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No retreat on abortion, but Vatican gives Obama the benefit of the doubt

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By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
Rome

tEver since Pope Benedict XVI set aside Vatican protocol to send a telegram of congratulations to Barack Obama on Nov. 5, ahead of his actually taking office, the Vatican has often seemed warmer to Obama than some voices in the American Catholic church, including some American bishops.

tTrying to make sense of this contrast, the key question has seemed whether the Vatican is less bent on emphasizing the “life issues” than the American bishops, preferring to accent areas of agreement such as the Middle East and climate change, or whether they’re simply more willing to give Obama the benefit of the doubt despite an equally keen concern with his pro-choice policies.

tIn that regard, yesterday’s 35-minute meeting between Pope Benedict XVI and Obama made two things clear:

•tFirst, Benedict XVI yields pride of place to no one in the depth of his pro-life commitment, and there was no mistaking the forceful message the pontiff delivered to Obama on that score;
•tSecond, the Vatican still seems inclined to a more benign reading of Obama’s positions than his fiercest American critics.

What is it about women's heads?

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I have just clicked on photos of President Obama’s meeting with Pope Benedict XVI. In one, I noticed First Lady Michelle Obama joining them, and she was wearing a black lace veil.

Granted, such attire is extraneous to the meeting itself, and I know this is the usual attire of “official” women when they meet personally with the Pope. But today, this veil distracted me – at least briefly – from the substantive reporting on the meeting. It conjured up images of the nuns in veils, Amish women in bonnets, Orthodox Jewish women in wigs, and Muslim women in “hijabs” (head scarves). Or I think about the Catholic women wearing little lace “doilies” in church in the 1950’s.

If pope wants justice why probe those who walk the walk?

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Whatever attention deficit some Catholics may think their church has suffered has been more than made up for in the past weeks. Obama at Notre Dame, the pope's social encyclical and his meeting with the president have stirred enough coverage to convince those who have felt neglected that the Roman Catholic church is back to its proper place as the true church.

Newsweek's report: 'Obama Meets the Pope, Makes It Out Alive'

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Holly Bailey filed this report:

President Obama just wrapped up his visit with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican. We’ll have to wait for word later from administration officials on what exactly the two talked about in their private sit-down. And no doubt the Vatican will have its own take. But reporters at the White House press file at the G-8 site in L’Aquila were able to see some of the visit on feed provided by official Vatican TV. Obama first met one-on-one with the pope, where the two exchanged the usual greetings as the president was escorted into Benedict's private apartment. The two leaders then went into the Papal Library, where Obama sat on one side of a very fancy wooden desk and Benedict sat on the other. As dozens of photographers captured the moment for eternity, Obama made small talk. “You must be used to having your picture taken,” the president said. The pope, with a faint smile, nodded. “I’m still getting used to it,” Obama told him. The pope gave him a careful look. “You must be getting tired,” Benedict finally said, referring to Obama’s lengthy foreign sojourn his week. Obama’s response was inaudible.

Okay, I admit it. I cried

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Okay, I admit it. I cried. The picture of President Obama being welcomed by Pope Benedict XVI in the frescoed halls of the Vatican touched my heart as well as my mind. These two men, so different in many ways – and so differently powerful – seemed to immediately transcend the bizarre aspects of such meetings, e.g., having to begin their meeting and exchange pleasantries while dozens of cameras are clicking away.

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July 18-31, 2014

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