Benedict and Barack.jpgThe first word via Vatican Radio and first image (that I saw) via Rocco:

Speaking to Vatican Radio, Press Office Director Fr. Federico Lombardi said “moral values in international politics, immigration and the Catholic Church’s contribution in developing countries” were key topics of discussion between the pope and the president.

In addition, Fr. Lombardi said the they discussed inter-religious dialogue and Middle East peace, with both reaffirming the need for a two state solution. He said the US president “reiterated his commitment to reducing the incidence of abortion”.

President Obama’s parting words to Pope Benedict Friday were that he looked forward to future strong relations between the United States and the Holy See, Pope Benedict told the President: “I thank you for all your work! I’ll pray for you!”

Let the conservative tsurris begin.

As for the substance, the official joint statement in English (original language) is here.

In the course of their cordial exchanges the conversation turned first of all to questions which are in the interests of all and which constitute a great challenge for the future of every nation and for the true progress of peoples, such as the defence and promotion of life and the right to abide by one’s conscience.

Reference was also made to immigration with particular attention to the matter of reuniting families.

The meeting focused as well upon matters of international politics, especially in light of the outcome of the G8 Summit. The conversation also dealt with the peace process in the Middle East, on which there was general agreement, and with other regional situations. Certain current issues were then considered, such as dialogue between cultures and religions, the global economic crisis and its ethical implications, food security, development aid especially for Africa and Latin America, and the problem of drug trafficking. Finally, the importance of educating young people everywhere in the value of tolerance was highlighted.

Carol Glatz and Cindy Wooden also have this account:

As they met, Obama told the pope, “It’s a great honor; thank you so much.”

The two sat down at a desk in the papal library and began discussing the G-8 summit — the meeting of the world’s wealthy industrialized countries, which concluded that morning in L’Aquila, Italy. The summit focused on the economic crisis, climate change and global tensions.

Pope Benedict told the president, “You must be tired after all these discussions.”

The president responded that the meetings marked “great progress” and “something concrete,” although the precise topic they were discussing at that point was unclear.

Pope Benedict gave Obama a mosaic showing St. Peter’s Basilica and Square, an autographed copy of Caritas in Veritate (I wonder if Obama will edit it with a red or gold pencil?) and a medal marking the fifth year of his pontificate. (That would into his second term, in Obama’ envious eyes.) The president told the pope the mosaic, which was made in the Vatican’s mosaic studio, “was very beautiful,” according to CNS, and would have “a place of honor” in the White House.

Apparently Benedict gave the president a stole that was placed on the remains of St. John Neumann.

And CNS’ Cindy Wooden reports that the pope also gave Obama the Vatican document on bioethics, released in December. A little light reading for illumination on the plane ride to Ghana.

Obama's eyes.jpgYes, this photo of Obama ostensibly eyeing a young woman (apparently a 17-year-old delegate from Brazil–where are her parents?!) at the G-8 Summit is the hottest Google search item. And of course the question of what Obama was thinking is a leading Fox News story.

So it goes, even as the leaders try to address such minor topics as climate change and world hunger.

God knows Sarkozy, that ol’ chien, seems to be leering–quelle surprise, eh? Obama could plausibly be looking elsewhere. Still not quite to the level of, say, Mark Sanford or John Ensign, I think. I confess I’d have looked, if only for the definite “wow” factor the young woman was likely going for.

I was also struck by an odd coincidences, in that as this story popped over the transom I was lifting bits out of Bruce Gordon’s grand new bio of John Calvin for a piece on Calvin’s 500th birthday, which is today. Gordon tries to dispel some of the myths of Calvin as “an unyielding, moralistic and stone-faced tyrant who rejected all the pleasures of life.” And he writes that in his correspondence Calvin “could let drop a line that indicated an eye for beautiful buildings and a well-dressed woman.”

Well, Jean Cauvin was French, you know.

Anyway, maybe a shot of Barack with Benedict–should be coming soon–will displace the Girl from Impanema. But don’t bet on it.

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.”

It is a good question, and an honest question that many may wonder about, both inside and outside the Catholic orbit. I wince at the “social” qualifier,” but Joe Carter, a Baptist, poses the questions well at the First Things blog:

If you had asked me as a young Baptist boy to explain the difference between Protestants and Catholics, I would have said that Catholics were the Christians who “have to do what the Pope tells them to do.” Now I’m an old Baptist and realize how naive I was. (I’m more likely to agree with the Pope than some American Catholics I know.)

I’m still unclear, though, on where Catholics draw the line of demarcation between complete freedom of conscience and deference to magisterial authority. After all, if a Catholic can support abortion and still receive communion, what is off-limits?

Stephen M. Barr responds with a useful (to my layman’s eye) explanation, and this caveat:

I do think that it would be better if Catholics were not so disposed to pick these documents apart like an English teacher grading a student paper. A little more obsequium would be nice, even as we recognize that not everything in these documents is of equal weight.

I wonder if Jody Bottum, who is diligently deconstructing and re-writing Caritas in Veritate in a series on posts, caught that monito.

I very much like the writings of Richard Gaillardetz on authority, but I’d welcome other amplifications. Of course any concession to different levels of authority opens the gate to the slippery slope to dreaded cafeteria Catholicism. But it’s interesting to see many who would confer the status of near-infallibility on lesser papal statements they like now pick apart a major statement they don’t like quite so much. So say we all, eh.