Saturday, January 03, 2009

Forging a New Relationship

Controversial Issues Pose a Challenge for Obama and Pope

Washington Post
By Francis X. Rocca
Religion News Service
Saturday, January 3, 2009; Page B07

VATICAN CITY -- In the 24 years since the United States and the Holy See established full diplomatic ties, relations have never been closer or warmer than during the administration of President Bush.

The two sides broke over the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, but Bush's personal esteem for popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, and his agreement with Catholic teaching on such controversial issues as abortion, embryonic stem-cell research and same-sex marriage, have fostered a special rapport. Bush has met six times with the leader of the Catholic Church, more often than any other U.S. president.

The relationship between the Vatican and the White House is bound to change this month with the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama, whose support for abortion rights and embryonic stem-cell research has drawn denunciations from a number of church leaders. Yet informed observers agree that both sides have strong incentives and opportunities to avoid conflict and build on the recent history of collaboration.

Relations got off to a cordial start the day after the Nov. 4 election, when Benedict sent a telegram to Obama, noting the "historic" nature of his victory and assuring him of his prayers that God would "sustain you and the beloved American people in your efforts . . . to build a world of peace, solidarity and justice."

Obama, in turn, called the pope a week later to thank him for the telegram, although neither one would describe their conversation.


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