NRL News

Pope Francis, President Obama meet at Vatican

by | Mar 27, 2014


By Dave Andrusko

PopeFrancis7Not to be overly cynical, but if I was President Obama (with every kind of approval index mired in the high 30s and low 40s), I know I would like to bask in the reflected glow of Pope Francis, whose popularity is double that of the beleaguered President.

So far not a lot has come out about the 52-minute meeting Thursday between Pope Francis and President Obama. Mr. Obama expressed his appreciation for the meeting, the first with Pope Francis and the second the President has had with a Pope. (The first was with Pope Benedict XVI in 2009, “a cordial meeting that nevertheless drew attention to the differences between the church and Obama on abortion,” as Fox News noted.)

“I was grateful to have the opportunity to speak with him about the responsibilities that we all share to care for the least of these, the poor, the excluded,” Obama said today. “And I was extremely moved by his insights about the importance of us all having a moral perspective on world problems and not simply thinking in terms of our own narrow self-interests.”

The Vatican put out a brief statement. “Views were exchanged on some current international themes,” the statement read. “[T]here was a discussion on questions of particular relevance for the Church in that country, such as the exercise of the rights to religious freedom, life and conscientious objection, as well as the issue of immigration reform.”

Other accounts, such as Doyle McManus for the Los Angeles Times and John Allen for the Boston Globe, both read between the lines and reminded readers that there are serious differences between this Administration and Rome.

Allen, for example reminded us that “Aside from the broad clash between Obama’s support for abortion rights and the Catholic church’s opposition,” the meeting at the Vatican comes two days after the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in two lawsuits challenging the Obama mandate that compels employers to provide health coverage for drugs and procedures , including contraceptives, to which they have moral or religious objections.

“Sharp differences on that score still loom over the administration’s relationship with the church,” Allen reported.

McManus noted that just as Obama gave an interview with a newspaper in Rome prior to the meeting, so, too, did the Vatican media office issue a statement before the Pope and the President met. It noted that the two men were meeting during “a complex phase of the administration’s relations with the Church of the United States, marked, in particular, by controversy on the implementation of health care reform (the ‘Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act,’ commonly known as ‘Obamacare’)…”

Of the stories I read, only McManus noted the significance of Pope’s parting gift to the President: “a bound copy of his 2013 letter to the faithful, ‘The Joy of the Gospel’ — the one that became famous for its critique of trickle-down economics.”

McManus wrote that Obama said, “I actually will probably read this in the Oval Office when I’m deeply frustrated,” and added, “I’m sure it will give me strength and calm me down.”

But “If the president actually does read the pontiff’s letter, he’ll find that though it’s joyful, it isn’t always comforting,” McManus observed. “[T]here’s also a strong reminder that the church still believes that there are ‘objective moral norms which are valid for everyone.’ And there’s a full-throated defense of traditional Catholic teaching on abortion, which Francis complains is too often criticized as ‘ideological, obscurantist and conservative.’”

He then quotes from what Pope Francis wrote in “The Joy of the Gospel”:

“This defense of unborn life is closely linked to the defense of each and every other human right,” the pope argues. “Once this conviction disappears, so do solid and lasting foundations for the defense of human rights, which would always be subject to the passing whims of the powers that be.”

Categories: Obama