Obama and Benedict
THIS CATHOLIC'S VIEW
By Thomas J. Reese, S.J.
"Having a meeting with the Holy Father is a great honor and something that I'm very much looking forward to," President Obama told a small group of religion journalist on July 2. Obama sees the pope as "somebody who combines a great intellect with great compassion." The meeting will take place on July 10.
The president looks on the upcoming meeting as comparable to a meeting with any head of state. "There are going to be areas where we've got deep agreements; there are going to be some areas where we've got some disagreements." He believes the relationship between the administration and the Vatican "is already very strong and we want to build on."
But the president recognizes that the pope is more than simply a government leader. "The Catholic Church has such a profound influence worldwide and in our country; the Holy Father is a thought leader and an opinion leader on so many wide-ranging issues. And his religious influence is one that extends beyond the Catholic Church."
Obama points to numerous areas where his administration can work with the Vatican: "everything from Middle East peace to dealing with worldwide poverty, climate change, immigration, a whole host of issues in which the Pope has taken extraordinary leadership." He also pointed to the "impressive" work the pope has done on the interfaith front. The Vatican was also impressed by Obama's Cairo speech.
Economic issues will certainly be a major focus of the meeting. Obama will be coming from the G8 meeting in L'Aquila, Italy, and the pope's encyclical on Catholic social teaching, Caritas in veritate (Charity in Truth), will have just been released on July 7.
Obama, like the pope, is concerned that the "immediate effects of the [economic] crisis were not borne disproportionately by the most poor and vulnerable countries." At the L'Aquila meeting, "one of the top priorities for my administration is to get other wealthy countries to match our significantly increased commitment to food security around the world."
And while Obama believes in capitalism, he recognizes like the pope that "the invisible hand of the market does not always assure that everybody is able to have enough to eat and have a roof over their heads, send their kids to college. And we want to make sure that we continue to build a society that is not only wealthy in the aggregate, but is also just."
The president noted how "the Catholic Church has always been a powerful moral compass...on questions of distribution and how do we make sure that opportunities are extended to everybody."
During the White House meeting, reporters pressed the president on his relationship with the American bishops. When asked if he was tempted to "write them off as opposition," he responded with a resounding "No."
"One of the strengths of our democracy is that everybody is free to express their political opinions, and I take people's opinions seriously," he said. "I'm the President of all Americans, not just the Americans who happen to agree with me." He reported, "although there have been criticisms leveled at me from some of the bishops, there have been a number of bishops who have been extremely generous and supportive even if they don't agree with me on every issue."
It is clear however, that he wishes there were more bishops like Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, for whom he has found memories from the time when Obama worked as a community organizer for Catholic parishes in Chicago.
Cardinal Bernardin was strongly pro-life, never shrank away from talking about that issue, but was very consistent in talking about a seamless garment and a range of issues that were part and parcel of what he considered to be pro-life, that meant that he was concerned about poverty, he was concerned about how children were treated, he was concerned about the death penalty, he was concerned about foreign policy.
Obama said that this "part of the Catholic tradition is something that continues to inspire me." He affirmed how that "tradition has made me, a non-Catholic, I think reflect on how I can be a better person and has had a powerful influence on my life. And that tells me that it might be a powerful way to move a broader set of values forward in American life generally."
When the president and the pope meet, they will have much to talk about. If they can move the world forward in the areas where they agree, the world will be a better place for it.
Posted by: ccnl1 | July 3, 2009 12:49 PM
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