President Obama is now a veteran of the gilded palace routine–the Kremlin, Buckingham, Quirinale, he’s been to them all. This afternoon he will visit another of the most elaborately-decorated buildings in the world, the Vatican, and according to his aides, he is particularly excited, but not for the architecture. “He recognizes that this is much more than your typical state visit,” said Denis McDonough, one of Obama’s national security advisors. He has spoken to Pope Benedict XVI once before, in December, when Obama was still president-elect.
Asked to elaborate on Obama’s excitement, McDonough explained just why the Holy See visit will be so important for Obama. “The President, in both his words and in his deeds, expresses many things that many Catholics recognize as fundamental to our teaching,” he said. McDonough continued:
One is that the President often refers to the fundamental belief that each person is endowed with dignity, and as it relates to the issues I work on most frequently with the President, the President often underscores that dignity of people is a driving goal in what we hope to accomplish in development policy, for example, and in foreign policy. That’s one.
Two, I’ve also heard the President speak very movingly about what Cardinal Bernadin called the seamless garment of Catholic teaching. That garment speaks to not just taking care of the poor and the needy but also investing in the kind of health care infrastructure that would ensure that people like those on the South Side of Chicago, who the President is very familiar with are oftentimes finding their health care not in publicly funded hospitals but in Catholic hospitals, for example.
So the President I think has been very impacted not just as he’s talked publicly about his time on the South Side when he was funded partly as a community organizer by a Catholic Church campaign for human development funding, but also as a younger person when his mother was doing so many things consistent with that tradition as somebody focused on economic development and issues similar to that in poor communities overseas.
As for the two men’s differences, particularly on issues of abortion, McDonough predicted some civil discussion. “There are issues on which they’ll agree, issues on which they’ll disagree, and issues on which they’ll agree to continue to work on going forward,” the aide said.