Why aren’t the Catholics — especially the American bishops — who made such a fuss about Notre Dame inviting President Barack Obama to speak at commencement screaming about Pope Benedict XVI granting him an audience?
The New York Times pondered this question:
“You’ll never get Rome to admit it,” Father [Drew] 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.”
Christensen is the editor of America, a weekly Jesuit publication.
Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne has this take:
Obama will have his audience with Benedict just three days after the release of a papal encyclical on social justice that places the pope well to Obama’s left on economics. What a delightful surprise it would be for a pope to tell our president that on some matters, he’s just too conservative. …
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 the president threaten to make the church look partisan.
Abortion is just one issue among many. I’ve long wondered why some people elevate it above all others. No one will ever find a politician who agrees with them on everything. For many Catholics, for example, George W. Bush was right on abortion but wrong on the death penalty. I won’t even begin to address even thornier issues like immigration and social justice.
The Vatican is very much like Obama — and very unlike many on the extreme religious right — in its approach of trying to build from common ground rather than focusing solely on differences.