitic textbooks in Saudi schools than probing Mr. Diaz.

Here’s a photo of Mr. Diaz

Afterward the hearing was over, I and another reporter rushed Mr. Diaz, hoping to get some decent comments plus contact information assuming the Senate Foreign Relations Committee votes to confirm him next Tuesday. The nominee brushed us aside, only saying he was “very proud” to be nominated but he had to be with his family. Well, his family, which consisted of wife Marian and four children standing a few feet away, were hardly going anywhere.

When we protested Mr. Diaz’s seeming inability to say much of anything, we were reminded that we had to go through the State Department for interviews. Ah, yes, the State Department; always so helpful when it comes to connecting reporters with elusive ambassadors. And the other nominees were standing around, chatting with reporters and bystanders. But no, Mr. Diaz marshalled his family for a photo in the front part of the briefing room, then escaped through a back door for Senate staff only. Bad sign.

So here is my prediction of how Mr. Diaz will conduct his years at the Holy See. Like the president, he’ll allow interviews with “safe” Catholic publications who won’t throw him any hardballs, such as how he reconciles the Catholic Church’s position on abortion, stem cell research, etc. with that of the president. As to what his personal views are on “life” issues, it doesn’t sound like we’ll get that answer any time soon. 

So, in terms of explaining himself to American reporters, don’t hold your breath for Mr. Diaz to open up. After all, he’ll soon be far away from most of us, safe in Rome.

- Julia Duin, religion editor