Monday, July 13, 2009

The Presidency and the Papacy

Last winter, I wrote:
[Compared to the President Bush, the US-Vatican] relationship is likely to change under the Obama Administration as, needless to say, President-elect Obama and Benedict XVI will have several differences of opinion. Watch for US Catholic leaders to apply pressure on Obama over his stances on abortion and stem-cell research, among others. At the same time, the Vatican will want a positive relationship with Obama to help promote international peace and the safety of Christians throughout the world. In this good cop/bad cop approach to the Administration, the Pope, naturally, will be "above the fray."
Needless to say, this theory has proven correct, as American Bishops have protested several of Obama's policies, seen especially in their anger over Obama's invitation to speak at Notre Dame's commencement ceremony. The Vatican, however, has not taken an antagonistic approach towards Obama.

Because of President Obama's recent meeting with the Pope, the relationship between the presidency and the papacy is again under scrutiny. To give more credence to this theory, The New Republic last week stated:
The conservative minority among the bishops as well as political activists on the Catholic right have insisted on judging the president only on the basis of his support for legal abortion and stem cell research.

But the Vatican clearly views Obama through a broader prism. Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the papal nuncio in Washington, has privately warned American bishops that harsh attacks on Obama threaten to make the church look partisan.
No one pretends that the Vatican is at peace with Obama's views on the life issues, and Benedict mentioned the church's resistance to abortion at three different points in this week's economic encyclical, "Charity in Truth."

But the pope and many of his advisers also see Obama as a potential ally on such questions as development in the Third World, their shared approach to a quest for peace in the Middle East, and the opening of a dialogue with Islam.
Last week, the New York Times also highlighted the difference in relationship between American Bishops and the Vatican. Money quote:
Both the pope and the president recognize that despite their differences, they have an opportunity to join forces on international issues that are mutual priorities: Israel and the Palestinians, climate change, nuclear nonproliferation, increased aid to poor nations and immigration reform.
“You’ll never get Rome to admit it,” Father Christensen said, but the Vatican has a different approach than the American bishops to working with governments. “Some of the critics of the president think you have to be at war, and the pope is saying, there’s a different way to proceed here and it’s very essential to the church’s approach, in that what you want is consensus.”
Even after six months in office, it is clear that the Pope views Pres. Obama as an ally in world affairs, despite Obama's relatively contentious relationship with Catholic leaders stateside. Expect this complex dynamic to remain constant over Obama's presidential tenure.

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