Pope Francis talks with U.S. President Barack Obama during a private audience at the Vatican March 27. (CNS photo/Stefano Spaziani, pool)
Today President Barack Obama and Pope Francis met for the
first time, in an encounter at the Vatican that included a one-on-one conversation
running nearly an hour. The Vatican released the
following statement after the meeting, which comes during the president’s
six-day international trip:
morning, 27 March 2014, the Hon. Barack H. Obama, President of the United
States of America, was received in audience by His Holiness Pope Francis, after
which he met with His Eminence Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State, and
Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, Secretary for Relations with States.
cordial meetings, views were exchanged on some current international themes and
it was hoped that, in areas of conflict, there would be respect for
humanitarian and international law and a negotiated solution between the
context of bilateral relations and cooperation between Church and State, there
was a discussion on questions of particular relevance for the Church in that
country, such as the exercise of the rights to religious freedom, life and
conscientious objection, as well as the issue of immigration reform. Finally,
the common commitment to the eradication of trafficking of human persons in the
world was stated.
The mention of religious freedom and issues of conscience
is particularly notable; just two days ago, the Obama administration argued
before the Supreme Court in defense of its HHS mandate, which would require
employers to provide health insurance coverage of contraceptionincluding drugs
and devices that can induce early abortionsdespite religious objections.
Following Obama’s private meeting with the Pope, the two
exchanged gifts, as is customary on such occasions. From Francis X.
Rocca’s CNS report:
At the end of their talk, Pope Francis gave Obama a bound
edition of his apostolic exhortation "Evangelii Gaudium" ("The
Joy of the Gospel"), published last November. The gift prompted the
president to respond: "You know, I actually will probably read this in the
Oval Office when I am deeply frustrated, and I am sure it will give me strength
and will calm me."
hope," the pope replied with a laugh.
December speech, Obama quoted a passage from the exhortation in which the pope
lamented: "How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly
homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses
Francis also presented Obama with a pair of bronze medallions, one portraying
an angel that brings together the world's North and South in "solidarity
and peace founded on justice"; and another commemorating the 17th-century
construction of the colonnades around St. Peter's Square.
president's gift to the pope was a selection of fruit and vegetable seeds from
the White House garden, in a box made from reclaimed wood used to build
Baltimore's Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed
Virgin Mary, the first Catholic cathedral in the United States.
you have a chance to come to the White House, we can show you our garden as
well," Obama said.
course," the pope replied.
UPDATE: At a press
conference given after his meeting with the Holy Father, President Obama downplayed discussions of religious freedom issues and the HHS mandate, saying
that conscience protections were “discussed briefly” when the president met
with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, but that Francis “did not touch in detail on the Affordable
Care Act” in their conversation. According to President Obama, the two
subjects he discussed most with the Holy Father were income inequality (which
was not mentioned at all in the Vatican’s press release on the meeting) and “the
challenges of conflict and how elusive peace is around the world.” When
asked about disagreements with Holy Father in regard to certain social issues,
the president responded: “I just want to make clear…that we actually didn’t
talk a whole lot about social schisms in my conversations with His
Holiness. In fact, that really was not a topic of conversation. I
think His Holiness and the Vatican have been clear about their position on a
range of issues, some of them I differ with, most I heartily agree with.”
On his conversation with Cardinal Parolin:
In my meeting with the Secretary of State, Cardinal Parolin, we
discussed briefly the issue of making sure that conscience and religious
freedom was observed in the context of applying the law. And I explained
to him that most religious organizations are entirely exempt. Religiously
affiliated hospitals or universities or NGOs simply have to attest that they
have a religious objection, in which case they are not required to provide
contraception although that employees of theirs who choose are able to obtain
it through the insurance company.
And I pledged to continue to dialogue with the U.S. Conference of
Bishops to make sure that we can strike the right balance, making sure that not
only everybody has health care but families, and women in particular, are able
to enjoy the kind of health care coverage that the AC offers, but that
religious freedom is still observed.