The media made a big deal about the inaugural meeting between His Holiness Pope Francis and President Barack Obama. It was a meeting between the most popular leader on earth with the former most popular leader. The upside for Obama is that having a photo of him with the Holy Father may lead non-practicing Catholics to conclude that the pope supports the president’s agenda. The downside for practicing Catholics is that the media and many of the American people will act as though the pope is on Team Obama. After all, if the Church really opposes Obama’s promotion of abortion and gay marriage and his administration’s attacks on religious liberty, why would the pope meet with him or be seen smiling with him?
I would not meet with the president but I am not the pope. He believes in outreach and he is a world leader meeting with another leader. The pope was not endorsing Obama’s plan for this country. In fact, according to the Vatican, the pope and the president discussed issues of concern to the American Church including religious liberty. Recall that the Supreme Court just heard the case of religiously motivated corporations which demand that their First Amendment rights not be abridged by the contraception mandate buried within Obamacare.
The pope’s version of events differs from the administration’s. It seems that the pope used the meeting as an opportunity to defend life and religious freedom. The pope gave his latest encyclical, The Joy of the Gospel, to the president to read. Having read the encyclical, I know if Obama bothers to peruse it that he will find it educational and informative. It is the pope’s vision for the Church and the world based on the teachings of Jesus, Whom Obama claims to worship along with millions of other Americans.
Interestingly, I saw numerous statements in the encyclical that were previously attributed to the pope which in context did not have the same impact as when they were taken out of context. The pope is trying to get the world back to the values of Christendom. It involves a balancing of individual rights and community obligations. In America we have taken to extremes with liberals swinging toward socialism and communism, which the Catholic Church has always condemned, and the libertarian-conservatives becoming intensely individualistic at the expense of their fellow neighbor.
This is yet another reason why the federal government should not be getting involved in that which is beyond the powers granted to it in the U.S. Constitution. It is conservative Catholics who have it right. We believe in individual rights but they are balanced by our obligations to our fellow man. I think the pope understands that as have all popes. We have the right to support ourselves and our family but we have duties toward the less fortunate. But our acts must be voluntary since we have free will and should be motivated by our faith, not by government compulsion.
When government gets involved, it gets it wrong since our current state of polarized politics trumps our historical values as a nation. The ascendancy of some groups should not lead to the violation of the rights of less popular Americans under the First Amendment. This is why the right of a Catholic business not to provide a wedding cake to a homosexual couple should be respected. And why people of faith who know that some forms of birth control can be abortifacients should not have to violate their consciences because some women want to spend money on their lattes and iPhones instead of on their monthly pills.
I hope that the president is humble enough to learn from the pope and that he reads the encyclical. I also hope the American people are not fooled by the photo-op into thinking the pope has given the president his blessing on his war on Christianity. I am sure Francis prays for Obama since he is concerned that the most free nation on earth is losing its way. No smile can change that but prayer and repentance can.