The President Meets the Pope

(Deal Hudson is editor and publisher of CRISIS, America's fastest growing Catholic magazine. He is also an advisor to President Bush. You can reach Deal at

My guess is that President Bush will announce his decision on stem cells before he leaves for Italy. Whatever the decision, it would be preferable to meet the Holy Father face-to-face on the matter rather than making an announcement later.

The two men have many other things to talk about, including Bush’s faith-based initiative, which continues to meet obstacles on its passage through the Congress.

Paying a recent tribute to Charles de Foucault, the pope talked about the need for more “imaginative” approaches to charity: It is clear that Bush’s program for energizing religiously-based social services is precisely what John Paul II calls for.

After eight years of a Clinton-Gore administration, the Holy Father will no doubt welcome a meeting with the American president who talks about building a “culture of life.” The pope may, in fact, mention to the president his concern about the use of the death penalty and suggest reasons to Bush for reconsidering his position. Bush has already heard the Catholic position on

the death penalty from several of the U.S. cardinals and bishops he has met over the past two years.

As I write this, the president is at St. Patrick’s Cathedral presenting, posthumously, a Congressional Medal to John Cardinal O’Connor. Bush felt a particular closeness to O’Connor, whom he met several times during the campaign. It was to him that he addressed his letter expressing regret for any offense he may have caused by speaking at Bob Jones University. I am

told that Bush insisted on writing to O’Connor directly, and not to all the bishops collectively, because he felt he had let O’Connor down.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Bush discovers the same type of rapport with John Paul II. O’Connor was passionate about “doing the right thing,” and I think he recognized the same quality in the son of the former president.

When the pope meets the president he will meet a man whose list of priorities is not very long, but includes helping families, supporting the work of religious groups, and protecting life. It would be a pity if the upcoming stem cell decision calls into question this last priority.

Yet, we all know that this pope is one of the greatest diplomats of our age – he will welcome the president as an ally.

I am told that everyone wants to be present at the Castelgandolfo meeting, and who can blame them? I’d want to be there to see the look on the face of a president encountering a man who embodies the holiness that comes with steadfast prayer. I’d also want to see how John Paul II greets the leader of the most powerful nation on earth who has brought prayer back into the cabinet room and respect for traditional values back to the West Wing.

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