The Pope and the President

President Obama arrives July 9 at the G8 Summit meetings in L'Aquila, Italy.
President Obama arrives July 9 at the G8 Summit meetings in L'Aquila, Italy. (photo: Reuters)

Pope Benedict XVI will meet tomorrow with President Barack Obama for the first time.

The Register spoke recently with Carl Anderson, supreme knight of the Knights of Columbus, about the upcoming meeting. The full text of the interview is available here.

Here’s an excerpt from the interview:

What are your hopes for President Obama’s meeting with the Pope?
Certainly, there are great expectations. Every circumstance in which he [Obama] finds himself, the expectations are huge. The diplomatic relationship between the Vatican and the U.S. is hugely important, obviously. The U.S. is the economic and military superpower, and you have the Vatican as really the global voice of conscience for a billion people. One out of four Americans is Catholic, so it’s a very important relationship both ways. I think that the Vatican has already signaled that it wishes to work with the president on some of these important challenges, like the economy, peace in the Middle East and global poverty. So I think there’s a possibility for great good to come out of the meeting. The president signaled in his speech at Notre Dame what he described as “irreconcilable differences.” It’s unfortunate that there are.

The White House’s press secretary, Robert Gibbs, said the Pope and Obama will discuss “their shared belief in the dignity of all people.” Yet Obama clearly doesn’t believe in the dignity of the unborn, so how can this be true?
If what’s in Corriere della Sera is accurate, he [the Pope] will say that true development is not possible without an openness to life. So there is a way in which both the president’s and the Pope’s view of human dignity coincide, but there’s also an area in which they are irreconcilably different, so we just have to see. I think that will be a consistent challenge for the president, because if we look at the previous president, there was agreement on those fundamental questions of human dignity. There was disagreement on pragmatic and prudential matters in which the Church historically has said reasonable men can apply their prudence or practical reasoning differently, but not so on questions like abortion. So it’s a more difficult relationship today, but still a very important relationship.

But can there really be effective cooperation on those matters where there is commonality in view of the president’s views on abortion? Doesn’t it compromise the relationship in some way?
To some extent, yes, because there is a view of international development which has many adherents in the U.S. and in the current administration — which is that population control is absolutely essential for economic development. Obviously, the contrary view would be held by the Vatican. So while one would hope you could get agreement on questions of economic development internationally, for part of it you’d still have this irreconcilable difference which would have deep, practical consequences.