Obama to meet with the pope

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
Font Size:

President Barack Obama will visit the pope in March, indicating a temporary truce between progressives and the socially conservative Catholic Church.

“The president will continue on to Vatican City on March 27 to meet with His Holiness, Pope Francis… [to talk about] their shared commitment to fighting poverty and growing inequality,” says the Jan. 21 White House statement.

The meeting will come at the end of a presidential trip to a nuclear-security summit in Holland, and a meeting with the progressive leaders of the European Union, which is centralizing economic and civic regulation throughout Europe amid growing protests by nationalists.

The Catholic Church and Obama’s progressives share some views, especially a willingness to intervene in the economy.

For more that 100 years, the church has argued that government should work to level economic inequality, and the new Pope Francis has elevated that goal amid the post-2008 economic downturn.

Obama’s is trying to push the issue in the run up to the 2014 midterm election, though his policies — including increased federal regulation of the economy, demotion of the family’s role, and the Federal Reserve’s policy of boosting Wall Street prices — have sharply boosted economic inequality in the United States.

Catholic bishops also share Obama’s goal of winning an amnesty for at least 11 million illegals.

But progressives and Catholics differ sharply on who gets to play the leading role in shaping civic culture.

In general, the progressives’ post-1960s diverse coalition wants to take over the church’s immensely influential 2,000-year role in revolutionizing worldwide civic ideals about the family, sex, economic and social equality, and about the limited role of government.

The fight escalated in 2012, when progressives used their presidential power to impose unprecedented regulations that would force church groups to fund contraception-related and abortion-related services for their employees. Catholic leaders said White House officials misled them during and after negotiations over the regulations.

In turn, Obama and his progressive allies used the church’s opposition to the regulation to declare that Republicans were waging a “War on Women.” In the election, Obama won a lopsided majority of single women, but lost among married women.

The Catholic hierarchy had some success in rallying white Catholics to vote against Obama’s re-election, but had little sway over immigrant Latino Catholics.

After several lawsuits, the regulation has been put on hold while judges consider whether the government has the constitutional authority to make religious groups violate their core religious beliefs.

But the progressives and Catholics differ over several other critical issues.

For example, progressives try to champion state-run child rearing in place of the autonomous family, but Catholics cite scientific data as they argue that the family deserves credit for being the best place to raise children.

Progressives also argue that homosexuality should have an equal social and legal status as heterosexuality, while the church argues that heterosexuality deserves more recognition and support because it is normal for more than 95 percent of people and is beneficial to society.

The progressives’ feminist wing denies any significant restrictions on abortion, while Catholics argue that unborn humans are human enough to deserve legal rights.

Progressives also promote government subsidies for sexual activities, such as free contraceptives, disease testing, disease treatment and abortion. The church argues that sexual energy and federal funding is best channeled into marriages and child-rearing.

Follow Neil on Twitter