President Obama Meets with Catholic Journalists

Deal W. Hudson
July 3, 2009

Yesterday, President Obama held a 45-minute meeting in the Roosevelt Room at the White House with some members of the Catholic press. According to the Catholic News Service, those presently included writers from National Catholic ReporterAmericaCommonwealCatholic Digest, Vatican Radio, as well as a (non-Catholic) religion writer from the Washington Post. Rev. Owen Kearns was there representing the National Catholic Register, which also filed a brief report.

Each journalist in attendance was allowed just one question. The most pointed query came in regard to Obama’s position on the conscience clause protection for medical personnel. Obama tried to explain how he “supports” the conscience clause, as CNS reported, in spite of ending those same protections put in place by the previous administration.

“Well, I think that the only reason that my position may appear unclear is that it came in the wake of a last-minute, eleventh-hour change in conscience clause provisions that were pushed forward by the previous administration that we chose to reverse.”

Obama insists his “underlying position has always been consistent, which is I’m a believer in conscience clauses.” According to the National Catholic Reporter, he promised that specific guidelines were on the way, but he did not expect they would “satisfy everybody.”

The president complained about pro-lifers “who keep on anticipating the worst from us,” according to the write-up in CNS. He doesn’t consider their attitude justified, since “it’s not based on anything I’ve said or done but is rather just a perception, somehow, that we have some hard-line agenda that we’re seeking to push.”

I wonder if any of the journalists present were allowed to follow up with a question about whether the president expects Americans to forget everything he did and said prior to being elected president. Someone also might have asked whether we should forget his quick decision to end the Mexico City Policy and his selection of pro-abortion Catholics to crucial administration positions.

And no one, apparently, asked Obama about this week’s letter from Justin Cardinal Rigali of Philadelphia to the House Appropriations Committee specifically questioning how the Obama administration can make the promise of “abortion reduction” while pushing for federal funding of abortion in Washington, D.C.

Obviously, Obama needs rhetorical cover from such questions, if they are ever asked, so it should come as no surprise that he was prepared, just in case. Joe Feuerherd notes in the Reporter that Obama discussed his admiration for the late Joseph Cardinal Bernardin’s “seamless garment” approach to social issues. “I think that there have been times over the last decade or two where that more holistic tradition feels like it’s gotten buried under the abortion debate.” The well-worn seamless garment argument is just what the doctor ordered for this pro-abortion president to make his case to a roomful of mostly friendly Catholic journalists.

When asked about the criticism leveled at him by some Catholic bishops, Obama preferred to consider his Catholic glass half full.

“What I would say is that although there have been criticisms leveled at me from some of the bishops,” he responded, as CNS notes, “there have been a number of bishops who have been extremely generous and supportive even if they don’t agree with me on every issue.”

According to the CNS report, the occasion for the meeting was the president’s upcoming meeting with Pope Benedict XVI on July 10 in the Vatican. Obama described the Holy Father as “a thought leader and opinion leader on so many wide-ranging issues. His religious influence is one that extends beyond the Catholic Church.”

This is a dangerous meeting for the president in the wake of the Notre Dame controversy, which he joked about at the meeting. He not only severely tested his Catholic support, he also lit a fire within the conservative Catholic grassroots.

When he goes to the Vatican, the president would be well-advised to settle for a short, formal meeting, rather than engage the Holy Father on the merits of the “seamless garment.”

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