Thursday, March 27, 2014

Of Popes and Presidents

Looks pretty friendly to me 
So President Obama met with Pope Francis at the Vatican this morning and the Catholic blogosphere has lit up like Times Square on New Year’s Eve with the krazies saying that the President looked “chagrined” and “uncomfortable” as he met the Pope.  The photos tell quite a different story with the President in his usual strong stride and ear-to-ear smile.  And then there are conflicting stories about how the conversation went with the White House stressing points of agreement—immigration reform and checks on economic disparity with the wealthier growing wealthier at the expense of the poor who are growing poorer as we as seeing more and more people slide downhill from the middle class into the poverty range.  Catholics unhappy with Obama are quoting Vatican sources saying that the Pope “chastised” the President over Obamacare and issues of religious freedom.  Whatever, but it ended with everyone smiling and with the President inviting the Holy Father to the White House. 
What actually happened was a very cordial meeting.  These meetings are always cordial.  The Pope played Good Cop to his Bad Cop Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin.  That is the way these Vatican meetings go.  The substance meeting is with the Secretary of State.  That is where there is hard talk.  The papal meetings are all about everyone behaving in the sand-box and getting along.  And the fact of the matter is the Pope and President agree on far more than they disagree on.  Even Obamacare.  The problem of the Holy See with Obamacare is not universal health coverage.  Popes have spoken about the “right” to health care being a universal right.  Italians—and Argentines and French and Canadians and English and Dutch and Norwegians and just about everyone else in the developed world—take universal health care for granted.  The Church’s problem is making the Church pay for coverage for procedures and medications that the Church believes to be intrinsically wrong.   There would be no problem with Obamacare if Catholic institutions were not required to provide coverage for contraception for their employees.  I hate to be cynical, but the bishops wouldn’t be complaining about individual Catholic employers having to cover their employees—they just don’t want to do it.  I will give them credit that I believe their reservation isn’t economic, that it is a genuine moral objection.  And I am anxious to see what the Supreme Court does with the issue.  I think the Obama administration was foolish not to back down on this one, at least as far as the Church is concerned.  But to be honest, the fight is no longer about contraception coverage.  It is an opportunity for the secular left to take a couple of swings at the Catholic Church.   The Administration doesn’t want to appear to back down to the Church’s demands and look like it is caving in in front of its base in the various left-wing lobbies that want to use this issue to slam the Church.  And of course our bishops fall right into that trap.  When will they learn to identify the real issues and respond to them rather than to react to the red flags with which they are taunted by those groups who are angry with the Church over women’s issues, gay issues, or just angry because some nun whacked their knuckles with a ruler in the sixth grade back in 1962?
C’mon guys, get on the Francis bandwagon.  Get out there in front for immigrants.  Seize the moral high-ground.  Talk about the millions who are trapped in low-income jobs with the consequent challenges to education, diet, health-care, and human dignity while some people in our society make 462 times the annual salary of their average employee.  I am no fan of the communion-wars but If you want to refuse politicians or rainbow sash folk communion, refuse it to anyone who makes more than five times the average annual salary of his workers.  Tell your communicants that discrimination against people based on their legal status is a sin.  And for heaven’s sake, let the gays march in the Saint Patrick’s Day parade—and come down the cathedral steps and shake their hands.  If Jesus could drink from the bucket of the Samaritan woman, you can be seen chatting with a LGBT person.   And, perhaps most of all, remind us that the Church says that health care is a human right and that if not Obamacare, we still need to do something to make sure that each and every person here—legally or illegally—have access to good health care.  Be a Christian and stop prostituting yourself to the selfish interests of the worst elements in our society.    I guess I wouldn’t make a good pope –I don’t always play nice.  But maybe Secretary of State. 

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