Ambassador Kmiec says critique stems from ‘hostility to expressions of faith’

WASHINGTON – Douglas Kmiec, the U.S. ambassador to Malta, said an audit by the State Department’s inspector general that chided him for his “unconventional approach to his role” stemmed from the complaints of a handful of people within the agency who “seem to manifest a hostility to expressions of faith and efforts to promote better interfaith understanding.”

In an emailed statement sent to reporters after the audit became the subject of news reports April 7, Kmiec said he was troubled and saddened that a few people within the State Department were antagonistic about his efforts.

The Associated Press said Kmiec’s statement said criticism of his religious views was “especially odd” because he and President Barack Obama became friends because of their shared belief that “too much of politics had been used to divide us, sometimes by excluding people of faith.”

In a brief response from Kmiec to Catholic News Service queries, he said he had no further comment “except to say that when read in its entirety the (inspector general’s) report clearly affirms the excellent work of the department and this embassy, which has been of notable service in matters of evacuation, humanitarian assistance and support for the enforcement of sanctions and other measures that will (bring) peace to this – at present – tumultuous region.”

Many of the people who fled Tunisia and Libya during the popular uprisings there in the last few months went initially to Malta, located partway between the North African coast and Italy. Among other assistance provided by the embassy, Kmiec and the U.S. Embassy staff made the arrangements for the ferry boat hired to evacuate Americans and others from Libya as events there began to roil.

Kmiec was a law professor at Pepperdine University and a former Reagan administration attorney when he broke from his longtime Republican ties to support Obama’s candidacy, including with a book titled “Can a Catholic Support Him?” The book explained how, as a pro-life Catholic, he could back the Illinois Democrat despite the candidate’s support for keeping abortion legal.

(Kmiec also has been a columnist for Catholic News Service, though his column has been on hiatus since he became active in the 2008 presidential campaign.)

At one point during the campaign, Kmiec was denied Communion at an event for a Catholic business leaders organization where he was the invited speaker. The priest later apologized. Kmiec was appointed to the ambassadorial post in 2009.

The State Department audit, dated February 2011 and based upon inspections last fall, criticized Kmiec for “outside activities” that “have detracted from his attention to core mission goals.”

It said that “based on a belief that he was given a special mandate to promote President Obama’s interfaith initiatives, he has devoted considerable time to writing articles for publication in the United States as well as in Malta, and to presenting his views on subjects outside the bilateral portfolio.

The website of the U.S. Embassy in Malta lists half a dozen op-ed articles Kmiec has written – most published in Maltese newspapers – on subjects such as Haiti’s recovery, racial discrimination and health care as a human right.

His own blog, “The Dean’s Discourses,” includes pieces written since he became ambassador about Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Malta and reminiscences about his late father and two friends who died after an August 2010 car accident. In that accident, Kmiec was driving when his car went off a California highway.

Monsignor John Sheridan, 94, and Sister Mary Campbell, 74, a Sister of St. Louis, both from Our Lady of Malibu Parish, were passengers when the car crashed into a drainage ditch Aug. 25. Sister Campbell was killed and Monsignor Sheridan died later after some time in the hospital.

Kmiec had serious injuries that resulted in a lengthy recuperation. He returned to Malta about a month after the accident and had follow-up surgery around Christmas in Malta, he told CNS.

Among the audit’s critiques was that “his official schedule has been uncharacteristically light for an ambassador at a post of this size, and on average he spends several hours of each work day in the residence, much of which appears to be devoted to his nonofficial writings.” No mention was made in the audit about whether Kmiec was still recuperating from the accident at the time auditors visited the embassy in late October and early November.

The audit appeared to be otherwise typical of periodic reviews of embassies, with observations about the work being done, plans to move to a new building and about Kmiec being respected by Maltese officials and most of the embassy staff.

“But his unconventional approach to his role as ambassador has created friction with principal officials in Washington, especially over his reluctance to accept their guidance and instructions,” it said. “Based on a belief that he was given a special mandate to promote President Obama’s interfaith initiatives, he has devoted considerable time to writing articles for publication in the United States as well as in Malta, and to presenting his views on subjects outside the bilateral portfolio.”

Catholic Review

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.