Though Pepperdine University has always been able to boast a variety of accomplished faculty ranging from prolific movie directors to ex-CIA agents the last three months have given the school something new to brag about.
That is because Douglas W. Kmiec Pepperdine’s Caruso Family Chair in Constitutional Law was unanimously confirmed by the United States Senate as the Obama administration’s ambassador to the Republic of Malta.
Kmiec who has been involved with legal education since he joined the faculty at Notre Dame Law School in 1980 came in 2003 to Pepperdine where he has helped to markedly improve the school’s national ranking which has risen from 75th to 55th during his tenure according to the annual U.S. News national ranking.
With a wide-ranging resume that includes writing regularly for the Chicago Tribune and the Catholic News Service Kmiec also served in the U.S. Office of Legal Council during the presidencies of Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. But the newly appointed ambassador admits that his new position which came as a surprise was never a particular career goal.
“I can’t say that I ever set out on this course Kmiec confessed. My full efforts have always been devoted to the law.”
Kmiec member of both the Roman Catholic Church and the GOP sparked controversy and made national headlines in 2008 when he decided to publically support then-candidate Barack Obama during his campaign even writing the book “Can a Catholic Support Him?” which at the time ranked No. 1 in its category on Amazon.com.
And now in a seeming effort to return the favor President Obama has strategically placed Kmiec in Malta where the new ambassador has hit the ground running.
“One of the things one should never do in international relations is be complacent said Kmiec, who is using his position to combat the trafficking of humans, drugs and weapons of mass destruction between North Africa, Europe and the Middle East.
The Republic of Malta is located in the Mediterranean Sea south of Sicily. It shares friendly relations with the U.S., and is seen as strategically crucial because of its location, a focal point of diverging cultures and religions.
One of the reasons President Obama has placed me here is to establish trust and mutual respect for people of different traditions said Kmiec, who was charged by the president to employ faith-based diplomacy in a region vs. that which acts as a center between countries of Muslim, Christian and Judaic heritage. Religious difference need not be a basis for disagreement he added.
Yet Ambassador Kmiec, himself a pro-life Catholic, has certainly seen his fair share of religious strife, especially from within the Catholic Church. After throwing his support behind Obama, who is despised in some Catholic circles for his decidedly pro-choice policies on abortion, Kmiec was even denied communion on one instance at a meeting of Catholic business leaders last year.
The priest responsible for this denial, who has remained anonymous, has since formally apologized.
The apology is fully accepted said Kmiec, who has put the unfortunate instance” behind him. He added that the incident gave him a further appreciation of the sacraments.
Yet the ambassador claims that his support for Obama has never been an issue for the people of Malta a country dominated by a 98 percent Roman Catholic population.
“I’ve never in a single instance had any hesitation about being welcome Kmiec reports. The good news is that there is a powerful witness of faith. Here in Malta the teaching is so well done in the pews that no auxiliary support is needed.”
The ambassador also commented about how much he enjoys Malta’s unique religious tradition which he says began when St. Paul shipwrecked there in the earliest years of Christianity. The small island which has an area of only 316 square kilometers is home to exactly 365 catholic churches. Ambassador Kmiec who has already been to 25 of them says he has made it his personal goal to visit each one.
“One church for every single day of the year.” Kmiec mused about his new hobby. “I think it’s going to take me a little longer than a year.”
But for Kmiec the key to his position lies in the promotion of religious harmony among the surrounding areas. “North Africa is almost entirely Muslim and you don’t have to look very far to find Judaic tradition he quickly pointed out. One of the things we learn about faith is that it can wrongfully become the basis for division.” The ambassador added that seeking to eliminate such division with “humility” is one of his primary objectives.
In addition to working toward faith-based diplomacy in Malta Ambassador Kmiec now finds that his position offers him the unique opportunity of aiding international refugees. During his time working for the U.S. Department of State Kmiec was instrumental in expanding the U.S. territorial sea claim from three to 12 miles offshore. Now he has an even larger proportion of sea to monitor as Malta has assumed the care of a nautical area more than 800 times the size of the island itself.
Because of its location Malta is able to rescue asylum seekers braving the open seas in an effort to escape oppression in countries such as Eritrea Somalia and the Sudan.
According to Kmiec the U.S. is committed to working with the Maltese to find homes for people who are rescued within this area as well as giving them necessary skills to pursue a new life. He said he has found this aspect of his new position to be the most rewarding.
Aiding these people believes Kmiec is one way his life as a teacher corresponds nicely with his life as a diplomat: he is charged with “reaching out.”
“It lets me swing open the door of freedom to those who haven’t had it before Kmiec said. There is very little that can match the face of someone who has received freedom for the first time.”
Malta is ranked as the world’s most welcoming country to refugees by the United Nations Refugee Agency.
And doing everything he can to aid these people has certainly kept the former teacher busy at his new post but he is not alone. Though his five children have moved out of the house his wife Carolyn is enjoying the couple’s new lifestyle.
Even though the ambassadorship is according to Kmiec “no tea party like most people picture it being he still had time to briefly comment about his experience with Pepperdine students and education.
Here is a nice place for me where my life as a teacher goes nicely with my place as a diplomat Kmiec reflected. I have to reach out to my students the same way I have to reach out to these people now.”
“The religious commitment of Pepperdine University has inspired great value in its students Kmiec notes. Faith and reason are partners in scholarship.” But whatever the case the professor writer and diplomat concluded by saying that regardless of controversy staying true to one’s own beliefs is most important of all.