By Peter J. Smith
WASHINGTON, D.C., July 15, 2009 (LifeSiteNews.com) – If President Barack Obama needed to nominate a Catholic public relations chief, he would have to look no further than Mark Linton, director of the Center for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives within the department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). According to US News and World Report, Linton has become the most important Catholic advisor to Obama, carrying on a role that began during the presidential campaign, and has thus far culminated in a successful diplomatic encounter with Pope Benedict XVI.
Securing the support of American Catholics, most of whom have historically identified themselves with the Democratic Party, has always been a priority for President Obama, but it has become an especially high-priority, as his radical rejection of the Catholic Church's teachings on fundamental social issues respecting the value and dignity of every human life have led to a growing vocal condemnation from Catholic bishops.
Enter Mark Linton, a former staffer with Catholic Relief Services and aide to Obama in his days as a US Senator. Linton held the position of National Catholic Outreach Coordinator for Obama's campaign as part of a campaign to convince Catholics that Obama was a candidate acceptable to Catholics and even “pro-life” in some respects, touting a pledge from Obama to work to reduce the number of abortions in the United States. This public relations effort helped counter-balance the vocal criticism from an increasing number of bishops – concerned over Obama's unqualified support for abortion at all stages and pledge to expand embryonic stem-cell research through federal funding – that Catholics could not in good conscience vote for officials committed to supporting and expanding abortion policies.
Linton defended Obama against pro-life leaders describing Obama's positions as “pro-abortion,” telling fellow Catholic and writer Deal Hudson that the charge was “false and disrespectful.” Hudson, however, pointed out that Obama had a 100 percent rating from NARAL Pro-Choice America for his three years in the US Senate, and would be considered “pro-abortion” by any measure of common-sense. Linton also accepted and then turned down an invitation to debate Obama's abortion position with Hudson on the Al Kresta radio show.
Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput had condemned last year's efforts by Catholics like Linton, and especially Pepperdine law professor Doug Kmiec, to portray Obama as an acceptable Catholic candidate. In an October 2008 address entitled “Little Murders” Chaput stated, “To suggest – as some Catholics do – that Senator Obama is this year's 'real' pro-life candidate requires a peculiar kind of self-hypnosis, or moral confusion, or worse.”
Linton's efforts began with listening tours with Catholic leaders: both lay, clerical, and religious – beginning in Pennsylvania, and by the end of the November election, the heavy campaign to bring Catholics into the Obama fold had succeeded. The voting bloc George W. Bush had secured – 52 percent to 47 percent – in his 2004 race against the nominally Catholic Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), had in 2008 swung in Obama's favor – 54 percent to Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain's 45 percent.
US News and World Report says that now in the Obama White House, Linton continues to play his crucial role of preserving the Catholic bloc for Obama. One Catholic activist close to the White House told US News that Linton also played a key role in the selection of Miguel Diaz, a theologian with no record of supporting abortion, to the post of ambassador to the Vatican.
In advance of the President's meeting with Pope Benedict, Linton assembled a meeting with American Catholic theologians and experts to discuss how Obama could use the Pope's latest encyclical “Caritas in Veritate” (Love in Truth) and also diagram for Obama the Pope's thinking on issues most important to the Catholic Church, including abortion and stem-cell research involving the destruction of human embryos.
When it came time for selecting a papal gift, Linton's advice was instrumental in helping Obama avoid another diplomatic faux pas for which the Administration has gained notoriety. Indeed, through Linton's efforts, President Obama gave Pope Benedict a stole that lay on the enshrined body of St. John Neumann, a 19th century bishop of Philadelphia and founder of the diocesan school system – a gift vastly different from the box-set DVD collection given to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the I-pods given to heads of state whom Obama has visited, including Queen Elizabeth II.
Pope Benedict, for his part, gave President Obama a mosaic of St. Peter's Basilica, an autographed copy of his latest encyclical “Caritas in Veritate,” but he also provided the President another gift, just to make clear he understood the Catholic Church's thinking on key issues: a bioethics instruction called “Dignitas Personae” (Dignity of the Person), which outlines the reasoning behind the Catholic Church's defense of the sanctity of life, including the reasons behind its opposition to abortion and embryonic stem-cell research.