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April 16th, 2008
08:18 PM ET

Politics and the Pope

John L. Allen Jr.
CNN Sr. Vatican Analyst, Vatican Correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter

Perhaps attempting to deny President George W. Bush, and by extension the Republican Party, a monopoly on Pope Benedict XVI, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi asserted during a conference call with journalists today that aside from a few hot-button issues such as abortion, “The Catholic social agenda reads like the Democratic platform.”

Pelosi pointed to issues such as debt relief, immigration, the environment, torture, and budge priorities as areas of harmony between the social concerns of the Catholic church and Democrats.

Specifically on immigration, Pelosi expressed hope that “the Holy Father will be heard by those who are on the fence on this issue.”

“We need to hear the perspective of a person of faith and values who commands a level of respect that no politician could ever dream of,” she said.

Pelosi, who greeted Benedict at the White House this morning, spoke during an afternoon conference call with a group of religion writers.

Pelosi clearly acknowledged her differences with Pope Benedict on matters such as abortion and birth control, saying that “the church can only do what it believes, and I can only do what I believe.”

She added, however, that she hopes unwanted pregnancies become more rare, so that “people don’t have to make that choice.”

Pelosi repeatedly stressed her own Catholic roots, saying that among herself, her husband, and their children, her family has “more than 100 years of Catholic education.” She also said that as a child, she and her family travelled to Rome, where she remembers seeing Pope Pius XII (1939-58).

“If you have an area of disagreement,” Pelosi said, referring to her disagreement with church teaching on abortion, “it doesn’t pull your roots out.”

Pelosi indicated that she would be attending the Mass to be celebrated by Benedict XVI in Nationals Stadium in Washington tomorrow, and that she would receive Communion – as she does, she said, every Sunday. That act has political subtext, given that a handful of Catholic bishops during the 2004 elections said that they would not administer Communion to pro-choice Catholic politicians.


Filed under: John L. Allen Jr. • Pope Benedict
soundoff (18 Responses)
  1. CJ

    After watching all of highlights on CNN today with the Pope, I'm sorry but I have to ask the question, all this talk about sexual abuse how many of these victims have left there churches after being abuse by a member of there home church, NOT VERY MANY.Pease and may GOD bless us all,..Church is in your heart not in a Preacher. Someone Hilliary, Thank You....Sigh X Clintion supporter.

    April 20, 2008 at 5:54 pm |
  2. Lesli

    Response to Joseph who wrote:

    Very few of us live up to the standards of fundamentalist Christians who base their belief on the Bible. Most fundamentalist Christians don’t even meet those standards.

    I am a Christian becuase I sin, not in spite of it. Don't judge the sin – its not your job, just as its not mine to judge yours.

    April 17, 2008 at 1:41 pm |
  3. Alfred H. Howard, Fort Valley, GA

    I wonder why it has taken so long for a Pope to finally come and visit the United States again. But more importantly I wonder why this new Pope Benedict has that crazy look in his eyes like he is up to something mischievous. He seems like a really sweet guy though. I'm impressed that the Catholic Church would be sensible enough to look at the character of his soul above and beyond the outward appearance of his facial features. That is like the opposite strategy from the one that Fox News uses to choose their "infallible" Anchor people. Fox News is obviously more concerned with whether or not you look like a Swedish Bikini Model, then whether or not you have the intelligence as a journalist to understand all opposing viewpoints. The only thing that makes Fox News fair and balanced is the fact that people have the option to change their Channel to CNN.

    April 17, 2008 at 1:19 pm |
  4. Tammy

    The Pope is a world leader as well as a religious one. Vatican City has a seat on the UN. Not only is he a head of state worthy of the coverage of other heads of state, but he is a leader of the Church of millions of Americans and others worldwide who watch CNN faithfully and follow the Pope wherever he travels. He and the clergy of his Church influence people and policy inside and outside of Roman Catholicism. Historically, the Church has influenced people and policy. Whether you personally like his politics or not, he is a force to be reckoned with in the world and his visit does matter to many, many Americans, this one included. I personally am glad CNN is paying attention to this one.

    April 17, 2008 at 1:07 pm |
  5. vangie

    Tom in his comments obviously has no understanding of Catholicism (yes, you do capitalize it – it's a proper noun] so i offer him the same tolerance i offer any one who is ignorant – but i would rather watch and listen to the Pope who prays for all the world then listen to Hillary who just wants "to be" president

    April 17, 2008 at 12:48 pm |
  6. Tom

    I cannot believe that CNN is devoting so much airtime to the pope. Religion, ALL religion, is nothing more than attempts for a few to control many. The catholic church has succeeded, as have many other.
    Don't underestimate stupid people in large groups.

    April 17, 2008 at 11:50 am |
  7. Tom

    I can't help being curious – nothing against Catholics, heck I married a beautiful and wonderful one – but what's up with all of the coverage on national tv? Televising a Mass (do I need to capitalize that?)????? This is the head of a specific religion among many, many religions. None of the other religions get near this kind of coverage (nor do most of them probably want it). I understand that the catholic (am I supposed to capitalize that?) faith is large but does size matter? Why not put it on television when the baptists or lutherans or buddhists and so on have a conference or whatever? Didn't the African American churches get together not too long ago? That might have gotten a news blurb but I don't recall. They certainly weren't televised like this. And who ever heard of a church (A CHURCH?) having a national anthem? Are they sending atheletes to the olympic games too or do they try not to make a "habit" of "flocking" to the games? Ok, now I'm getting a bit off my rocker but does anyone else see the insanity in this? It leaves me incredulous. Not that catholics want to do their thing with him for whatever reason. Just that it would get so much coverage. Like when a bishop or whatever moves from one town to another and it makes the front page of both papers. Isn't that a bit overboard??? A bunch of guys got together and chose this guy to be their leader (is it even a democratic process?) and run their church. That's cool. Every church has some kind of organization to help it run. But they aren't all over the news doing it. Like I said, I don't get it and something inside me says "this isn't right". A foreign leader, popular or not, comes to town and gets 10-30 seconds on the news. This dude shows up and apparently the world stops because there doesn't seem to be any other news.

