Fr. Christiansen Reports from the White House
Fr. Drew Christiansen, SJ, editor in chief of America, reports on his visit, along with a small group of Catholic press representatives, with President Obama this morning (Thurs., July 2) at the White House. (Fr. Christiansen is pictured in the photo at the far left of the table.) The quotes are taken from the official White House transcript.
In a wide-ranging interview with Catholic editors and religion reporters in advance of his July 11 meeting with Pope Benedict XVI, President Barack Obama expressed his admiration for Catholic social teaching and the quality of its social action. He voiced particular gratitude to the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development and the Catholic parishes of southside Chicago where he first worked as a community organizer in the 1980s.
“Cardinal Bernardin was strongly pro-life,” the president reported, “never shrank from speaking about that issue, but was very consistent in taling about a seamless garment and a range of issues that were part and parcel of what he considered to pro-life, that meant he was concerned about poverty, he was concerned with how children were treated, he was concerned about the death penalty, he was concerned about foreign policy.”
The Catholic social tradition, President Obama added, “still impresses me” and it can be a powerful force still in American society. “Establishing a relationship with the bishops, the president commented, “is important to me because I have very fond memories of Cardinal Bernardin . . . And so I know the potential that the bishops have to speak out forcefully on issues of social justice.”
President Obama will meet with Pope Benedict following a meeting of G-8 leaders in L’Aquila, Italy, whose agenda will include examining the impact of the world economic crisis on the poor. Promoting basic security for all at home and abroad, he said, should be a goal of the eight leading industrial countries. “I want to talk to the Holy Father about some core reforms not just overseas, but here in this country that assure basic security for individuals, the middle class as well as the poor.”
He continued, “I believe capitalism is the most effective means of generating wealth,” but it does not insure economic protection for all. By contrast, in the president’s estimation, “the Catholic Church has always been a powerful moral compass on questions of distribution and how we make sure that opportunities are extended to everybody. . . . And we want to build a society that is not only wealthy in the aggregate, but is also just.”
At L’Aquila, the president hoped the G-8 would review the commitments made in London with the G-20 last April. The U.S. has committed $100 billion to the IMF to cushion the effects of the global economic recession on the world’s poor. The president also plans to double the U.S. contribution to world food security and direct U.S. development aid to poor countries to agricultural development for the sake of food self-sufficiency. He also intends to press other wealthy nations for matching contributions to international food security as well.
On his own current religious practice, President Obama allowed that he and the First Lady have still to settle on membership in a local church. He acknowledged rumors that they were very comfortable with the small congregation at Camp David, the president’s weekend retreat in Catoctin, Md., but that they are still looking for a local congregation in Washington. He confessed that the controversies over the Reverend Jeremiah Wright during last fall’s election campaign had taught them both that as public figures they could be too easily associated with the views of a particular pastor or congregation. In addition, they have learned that the security arrangements associated with a president’s movement anywhere creates a heavy burden on any congregation they attend. They hope to settle on a congregation this fall.
In the meantime, the president leans on a group of pastors and religious advisors who provided pastoral support during his campaign for the presidency, including some Catholics, and he begins his day with reflection on a devotional sent to him each morning on his Blackberry by Rev. Joshua DuBois, the director of the White House Office for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnership.
For more, see the July 20-27 print and online editions of America.
Drew Christiansen, S.J.