The meeting between the spiritual and political leaders is on shortly. Which one is spiritual, which political? Obama has invoked Jesus more than Bush did, at this point. And with his pointed encyclical on the economy this week, Benedict ruffled some political feathers.

But the meeting at the Vatican this afternoon is fraught for Catholic conservatives in this country, as I explain in this PoliticsDaily piece:

Perhaps the only good news for conservatives was White House spokesman Robert Gibbs’ preemptive declaration that Obama would not be joining a church in Italy during his visit. Gibbs was joking of course, but not everyone is laughing.
So can a photo-op at the Vatican change the political dynamic in Washington?
Generally speaking, that would be a stretch. But in reality there’s much more going on than a friendly handshake. Ever since Obama was elected, in fact, church officials in Rome have signaled a much greater and much more public openness to Obama than church leaders in the United States. Indeed, Obama received a telegram of congratulations from Benedict on the day of his election — “historic,” the pope called it — and the two men later chatted by phone. The Vatican daily, L’Osservatore Romano, has been almost glowing in its coverage of Obama, especially compared to the dim view of Catholic theocons, some of whom have lobbied for the L’Osservatore editor to find a new job.
Such an argument would be tougher to make against Cardinal Georges Cottier, who for years was the official theologian to the papal household, meaning he vetted all papal pronouncements for orthodoxy.
In a lengthy essay in a prominent Italian Catholic periodical, “30 Giorni,” Cardinal Cottier rejects the talking point of Obama as “pro-abortion” and praises his “humble realism” and the president’s apparent reflection of the thinking of Saint Thomas Aquinas. High praise indeed. Or, as veteran Vatican-watcher Sandro Magister put it: “Cardinal Cottier seems almost to exalt Obama as a new Constantine, the head of a modern empire that is also generous toward the Church.”
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