President Barack Obama has attracted attention for planning to meet Pope Francis in the White House with a motley assortment of dissenting Catholics and others opposed to Catholic doctrine. Now, the Vatican is signaling that it isn’t happy.
Pope Francis is scheduled to meet Obama on the South Lawn of the White House next Wednesday, Sept. 23. Among those invited by Obama to meet Francis are Gene Robinson, the first gay Episcopal bishop in the U.S., Mateo Williamson, the transgender head of the LGBT Catholic group Dignity USA, and Sister Simone Campbell, a nun who lobbied for Obamacare’s passage despite the fact that it funds abortions and compels Catholic institutions to provide birth control for employees.
While the Vatican hasn’t publicly complained about the guest lineup, an anonymous Vatican official has told The Wall Street Journal they are not happy. According to the official, the Vatican fears Obama is attempting to lure Francis into a photo op where him being photographed next to these activists will be interpreted as an endorsement of their activities, and a repudiation of longstanding Catholic doctrine.
This concern is heightened, the official said, because Obama doesn’t appear to have invited anybody to the White House from the U.S. anti-abortion movement, which has very close ties to the Catholic Church.
If Obama really is planning to trap Francis with a photo op, it wouldn’t be the first time it’s happened to Francis. In July, Francis was caught off-guard on a visit to Bolivia when president Evo Morales presented him with a Communist-themed crucifix. (RELATED: Watch Pope Francis React To Receiving A Statue Of Jesus Crucified On A Hammer And Sickle)
Overall, though, the Obama administration has been trying to emphasize the ways it agrees with the Vatican, rather than the social issues like abortion where they diverge sharply. Vice President Joe Biden (who is Catholic) says he’s read all of Francis’s recent encyclical on climate change, and Francis’s visit to a Philadelphia prison could bolster Obama’s own push for criminal justice reform.
But friction may be inevitable, especially if the pope feels put off by Obama’s guest list in the White House. He plans to speak on the topic of religious liberty during his visit to Philadelphia, which may provide an opportunity to condemn Obamacare’s contraception mandate.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest has downplayed the importance of individual guests, telling reporters Thursday that there will be “15,000 other people” at the event.
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