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Same Pope, Different Moral Authority

A little over two years ago, President Bush met with Pope Benedict XVI for the first time. News accounts of the meeting emphasized the Pope's opposition to the War in Iraq. This theme also dominated reports of the visits between President Bush and Pope John Paul II. Each visit by President Bush to the Vatican served as a catalyst for anti-American and anti-war protests, with thousands of protesters filling the streets of Rome in opposition to the US-led war in Iraq.


I personally love this headline -- "Pope Expected to Challenge Bush on U.S. Policies" -- because it so nicely encapsulates the expectations of the liberal press. Whenever the Bush Administration strayed from "Christian principles" (a juicy bit of "hypocrisy" given President Bush's candor about his Christian faith, yet an expected turn of events because all good liberal reporters know that conservatives are nothing but warmongering, greedy bastards) the Pope was supposed to smack the White House back in line.

Today, that whole scene just seems so "2008".

On Friday, Pope Benedict met for the first time with President Barack Obama. But instead of the President's visit making headline news, with liberals cheering from the sidelines expecting a Papal smackdown and thousands of effigy-laden protesters clogging the streets of Rome, the meeting passed by quickly and quietly, with scant media attention. And Newsweek magazine (the official news weekly of wealthy, more affluent Americans) even treated its readers to a puffed-up piece of nonsense by Kathleen Kennedy Townsend entitled "Without A Doubt: Why Barack Obama represents American Catholics better than the pope does". Here's a sample:

... Obama's pragmatic approach to divisive policy (his notion that we should acknowledge the good faith underlying opposing viewpoints) and his social-justice agenda reflect the views of American Catholic laity much more closely than those vocal bishops and pro-life activists. When Obama meets the pope tomorrow, they'll politely disagree about reproductive freedoms and homosexuality, but Catholics back home won't care, because they know Obama's on their side. In fact, Obama's agenda is closer to their views than even the pope's.

It's fitting that Obama's visit comes just days after the publication of "Charity in Truth," a Vatican encyclical that declares unions, regulation of capitalism's excesses, and environmentalism to be ethical imperatives. The document gives moral credence to Obama's message and to progressive politics writ large.

In March 2007, about three months before that first meeting between George W. Bush and Pope Benedict XVI, Zogby International published its semi-annual "Contemporary Catholic Trends." Here are a few excerpted statistics from the report, which was compiled from an extensive survey of 1,522 Roman Catholics:

  • 68 percent and 47 percent strongly agreed that priests and the pope are doing a good job, respectively.
  • Seventy-two percent agreed that their faith provides quite a bit (34 percent) or a great deal (38 percent) of guidance in their personal life.
  • Fifty-nine percent said religion does not currently have enough influence in American public life.
  • Respondents were split - 50 percent supporting to 45 percent opposing - U.S. government efforts to address the reduction of income differences between rich and poor.
  • 63 percent of respondents believed the war in Iraq has increased the chances of a future terrorist attack in the United States, yet 43 percent felt that the war was necessary as a part of the larger war against terrorism. A majority of U.S. Catholics (56 percent) believed the Patriot Act made the U.S. safer from a terrorist attack.
  • Seventy-one percent said that stabilizing Iraq is necessary for the future safety of the United States.

By and large the mainstream media ignored those survey results when reporting on President Bush's meeting with Pope Benedict XVI, even though with only a minimal amount of effort the Zogby survey data could have been used to show that American Catholics in fact had a great deal in common with the policies of the Bush Administration. Obviously that was not the narrative that guided the mainstream media representation of encounters between the Vatican and the White House during the Bush years. Even though the press came down hard against the Bush Administration, conservatives never went out of their way to claim that President Bush was a "better Catholic" than the Pope. But now that a Democrat is in the White House, liberals like Kathleen Kennedy Townsend find it imperative to find as many similarities as possible between the beliefs of American Catholics and White House policies.

What could have caused liberals to suddenly feel the need to qualify the moral authority of the Pope?

