Obama to meet pope while in Italy for G-8

Vatican open to president's views

By Victor L. Simpson
Associated Press / June 25, 2009
  • Email|
  • Print|
  • Reprints|
  • |
Text size +

VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI and President Obama will meet on July 10, a much anticipated Vatican audience with a president under attack by some American bishops for his support of abortion rights.

Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said yesterday that the Vatican had informed the White House that the pope will be available to meet the president that afternoon.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs confirmed the meeting and told reporters in Washington that Michelle Obama would accompany the president to the Vatican audience.

The meeting will be at the end of Obama’s stay in Italy for a G-8 summit meeting in the earthquake-stricken city of L’Aquila and just before he leaves for Ghana.

Such meetings in the afternoon are unusual for the tradition-conscious Vatican - most are held at midday.

The Vatican clearly sought to accommodate Obama’s busy schedule, a sign of Pope Benedict’s interest in meeting the American president.

The Vatican has been openly interested in Obama’s views, despite his support for abortion rights and embryonic stem cell research, although some American Catholic bishops have been hostile to his administration.

The pope broke Vatican protocol the day after Obama was elected, sending a personal note of congratulations rather than waiting to send an official telegram on inauguration day.

L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican’s daily newspaper, gave Obama a positive review after his first 100 days in office, saying in a front-page editorial than even on ethical questions Obama had not confirmed the “radical’’ direction he discussed during the campaign.

Tensions grew when Obama was invited to receive an honorary degree at the leading US Catholic university, Notre Dame. Dozens of US bishops denounced the university and the local bishop boycotted the ceremony.

Yet L’Osservatore concluded that Obama was looking for some common ground with his speech, noting he asked Americans to work together to reduce the number of abortions.

Some conservative American Catholics have criticized the Vatican newspaper for its accommodating stance, and some American prelates at the Vatican have been openly critical of Obama.

Former St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke, who now heads a Vatican tribunal, said the US Democratic Party risks becoming a “party of death.’’

In an interview with an Italian Catholic newspaper, Burke was quoted as criticizing the party for its stands on bioethical issues, especially in defense of abortion rights.

Pope Benedict had a warm relationship with Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, an abortion opponent, though the Vatican opposed the Iraq war.

Polls have shown that Obama received a majority of Catholic votes, especially from the growing number of Hispanic Catholics.