Magazine article The Christian Century

Abortion Top Topic as Obama Meets with Pope

Magazine article The Christian Century

Abortion Top Topic as Obama Meets with Pope

Article excerpt

President Obama met Pope Benedict XVI for the first time in a closed-door meeting at the Vatican that focused on the Catholic Church's opposition to abortion but covered other topics as well.

The pope gave Obama a copy of his recent encyclical on the global economy, which calls for a redistribution of wealth, among other things. But Benedict also gave him reading material on Catholic bioethics teaching, which Benedict's personal secretary said would help Obama "better understand" why the church's positions are at odds with the U.S. president's.

Obama's visit to the Vatican July 10 came at the end of the G-8 summit in L'Aquila, 70 miles northeast of Rome. In a departure from papal protocol, the meeting was scheduled for the late afternoon to accommodate the U.S. president's busy schedule.

A Vatican statement released shortly after the half-hour meeting made it clear that while the two men discussed a number of issues, abortion was at the top of the pope's agenda.

"In the course of their cordial exchanges, the conversation turned first of all to questions which are in the interests of all.... such as the defense and promotion of life and the fight to abide by one's conscience," the Vatican statement said.

The mention of conscience was an apparent reference to the conscience clauses that exempt health-care professionals from participating in the provision of services to which they have moral objections. Obama has moved to scrap the protections, which were approved as former president George W. Bush was leaving office.

Even so, Obama "told the pope of his commitment to reduce the number of abortions and of his attention to and" respect for the positions of the Catholic Church," Vatican spokesperson Federico Lombardi told reporters after the meeting.

"The Vatican wants good relations with the Obama administration," said Massimo Franco, a Rome-based expert on U.S.-Vatican relations and author of the book Parallel Empires. Though disappointed that Obama does not share Bush's stands on abortion and stem cell research, Franco said, Vatican diplomats welcome many of Obama's international efforts, such as his overtures to the Muslim world.

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The Vatican and Washington "are beginning a new phase of an alliance based on pragmatism," Franco said, that is "realistic, not ideological. …

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