Some people believed that Pope Benedict's meeting with Barack Obama amounted to a slap in the face of conservative American Catholics, who have criticized Obama's liberal stands and actions on abortion, a silly notion considering the official status of both men. Even more obviously, they didn't understand Benedict or know his history. When Obama met Benedict, the Pope began with a lesson on the fundamental nature of human life:
... "In the course of their cordial exchanges, the conversation turned first of all to questions which are in the interest of all and which constitute a great challenge ... such as the defense and promotion of life and the right to abide by one's conscience," the statement said.

Even in his gift to the U.S. leader, the pope sought to underscore his beliefs. Benedict gave Obama a copy of a Vatican document on bioethics that hardened the church's opposition to using embryos for stem cell research, cloning and in-vitro fertilization. Obama supports stem cell research.

"Yes, this is what we had talked about," Obama said, telling the pope he would read it on the flight to his next stop, Ghana.

There is no word in this report about what Obama gave the Pope as a gift, although it does say that Obama brought a letter from Ted Kennedy and a request to keep the Senator in the Pope's prayers. One hopes that Obama is getting better protocol advice on gift exchanges than he did with Gordon Brown's visit and his audience with Queen Elizabeth. The Pope's gift, though, sent a message. The Vatican later confirmed that Benedict had only given copies of his recent encyclical on human dignity in economics to other heads of state, not the policy position on bioethics.

Finally -- a real Papal smackdown. Only ... this was not the smackdown that Liberals were looking for: a conversation dominated by the Pope and centered around the sanctity of human life and the Church's opposition to the destruction of human embryos for medical research; a special copy of a Papal encyclical on bioethics which no other head of state has received.

All of the sudden, frightened liberals have started circling the wagons and questioning the absolute moral authority that they so eagerly gave the Vatican during the height of the Iraq war.

A decade ago, American conservatives wondered if Pope John Paul II would ever speak directly to President Clinton about his numerous marital infidelities. Adultery is, after all, a sin. Yet we also wondered if the mainstream media would actually feel compelled to report on such a conversation. With a Democrat in the White House again, we seem to be right back in the same situation. The moral authority given to the Pope over matters of war (a war that is still ongoing by the way, despite the overall lack of mainstream media interest since January 20th) suddenly seems to be a bad thing when applied to abortion and bioethics. So much for the "fierce moral urgency of change."


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Comments (13)

No shock. Just like it's a... (Below threshold)

No shock. Just like it's a scandal when a Republican sends raunchy text messages to pages and needs to resign, but when a Democrat sodomizes them... he has a long career ahead of him.

Sorry to get OT but why hav... (Below threshold)

Sorry to get OT but why haven't we heard about the Duke professor who has allegedly sodomized his adopted child? I wonder if he signed the petition against the Duke Lacrosse players?

Back on topic: Obama does represent many American Catholics who are badly in need of confession.

"Forgive me father, for I have sinned, ya see I just put one over on all these Chrysler bond holders..."

I just love it when some ai... (Below threshold)

I just love it when some airhead columnist tells me that someone represents me better than the head of my own religion. After all it is not like Obama has been doing thengs that go directly against the teachings of Catholcism since he took office. He reversed the Mexico City Policy in what? A day and a half.
But after all, Obama is all things to all people and aparently with a cahnge in local he can be a pontiff to.

It has long been my content... (Below threshold)

It has long been my contention that Kennedys qualify as Catholics in name only, not in practice. Nonsense is what they all speak.

Obama finally got to speak ... (Below threshold)

Obama finally got to speak with someone for whom deciding when life begins and whether it is right or wrong to extinguish a life are not BEYOND HIS PAY GRADE. There is, of course, no reason to believe that BHO - the ultimate Obamaniac - listened to anything PB16 had to say.

To: 19%ers (White, rural, r... (Below threshold)

To: 19%ers (White, rural, right-wing fringe idiots from "real" America)

From: 58%ers (Smart, educated, urban and urbane REAL Americans who are effectively working to create a more civilized, European-style world.)

Ha Ha Ha! You hear us? He He He Hee Hee Hooooo....

