CARDINALS ARE NOT IMMUNE TO THE PERSONALITY AND SMOOTH TALK OF OBAMA
It is disappointing to read that that former Papal Theologian to Pope John Paul II has fallen under the spell of Barry Soetoro, aka, Barack Hussein Obama. But, that seems to be the case according to Sandro Magister, the eminent Italiain journalist. If Cardinal Cottier believes that by flattering Obama he can smooth the way to increase the influence Pope Benedict will have on Obama when he meets with him shortly, he is mistaken. We here in America have learned the hard way that Obama is skilled with his rhetoric and delivery of a torrent of words which bear little relation to the reality of what he is really thinking and planning on doing.
Here is Sandro Magister:
Welcome, Obama. The Vatican Plays Him a Fanfare
On the eve of the visit of the president of the United States to the pope, Cardinal Cottier, for many years the official theologian of the pontifical court, writes an enthusiastic commentary about him. Obama responds with a very friendly interview. But the points of conflict remain
by Sandro Magister
ROME, July 5, 2009 – To pave the way for his meeting with Benedict XVI at the Vatican on the afternoon of Friday, July 10, United States president Barack Obama gathered around him at the White House six journalists, all from different American Catholic publications: “Catholic New Service,” “America,” “National Catholic Reporter,” “Catholic Digest,” “National Catholic Register,” “Commonweal.” There was also the religion reporter for the “Washington Post.” And also, as the only foreign journalist, there was Elena Molinari for Vatican Radio and “Avvenire,” the newspaper of the episcopal conference of Italy, the country that is hosting the G
The interview was conducted on the morning of Thursday, July 2, with questions that were not prearranged. The following day, in Rome, “Avvenire” published it almost in its entirety, giving it strong emphasis.
Obama said that he is confident that he will find agreement with the pope on issues like peace in the Middle East, the fight against poverty, climate change, immigration policy.
But he did not escape any of the issues – abortion first among them – on which he is in conflict with a significant part of the American Catholic Church, led by Cardinal Francis George, president of the episcopal conference and archbishop of his native city, Chicago.
To the conflict between Obama and fully a third of the United States bishops, another line of division has been added in recent months: between these bishops and the Vatican, which they judge as being too compliant toward the politics of the new president.
Further below are the passages from the interview dealing with the most controversial issues, from abortion to homosexuality. In his replies, Obama offers an olive branch to the Church, as he tried to do on May 17 with his speech at the Catholic University of Notre Dame. But he also notes the points on which there is no agreement, and never will be.
But it is not only Obama who is preparing for the audience with the pope. The Vatican, too, is playing a prelude of its own.
On the same day on which the president of the United States granted the interview to the religion reporters, in Rome an authoritative cardinal published a gushing commentary on the speeches that Obama delivered on May 17 at the University of Notre Dame, and on June 4 at the University of al-Azhar, in Cairo.
The cardinal is Georges Cottier, an 87-year-old Swiss Dominican, who was in the curia for many years as the official theologian of the pontifical household. He published his commentary in “30 Days,” a Catholic magazine published in six languages, tightly connected to the diplomatic circles of the Vatican and highly attentive to the Church’s stance on world affairs. It is sent free of charge to bishops and monasteries all over the world, and is directed by the former Italian prime minister and foreign minister Giulio Andreotti.
The scholarly cardinal finds Obama’s vision highly compatible with the Catholic perspective (INCREDIBLE, rhg), starting with the awareness of original sin. He attributes good and constructive intentions to him even on the minefield of abortion. He denies that Obama can be considered “pro-abortion,” and even attributes to him the desire to “do everything possible to make the number of abortions as small as possible” just as did “the first Christian legislators, who did not immediately overturn the Roman laws that were tolerant toward practices inconsistent with or even contrary to the natural law, like concubinage and slavery.” He invokes support from Saint Thomas Aquinas, according to whom “the state must not enact laws that are too strict and demanding, because the people will be unable to observe them and will ignore them.” He applauds “L’Osservatore Romano” for the same pro-Obama article on May 19 that infuriated so many American bishops.
Cardinal Cottier seems almost to exalt Obama as a new Constantine, the head of a modern empire that is also generous toward the Church (INCREDIBLE, rhg).
The passages from Cottier’s commentary dedicated to the question of abortion are presented below.
And immediately after this is an extract from the interview that Obama gave to the religion reporters, taken mainly from “Avvenire,” with additions from the transcriptions of the other journalists present.
