The gentlemanly Sandro Magister of chiesa has posted an examination of the piece published in 30 Giorni under the name of Georges Card. Cottier, designed to color in advance the upcoming meeting of Pres. Obama with Pope Benedict.
I did my own examination of the rather sloppy 30 Giorni piece.
Magister posts long sections of the Cottier article translated into English, which will help a lot of folks understand what is going on. He also alerts us that the entire English version is online in 30 Days.
Magister calls the piece "enthusiastic", "very friendly", and "gushy", and adds – properly – "points of conflict remain". Understatement!
Neither was he taken in by the Cottier piece. Magister opines:
Cardinal Cottier seems almost to exalt Obama as a new Constantine, the head of a modern empire that is also generous toward the Church.
Also very useful is Magister’s coverage of the meeting Pres. Obama had with a group of journalists on Friday, 10 July at the White House. He point out that the following day, Avvenire (the daily of the Italian bishops’ conference) published it almost in its entirety, "giving it strong emphasis".
Magister presents "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."
Here is the section from the Magister piece which concerns the interview with Pres. Obama at the White House (in Italian in Avvenire) with emphases by yours truly as well as comments.
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. [And that is why he won’t ignore them. Note the reference to "communities"… which if the bishops really wanted to, they could organize. One of the techniques Saul Alinsky taught was to give the impression of openess to your opponents and draw them into your agenda by earnestly listening to them.] 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. [A telling phrase, no? What sort of impression have the body of American bishops left with the President? I would pick up from this that they can be divided.] 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. [Enter Saul Alinsky… stage left….] 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. [Ummm… how else would one go about eliminating the differences? But pay attention to this next part…] I know there are points on which the conflict cannot be resolved. ["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 [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 put that way, fine. But if Pres. Obama were sincere in this, why is he also aggressively pushing to extend abortion rights even overseas through pressure on the UN?] 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. [Another telling phrase. He again mentions the divisions among Catholics.] 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. [This is his way of criticizing the greater focus on abortion. He is playing the "single issue" card here.] 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, [The "consistent life" idea which is used to minimize the fundamental primacy of the abortion issue. Remember: people can disagree about this or that solution for a large range of social ills. But the issue of the right to life is not something about which Catholics may disagree.] 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. ["more holistic"… again, he plays the "single issue" card.] 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, [at the same time as you, Mr. President, were voting to deny medical care to children who survived attempted abortions…. but I digress…] 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. [Perception? Read this and this.] 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. [uh huh… that’s why it appeared unclear] 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, [go figure] 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? [great question]
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. [? QUAERITUR: Is it possible, truly, to be "wounded" by God’s will?] As a Christian, I struggle constantly between my faith and duties, [ah yes! The overarching primacy of "the struggle". Once you’ve "struggled", you can do as you please.] 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. [QUAERITUR: Are the tenets of Christianity, a Judeo-Christian morality and view of homosexual behavior just "convictions"?] 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. [abusus non tollit usum] 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. [Is he proposing that the Lord would want Christian "convictions" to change because some people’s feelings are hurt? We can all strive to be more perfect in charity, but charity does not permit us to alter the truth.]
I am always intensely interested to read what the President has to say. His off the cuff or spontaneous remarks like these are revelatory.
And about that "Golden Rule" thing Pres. Obama wrapped up with, and people being "hurt". If you asked around, do you think anyone, including the President, would want to be dismembered or burned with a solution or have a something shoved through his or her head?
I’m just askin’…
In any event, folks, look at some of the sites I have linked, above, and do some close reading.