The National Catholic Review

Pope Benedict XVI will receive President Barack Obama in audience at the Vatican on July 10. Let the gnashing of teeth begin.

Admit it, wasn’t your first impulse to call Dr. Mary Ann Glendon and ask, "If you were still the ambassador, would you show up or would you boycott?" The Cardinal Newman Society, which spent the better part of the spring telling the world that no Catholic could in good conscience share the stage with President Obama, perhaps now they will start issuing press releases entitled "Pope Creates Scandal" or "Outrage at the Vatican." The Catholic News Agency, which featured the headline "Vatican announces Pope’s vacation without confirmation of Obama visit" just a few weeks ago, has nary a mention of the visit on its website this morning. Cat got your tongue?

Obama’s Catholic critics need to re-calibrate their message and it is difficult to see how they will compete with the pictures of Obama in the frescoed halls of the Vatican, his beautiful wife and children in tow, shaking hands with the Holy Father. Actually, in addition to shaking hands, it is traditional that the Pope will present a gift to the President. Does that count as an "honor" of the kind forbidden by the bishops’ document "Catholics in Political Life"? Notre Dame, of course, has a tradition of conferring an honorary degree upon every new president that pre-dates presidential visits to the Holy See.

More importantly, and as mentioned yesterday while considering the new document on Catholic health care and labor unions, there are ways to work with people who do not agree with us on certain matters. Let it be said again and again: The Church’s commitment to human dignity, and concern for the protection of the unborn, is not just one issue among many. It is, in a certain sense, foundational to both our moral concerns and to our sense of the right ordering of our nation’s constitutional guarantees. In saying we must work with President Obama we are not suggesting breezily that we should "agree to disagree" and move on. We are saying that we can better witness to our beliefs by engaging the President. We are saying that if we spend time in the trenches with him fighting for the rights of workers, the rights of immigrants, and the rights of citizens to health care, our testimony on behalf of the unborn will be more persuasive to this President and his party which is otherwise so dedicated to the vindication of rights but here, on this issue, has a horrendous blind spot.

It was the collective failure of the U.S. bishops to find a way to be represented on the stage at Notre Dame’s commencement, to express their ambivalence about the President, to do what Father Jenkins did, which was to tell the President to his face that we admire him so much but we disagree profoundly with him on abortion and embryonic stem cell research. No single event focused the nation’s attention – live coverage of a commencement address! – on the relationship between the President and the Church, and the bishops spoke only with their absence which is a difficult message to hear.

Next month, Pope Benedict will send a different message. He will undoubtedly address the Church’s concern for the unborn and her opposition to embryonic stem cell research. He will also discuss the economy, and health care, and peace in the Mideast. He will hold the President’s large hands in his small hands, he will gather Sasha and Malia into the folds of his white cassock, he will treat the President with respect and humanity. Pope Benedict, like the Master, is not afraid to sit down with the publican because, in his wisdom, the Pope knows we are all publicans.

 