1. “Obama reminds me of the first Christian legislators…”
by Georges Cottier
[…] In his speech at the University of Notre Dame, I was struck by how Obama did not avoid facing the most thorny question, that of abortion, on which he has received so many criticisms, including from the United States bishops. On the one hand, these reactions are justified: political decisions on abortion involve nonnegotiable values. For us, what is at stake is the defense of the person, of his inalienable rights, the first of which is the right to life. Now, in pluralistic society there are radical differences on this point. There are those who, as we do, consider abortion an “intrinsece malum,” there are those who accept it, and then there are those who assert it as a right. The president never takes this last position. On the contrary, it seems to me that he makes positive suggestions – as “L’Osservatore Romano” has also highlighted, on May 19 – proposing a search for common ground even in this case. In this search – Obama cautions – no one must censor his own convictions, but on the contrary must assert them before everyone, and defend them. His is not at all the mistaken relativism of those who say that these are just contrasting opinions, that all personal opinions are uncertain and subjective, and that therefore they should be set aside when speaking of these things.
Moreover, Obama recognizes the tragic gravity of the problem. That “this is a heart-wrenching decision for any woman to make.” The common ground that he proposes is this: for everyone to work together to reduce the number of women seeking abortion. And he adds that any legislation on this matter must absolutely guarantee conscientious objection for medical workers who do not want to assist in abortion procedures.
His words move in the direction of reducing the evil. The government and the state must do everything they can to make the number of abortions as small as possible. This is certainly a “minimum,” but it is a precious minimum. It reminds me of the attitudes of the first Christian legislators, who did not immediately overturn the Roman laws that were tolerant toward practices inconsistent with or even contrary to the natural law, like concubinage and slavery. The change took place through a slow process, frequently marked by setbacks, as the number of Christians in the population gradually increased, and together with them, the impact of the sense of personal dignity. In the beginning, in order to guarantee the agreement of the citizens and to keep the social peace, the so-called “imperfect laws” were maintained, which refrained from prosecuting actions and behaviors in contrast with the natural law. St. Thomas himself, although he had no doubts about the fact that the law must be moral, adds that the state must not enact laws that are too strict and demanding, because the people will be unable to observe them and will ignore them.
The realism of the man of politics recognizes evil, and calls it by name. It recognizes that one must be humble and patient, combating evil without presuming to uproot it from human history through instruments of legal coercion. It is the parable of the wheat and the weeds, which also holds true on the political level. On the other hand, for him this does not become a justification for cynicism or indifference. The pressure to reduce the evil as much as possible remains persistent. It is an obligation.
The Church as well has always perceived as distant and dangerous the illusion of completely eliminating evil from history through legal, political, or religious means. Recent history is also rife with disasters caused by the fanaticism of those who presumed to dry up the wells of evil in human history, and ended up turning everything into a huge cemetery. The communist regimes followed precisely this logic. So does religious terrorism, which kills in nothing less than the name of God. And when an abortion doctor is killed by antiabortion militants – as happened recently in the United States – it must be admitted that even the most noble causes, like the sacrosanct defense of the absolute value of human life, can be corrupted and transformed into their opposite, becoming code words at the disposal of an aberrant ideology.
Christians are bearers in the world of a realistic temporal hope, not of a vain utopian dream, including when they witness to their fidelity to absolute values like that of life. Saint Gianna Beretta Molla, the doctor who died because she refused treatment that could have harmed the daughter she was carrying in her womb, does not touch only Christian hearts with her ordinary and silent heroism; she reminds everyone of the common destiny toward which we are heading. It is a prophetic form of the evangelical style of Christian witness.
In his speech at the University of Notre Dame, Obama makes a very important observation on precisely this aspect. He tells about when he was involved in a social assistance project in the poor neighborhoods of Chicago – financed by a few Catholic parishes – in which Protestant and Jewish volunteers were also participating. On that occasion, he had the chance to meet welcoming, understanding people. And in this manifestation, he was “drawn – not just to work with the church, but to be in the church. It was through this service,” he concludes, “that I was brought to Christ.” He also gives a moving tribute to the great cardinal Joseph Bernardin, who was archbishop of Chicago at the time. He calls him “a lighthouse and a crossroads,” gentle in his manner of persuasion and his constant attempt to “bring people together” and “find common ground.” In that experience, Obama says, “my heart and mind were touched by the words and deeds of the men and women I worked alongside with in Chicago.”
The manifestation of charity, which comes from God, has the power to touch and attract the minds and hearts of men. And this is the only seed of real change in human history. Obama also quotes Martin Luther King, whom he sees as a mentor. That he himself should be president only forty-one years after the assassination of King is a sign and a proof of the historical efficacy of trust in the power of the truth. […]
2. “I will always forcefully defend the right of the bishops to criticize me…”
Interview with Barack Obama
Q: On respect for life and on marriage, the American Catholic bishops have expressed criticisms and concerns about your positions. How do you intend to address such criticisms? Or do you think that you will end up ignoring them?
A: Number one, one of the strengths of our democracy is that everybody is free to express their political opinions. There will never be a time when I decide to ignore the criticisms of the Catholic bishops, because I’m the president of all Americans, not just the Americans who happen to agree with me. I take people’s opinions seriously, and the American bishops have a profound influence in their communities, in the Church, and beyond. What I would say is that although there have been criticisms leveled at me from some of the bishops, 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. So in that sense the American bishops represent a cross section of opinion just like other groups do. I will always forcefully defend the right of the bishops to criticize me, even in strenuous terms. And I would be happy to host them here at the White House to talk about the issues that unite us and those that divide us, in a series of roundtable discussions. I think there are going to continue to be areas where we have profound agreements and there are going to be some areas where we disagree. That’s healthy.
