The White House disclosed over the weekend that President Barack Obama is to make a weeklong foreign tour in July that will include Russia, Italy and Ghana. However, noticeably missing from the list is the Vatican.
It’s been widely thought that Obama would visit Pope Benedict XVI when the president attends the G8 summit in the Italian town of L’Aquila July 8-10. But there was no mention of the Holy Father or the Holy See in the statement, despite the fact that, according to sources in Rome, the president will be staying at the residence of the U.S. ambassador to Italy in Rome.
The White House says the reason is because the precise details of his tour have yet to be worked out. “We won’t go into the details of who he’s meeting and the places he’ll be visiting until nearer the time,” said a spokesman, adding that the president’s “primary purpose” for coming to Italy is the G8 summit. “I imagine as we get substantially closer to the date, we’ll have more details.”
The Vatican is hopeful of a presidential visit. Father Ciro Benedettini, deputy director of the Vatican Press Office, told me the Holy See is “waiting” to hear from the administration but noted the U.S. embassy to the Holy See is still without an ambassador.
Father Benedettini said it’s usual for a visiting head of state to visit the Holy Father when passing through Rome, but he added that so far “nothing concrete” had been planned. According to Rome sources, just over a week ago the Vatican had still not received “first contact” from the administration to start visit preparations.
In all likelihood, Obama will have an audience with the Pope. But the fact that the Vatican was not on the itinerary released over the weekend, that steps have hardly been taken to arrange a meeting, and that a Vatican ambassador has yet to be appointed is perhaps revealing of how low down on the list of priorities the Holy See is at the White House.