Comments

Anonymous | 6/27/2009 - 3:41pm
Mr Winters is normally the savviest of writers  and not one to miss a trick. Here he completely misses the boat!His zeal against more rabid Pro-lifers is understandable as he is probably aware that they do not hold most Politicians to such high standards on other life issues and he may even have experience of the same double standard. But he fails to understand the reason that people (including close friends of the Pope and the Head of the American Catholic Church ) were so against the honouring of President Obama at the University that takes its name from the woman who bore Jesus in her womb. Honouring a person at a catholic University ,holding them aloft as a model is a far cry from visiting the Vatican.Every scumbag leader of the world gets a pass into the Vatican by virtue of his Office and not of his beliefs.Clinton,Berlusconi,Bush ,Sarkozy,Blair,Chavez. Hardly a Holy bunch ,but all represent the limits of democracy and so the Church must accept them and deal with them for the sake of the Faith. Receive not Honour.Obama will not be making any speeches on Vatican Hill I can promise you!Good luck to the President who so far has not been intolerant of those who cherish life and hopefully Prolife Americans will do all they can to win him over.Mr Winters can write and think a lot better and also show a little more love for those vile Prolifers. 
Anonymous | 6/26/2009 - 5:10pm
"Look forward to The Pope using most of the meeting to preach directly to Obama about the rights of the unborn." This has to be the silliest remark ever. Unlike embittered single-issue American Catholics who would love to see Obama publicly scolded and thrown out the vatican door, the Pope will be most cordial and welcoming, just as he was to the pro-choice Sarkozy and Tony Blair who (unlike Obama) are both Catholic (!)  Benedict and Obama may not be on the same page with abortion but they are with most other issues.  The Pope and many others at the Vatican are looking forward to meeting the Obamas.    
Anonymous | 6/26/2009 - 3:11pm
I cannot imagine, Michael, that you are not deliberately being facetious.  If you are, then it seems to have been lost on your readership (on both sides) - if not, you need a crash course in logic, for the two situations have no comparison to one another.
Anonymous | 6/26/2009 - 11:05am
Michael, you've outdone yourself.  Absurd doesn't even begin to describe your analogy here.  What part of the word "honor" from the Bishops' 2004 Statement don't you get.  And to honor the President with an honorary doctor of LAWS at that, Notre Dame ought (until she repents) be ashamed. The Pope receives presidents; he will not present Mr. Obama honorary keys to the Kingdom, of that you can be assured. Your crush on the president continues, Michael, and frankly, it's getting old.  
Anonymous | 6/26/2009 - 10:24am
I hope the Holy Father is ready for some new dvds! Seriously, now, even if the idea is to engage Pres. Obama with our witness to rights of workers, right to healthcare, etc., it is still patently scandalous for a Catholic University to honor such a man with a doctorate of laws.  The man-crush that the Jesuits and America magazine seem to have on the POTUS is swarmy.
Anonymous | 6/26/2009 - 10:13am
America Magazine gets it wrong again! Surprised? I'm not.  This magazine hasn't been Catholics for years.
Anonymous | 6/26/2009 - 10:12am
Popes meet with people.  Bishops meet with people.  No one has said that bishops or His Holiness shouldn’t meet with President Obama or be seen together in public.  We are in favor of the Pope meeting with President Obama.  This is what Popes do.   They meet with all sort of people, even heads of state, good and criminal alike.   John Paul II met with Fidel Casto and Yassir Arafat. Paul VI met with Idi Amin Dada. So, Pres. Obama goes to the Vatican.  The Pope gives him a gift, some trinket, maybe a blessed rosary or… a little vase.  Is that suppose to be the equivalent of an honorary doctorate? When Popes gives something to heads of state who visit, the gift means little more than "Thanks for coming to my house."  The Pope won’t bestow a formal honor on President Obama.  He is not worthy of any honor.
Anonymous | 6/25/2009 - 6:51pm
Michael, this is absurd.  There is a huge difference between a head of state visiting the pope (who is also a head of state) and a Catholic university giving an honorary degree to a radically pro-abortion president.  It's very reasonable to object to the latter, but I see no reason to object to the pope receiving the president of the US at the Vatican.  The pope will not be honoring Obama, nor does his visit suggest that the pope endorses any of his policies.  This is simply a matter of extending hospitality and acknowledging one's status as a head of state.  Does Obama agree with every head of state he receives at the White House, or do those visits suggest US endorsement of their policies?  Of course not.  (In any case, one can pray that Obama comes away from the meeting a changed man - all things are possible with God!)
Anonymous | 6/26/2009 - 8:53am
No, my first impulse wasn't to take a cheap shot at Professor Glendon.  My first impulse was to feel sorry for good old Pope B.  Think how hard it will be for a great thinker and a saint like him to have to be in the presence of that sordid, unprincipled, infantile mediocrity for twenty minutes.  It's fortunate, of course, that the Pope speaks eight languages, considering that Obama can't even speak one articulately without a teleprompter.   
Anonymous | 6/25/2009 - 6:08pm
Obama + B16 === Si se puede!
Anonymous | 6/24/2009 - 10:49am
Superb!  What a joy it is to read the feelings of so many of us articulated so well.  Thank you.
Anonymous | 6/24/2009 - 2:49pm
With all due Respect , Michael, we are called to be Witnesses to the Truth of Love, God, The Blessed Trinity. To simply state that we disagree with the President regarding abortion and Embryonic Stem Cell Research, without giving "a reason for our Hope" by explaining why God desires that we Respect and Protect the Sanctity of every Human Life from the beginning and that we Respect and Protect the Sanctity of Marriage and The Family, is not very convincing. Charity requires that we always speak the truth about The Truth by bearing Witness to The Truth. The way we should honor  President  Obama is by presenting him with a gift of John Paul II's, "Theology of The Body", which is an essential guide to The Truth of Love from the beginning.
Anonymous | 6/26/2009 - 3:31pm
Ah, yes, God indeed has a sense of humor!  And He's using it to humble the proud "more Catholic than the pope" crowd.
Anonymous | 6/26/2009 - 12:33pm
Contra the last few posts, there is little difference between honoring the president at ND and honoring him with diplomatic recognition at the Vatican.  John asks if the president agrees "with every head of state he receives at the White House," and the answer is that no president does.  Yet, a few eyebrows would be raised if that head of state were named Kim or Castro or Ahmedinejad.  An American archbishop has called the president the "most committed abortion rights candidate" we ever have seen.  If we take that to be fair or accurate (and, I do not), then Barack Obama is complicit in murder on a scale that rivals those others.  He leads a nation constitutionally committed to murdering the unborn, if we construe abortion rights in the way that archbishop does.  The Holy Father causes grave scandal when he receives him if that archbishop is correct. I suspect the Holy Father  and his Vatican advisors know better, just as I believe we can say that-while the Holy See could not intend it-the event on July 10 will expose the shabbiness of how the American bishops have handled political questions, not just respecting Obama, but going back at least to Kerry.
Anonymous | 6/25/2009 - 9:33pm
This is a CATHOLIC magazine?? How can the author get things so horribly wrong? There is just no comparison between the Holy Father welcoming the President of the United States (he has to accept the results of a legitimate election) and Notre Dame choosing to honor the most pro-abortion President ever. Popes meet with all sorts of different people and disrespecting Obama would mean disrespecting the USA. But that is far from honoring him the way it was done at Notre Dame. Yes, ND has a tradition to honor a new President in such a way; but a President who favors late term abortion??!! And in the face of the opposition of more than 70 Bishops? These Bishops, by the way, far from being failures are the true representatives of the Catholic Church.    
Anonymous | 6/25/2009 - 5:32pm
I would say that if the Holy Father meets with Obama, it’s because the president represents our country. I don’t think the Holy Father has too much against the USA, despite our less than worthy representative. Look forward to The Pope using most of the meeting to preach directly to Obama about the rights of the unborn.
Anonymous | 6/26/2009 - 9:41am
"Notre Dame, of course, has a tradition of conferring an honorary degree upon every new president that pre-dates presidential visits to the Holy See." Not true. Clinton was passed over, I believe due to the Moynihan flap.
Anonymous | 6/24/2009 - 2:22pm
Can we not make even the most obvious of distinctions? Unlike Notre Dame, the Pope will be not be giving President Obama an award or honoring him for work that includes the championing of aggressive pro-abortion laws.