President Obama on Friday nominated Ken Hackett, former head of Catholic Relief Services, to be the next U.S. ambassador to the Vatican.
It’s a savvy move, picking a Catholic whose career in the church has been dedicated to alleviating suffering as America’s representative to a pope whose has made helping the poor a priority for his pontificate.
Hackett replaces Miguel Diaz, who left the post last November to teach at the University of Dayton. Diaz is a theologian, which was a first for the U.S. ambassador, and that also seemed to make sense in that Benedict XVI, whose retirement led to the election of Pope Francis last March, is a renowned theologian.
Usually the Vatican posting has gone to political appointees or as a reward to longtime friends of the president. After all, a posting in Rome is not a bad digestivo for a retiring public servant.
There had been some consternation that Obama hadn’t named an ambassador sooner. But the administration isn’t known for acting too swiftly on judicial appointments either, and when Benedict announced that we would be resigning in February it behooved the White House to see who emerged as the new pope.
Hackett seems very much in synch with Francis. He is also familiar with Rome and Rome with him, and he has contacts across the U.S. church and is highly-regarded for his career at CRS — even if CRS is not a favorite of influential political conservatives in the American church.
Hackett served on the Board of Directors of George W. Bush’s Millennium Challenge Corporation for five years, and he has ties across administrations. He is reported to be close to Denis McDonough, Obama’s chief of staff, whose brother is a priest.