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The two worlds of Nick Cafardi

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Saturday, Jan. 26, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

When Nick Cafardi agreed to serve as national co-chair of Catholics for Obama in 2008 and 2012, he was already happily ensconced as dean emeritus of Duquesne Law School, at peace as a teacher and writer. Eager to highlight Catholic values as part of the national agenda, he took the plunge and now he is on the shortlist for ambassador to the Holy See.

Cafardi could become the most recent Pittsburgher to play a prominent Vatican role. The late John E. Connelly, because of his largess and his close relationship with John Paul II, set the bar high when he was asked to identify an architect to design a chapel just inside the Vatican walls. The Gateway Clipper Fleet founder tapped another Pittsburgher, Lou Astorino.

As a kid growing up on Bouquet Street in Oakland, Cafardi was on track for the priesthood but found other ways to serve, becoming a husband and father and honing his legal skills in Pittsburgh and Rome. He was a civil lawyer for the Pittsburgh Diocese for 13 years and, as a canon lawyer, has represented bishops, cardinals and even the Holy See.

In its darkest hour, the Catholic Church turned to Cafardi to serve as an original member of The United States Catholic Bishops' National Review Board for the Protection of Children and Youth. He co-authored the board's report, an essential first step toward restoring trust.

On the civil side, as founding chair of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's Commission on Racial and Gender Bias in the Justice System, he co-authored a report that advocated changes to assure that equal protection and opportunity exist for all commonwealth citizens.

If you ask Cafardi what kind of Catholic he is, he quickly responds: “Orthodox. I believe everything that my church teaches. But I disagree with some in the church over their choice of political tactics.”

And that disagreement, along with his appreciation of the compassionate social policies embraced by the “Nuns on the Bus,” has drawn some opposition from the conservative wing of the church, mostly those who opposed President Obama in both campaigns. In today's political world, even those who failed to carry the day think they should still get to call the shots.

As a boy roaming the streets of South Oakland, Cafardi spent school days at the old Bishop's Latin School in Homewood and summers poking around Forbes Field. There, on the hillside over Panther Hollow, he learned to navigate two worlds — the old and the new, church and state, Italian and American cultures.

With a little luck, which is needed considering the vagaries of high-stakes politics, Cafardi could be immersed in two worlds again. And if he ever needs a reminder of home, just to stay centered, he can always visit the Chapel of the Holy Spirit, a little gem, designed by a fellow Pittsburgher.

Joseph Sabino Mistick, a lawyer, law professor and political analyst, lives in Squirrel Hill (

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