We love it! We love that you guys have your underwear in a bunch, that you are brimming with anger, that you can barely see because of your apoplexy. We will enjoy it for the next eight years. Oh the world is changing, and it is sweet. Universal health care is on the way, and nothing you can do will stop it. You will spend the next 50 years trying to dismantle it to no avail, just like you've been trying to dismantle Social Security since the 1930s. The energy bill will change the planet and the US for the better, and there's nothing you can do about it. You hear us? NOTHING!!!!


We love it that you love Sarah Palin. Please please please nominate her for President in 2012. Nothing will ensure another four years of progress than that. Oh sure, at some point, another Republican will get elected (2020?). No majority lasts forever (Mr. Rove). But that person will not be able to undo the progress that the Obama administration will have set in stone. Social Security and Civil Rights are now a fait accompli, and though idiots still try to attack them at the fringes, they aren't going anywhere. The same will happen with all the Obama programs.

And by the way, your numbers will keep dwindling. You are 19% of the population right now, but demographics are not on your side. Soon, white people will be a minority. Our increasingly numerous Black and Hispanic brethren and our growing urban centers will ensure your voices will continue to be marginalized until some day in the not-so-distant future they will be extinguished, just as backward, reactionary, pseudo-christian redneck zealotry always is.

Enjoy it while you can, suckers!!!! BWAAAAA-HAAAAAA-HAAAAAAA!
notiz=Courageous of you, using a proxy to post this.

anonymous - So, how's those... (Below threshold)

anonymous - So, how's those Obamanomics working out for ya?

As for Kathy KENNEDY Townsend, what else would you expect from a limousine liberal?

#6... keep on pasting the s... (Below threshold)

#6... keep on pasting the same comment everywhere you go. At the end of the day, you'll still be a douche.

The last time I checked, wh... (Below threshold)

The last time I checked, white males make up about 1/3 of the population of the US, and white females slightly more. I have always been proud of my melting pot heritage, being from various European parts in origin and I am glad that others are likewise as proud of theirs. But that makes me no better or less than any other man. What I am most thankful for is being lucky enough to be American and having, until now, the freedoms afforded to me as a natural state of being a citizen.

It distresses me that there are those who so cling to their envy that they are willing to drag the country down just so that everything is "fair". My life has never been fair, but it has been filled with opportunity. I'll take liberty and opportunity over "fair" if that is the choice.

RE #6Well fortunen... (Below threshold)

RE #6

Well fortunently for us you have Obama on your side and every day he and his minions in congress are revealing how morally, ideologically and of course fiscally bankrupt your crazy ideas are. Pretty soon even the Media wont be able to cover up the fact that the Emperor has no clothes; or brains, moral integrity, guts, honesty, etc, etc, etc....
I have already seen liberal friends regretting their primary vote for Obama and it is only a matter of time before that becomes regret for voting him president and regret for their whole crazy ideology. Born again coservatives will arise everyday thanks to Obama's efforts. I only hope they will appear fast enough to stop him before he drives America of the metaphorical cliff to our not so metaphorical doom.

I suppose Newsweak missed t... (Below threshold)

I suppose Newsweak missed the part about the protests when Obama spoke at Notre Dame. Obama is in tune with the liberal professors. However, the students and other Catholic alums? Not so much.

"...puffed-up piece of nons... (Below threshold)

"...puffed-up piece of nonsense by Kathleen Kennedy Townsend entitled "Without A Doubt: Why Barack Obama represents American Catholics better than the pope does"."

With all of the evidence to the contrary, the press still keeps up the "Obama is the savior" theme. Did they publish another halo picture in with the article?

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend w... (Below threshold)

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend was Lt. Governor of Maryland for two terms (8 years). She was a light weight in that role and lost decisively in an overwhelmingly Democratic state when she ran for the Governor's slot.

My faith and the version of it practiced by her family (uncles JFK & Teddy) have very little in common. She was more capable as a Lt. Governor than she is as a theological demographer. Mebbe she's auditioning for Theological Czar!






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