Obama to Meet Pope for the First Time on Friday
President Obama and Pope Benedict XVI will meet for the first time face-to-face on Friday during Obama's trip to Italy for the G8 summit.
The meeting will likely be characterized as a clash of the pro-life and pro-choice agendas. As early as November of last year, Time magazine predicted this meeting and asked: "Will the Pope and Obama Clash Over Abortion?" Abortion and other topics related to bioethics are expected to be raised at the meeting. Time's latest story reports:
To paint the Obama-meets-Benedict dossier in broad strokes, says one senior Vatican diplomat, "it's basically the reverse of Bush." In other words, the Pope tends to appreciate the new President's less aggressive approach to foreign affairs, while he disagrees on ethical matters such as abortion rights and stem-cell research - whereas President George W. Bush was seen by the Vatican as one of the few like-minded Western leaders on social issues, but whose invasion of Iraq was strongly opposed by the Vatican.
In preparation for the meeting, Obama reached out to the Catholic community in the U.S. at a roundtable with mostly-Catholic news service reporters on July 2. At the meeting, Obama emphasized his respect for the Catholic Church and referenced his personal experience with the social work of Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago, an early supporter of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.
Cardinal Bernardin was strongly pro-life - never shrank from speaking 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 pro-life, that meant he was concerned about poverty, he was concerned with how children were treated, he was concerned about the death penalty, he was concerned about foreign policy.
Dan Gilgoff at U.S. News noted that although most of Obama's responses were "trademark Obama" in their diplomacy, a few of his comments - particularly related to abortion and the administration's ongoing review of conscience clause rules for health workers - were surprising. Obama says:
I don't know any circumstance in which abortion is a happy circumstance or decision - and to the extent that we can help women avoid being confronted with a circumstance in which that's even a consideration, I think that's a good thing.