Q: You have appointed a working group composed of pro-life representatives and others who defend the right to abortion, with the purpose of finding common positions. What realistic expectations do you have about the results of their work?
A: The group will have to submit a final report to me by the end of the summer, and I’m not pretending that it will be able to eliminate the differences through debate alone. I know there are points on which the conflict cannot be resolved. I can tell you, though, that on the idea of helping young people make smart choices so that they are not engaging in casual sexual activity that can lead to unwanted pregnancies, on the importance of adoption as a option, an alternative to abortion, on caring for pregnant women so that it is easier for them to support children, those are immediately three areas where I would be surprised if we don’t have some pretty significant areas of agreement. But there are some elements, like contraception, on which the differences are profound. I personally think that combining good sexual and moral education needs to be combined with contraception in order to prevent unwanted pregnancies. I recognize that contradicts Catholic Church doctrine, so I would not expect someone who feels very strongly about this issue as a matter of religious faith to be able to agree with me on that, but that’s my personal view. We may not be able to arrive at perfectly compatible language on that front. I would be surprised if those who believe abortion should be legal would object to language that says we should try to reduce the circumstances in which women feel compelled to obtain an abortion. If they took that position, I would disagree with them. I don’t know any circumstance in which abortion is a happy decision, and to the extent that we can help women avoid being confronted with a circumstance in which that’s even a consideration, I think that’s a good thing. But again, that’s my view.
Q: Some Catholics praise your contribution in promoting issues of social justice, others criticize you for your positions on issues of life, from abortion to research on embryonic stem cells. Do you see this as a contradiction?
A: This tension in the Catholic world existed well before my arrival at the White House. When I started to get interested in social justice, in Chicago, the Catholic bishops were talking about immigration, nuclear weapons, the poor, foreign policy. Then, at a certain point, the attention of the Catholic Church shifted to abortion, and this had the power to move the opinion of Congress and of the country in the same direction. These are issues I think about a lot, but now, as a non-Catholic, it’s not up to me to try to resolve those tensions. Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, whom I met in Chicago, was strongly pro-life, never shrank away from talking about that issue, but was very consistent in talking about a seamless garment and a range of issues that were part and parcel of what he considered to be pro-life, that meant that he was concerned about poverty, he was concerned about how children were treated, he was concerned about the death penalty, he was concerned about foreign policy. And that part of the Catholic tradition is something that continues to inspire me. And 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. Whereas I would like it to stay front and center in the national debate.
Q: Many people, and not only doctors, who work in nongovernmental institutions are very concerned about being unable to make objections of conscience in ethically sensitive areas. Your administration’s position on this is not entirely clear . . .
A: My underlying position has always been consistent, which is I’m a believer in conscience clauses. I was a supporter of a robust conscience clause in Illinois for Catholic hospitals and health care providers, I talked about this with Cardinal Francis George at a recent Oval Office meeting, and I repeated it in my speech at the University of Notre Dame. I understand that there have been some who keep on anticipating the worst from us, and 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 think that the only reason that my position may appear unclear is because 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 because they had not been properly reviewed. But we are reviewing the question, and we have asked for opinions on this from the public, receiving hundreds of thousands of them. I can assure that when this review is complete there will be a robust conscience clause in place. It may not meet the criteria of every possible critic of our approach, but it certainly will not be weaker than what existed before the changes were made.
Q: How do you reconcile your Christian faith with the promises you made to homosexuals during the electoral campaign?
A: As for the gay and lesbian community of this country, I think that it is wounded by some of the teachings of the Catholic Church and by Christian doctrine in general. As a Christian, I struggle constantly between my faith and duties, and my concerns toward gays and lesbians. And I often discover that there is a great deal of heat on both sides of the debate, even among those I consider to be great people. On the other hand, I stand firm on what I said in Cairo: any position that automatically dismisses the religious convictions and creed of others as intolerance does not understand the power of faith and the good that it does in the world. In any case, as people of faith we must examine our convictions and ask ourselves whether we sometimes cause suffering for others. I think that all of us, whatever our faith, must recognize that there have been times when religion has not been put to the service of the good. And it is up to us, I think, to undertake a profound reflection and be willing to ask whether we are acting in a way that is consistent not only with the teachings of the Church, but also with what our Lord Jesus Christ has called us to do: to treat others as we would like to be treated.
The complete text in English of Cardinal Cottier’s article, in “30 Days” no. 5, 2009:
So far, the article has appeared in the Italian and English editions of “30 Days.” In the next few weeks, it will also appear in the editions of the magazine in French, German, Spanish, and Portuguese.