    April 17, 2008 at 11:38 am |
  8. Margo Smirnoff

    This makes me sick, when I see all the money being spent on the POPE visiting our country . He is no more important than any other Regilious Leader in the United States. There are much more important things inTHIS country I would rather see MY tax money being spent on, like feeding the poor children , global warming, getting this country out of debit. It's bad judgement like this that makes me feel we need to clean house, get rid of all the Senators, Congressmen ,President, all of them . We need leaders that make good decisions regarding our country and the people in it. This is not their country alone , it's OUR"S, WE THE PEOPLE OF THE UNITED STATES. If I'm month's behind on my house payment, I don't go out and buy fur coats or diamond instead. Mr. Bush, (can't call him President...you have to be a leader for that title) try using that lump on your shoulders for a change.

    April 17, 2008 at 10:17 am |
  9. B.J Laabs

    I respect all religions, I think religion and spirit are two seperate things. I have great respect for the Pope, I am not Catholic, but have relatives that are. I don't think the Pope understands the many issues with Illegals, the United States is passed the financial stress point with this issue. He could direct some remarks to Mexico, or try to go over there without a passport and see what happens.
    Or, he could be the first to set an example of the "Way of the Cross." by taking about ten or twenty thousand illegals home with him to the Vatican as a trial project for several years so we will have a blueprint of how to approach this issue, including the crime, financial costs and so many other things we do not have time to list here.

    April 17, 2008 at 5:52 am |
  10. Julie San Diego, CA

    Can someone please take up a special collection next Sunday so Benedict can get a decent ride? That has got to be the dorkiest looking PopeMobile I've ever seen. It makes the Taliban's vehicle of preference (slightly rusty Toyota truck with truck bed roll bars which serve to brace guns and rocket launchers) look positively hip in comparison...isn't this supposed to be the Prada Pope?

    Ah, but I digress from the real issues.

    John Allen, you are correct in pointing out that the American Catholic clergy has taken a punitive approach when it comes to dispensing the Eucharist. If you don't agree with official church doctrine, you can be denied communion.

    A generation ago, this was a cause for community shame. The power of the clergy was absolute, especially in small towns.

    I remember one of my mother's friends, a mother of 5, who had been advised by her doctor that having additional children might be fatal. When she sought her priest's council, he told her that if she had the tubal ligation (sterilization) surgery the doctor recommended, she would be asked to leave the church because her doctor-advised surgery violated church doctrine against birth control.

    Thankfully things have lightened up a bit...

    Which brings me to an important point: no one can deny access to God.

    I, as a celiac (allergic to the wheat used to make the communion wafer), can't take communion either. This in no way prevents me from participating in the celebration of communion. Those who have been denied the Eucharist by their clergy should take comfort in theh knowledge that God never denies the real "communion" – an intimate spiritual relationship between the individual and God.

    If the Catholic Church wants to maintain its base in this country, they've got some work to do. Catholicism, while relevant and thriving in third world countries, is largely dying in America.

    Admitting women to the priesthood and allowing priests to marry would infuse the Church with fresh enthusiasm and new ideas, but frankly, I don't see either idea happening in my lifetime. I attend a church of a different faith now – not an easy decision for someone whose first career choice as a child was Catholic nun. I'm sure many Americans have similar stories. The Church is losing relevancy, and with it, membership...

    April 17, 2008 at 2:35 am |
  11. Ruth

    It could be said that Catholicism do carry some weight in certain professional areas at the higher scale of town. What was Mr. Kennedy? They have dealings with the UN as well.

    I just thought that it was a funny pic, with the Pope all in white, in a white vehicle, with the White House(I assume, a white house anyway), in the background. Anyone else think so?

    April 17, 2008 at 2:01 am |
  12. Brandi down the bayou.

    k, i just wanna know where I can get a car like that.

    April 17, 2008 at 1:27 am |
  13. Joseph Kowalski, North Huntingdon, PA

    Those who can't see how the Popes have tried to influence the social agendas of other nations probably haven't been effected by those influences.

    On issues such as gay rights, abortion, and women's rights, each Pope has tried to influence foreign governments through their Papal decrees.

    The Catholic Church through Cardinal Francis Arinze told priests to deny Holy Communion to American politicians if the issues the politician supports does not follow church doctrine. That is direct interference with a foreign government. CNN reported this back in 2004.

    April 16, 2008 at 9:29 pm |
  14. Bob

    I'm not sure the struggle between Hillary and Obama is necessarily harmful to the Democratic party. A deadlocked convention could lead to a powerful compromise candidate, such as Al Gore.

    April 16, 2008 at 9:21 pm |
  15. Annie Kate

    As a Catholic I have never seen where any Pope has tried to dictate government policy in the US. Other popes have come to the US, the last pope came several times, and their mission was to show support and help try to instill cohesiveness in the American Catholic church.

    Meeting with the government is done because the Pope is the head of Vatican City, a country in its own right, so the meeting is one done between heads of state. Diplomatically the pope is only doing what other heads of state from other countries have done when visiting the US.

    I look forward to hearing the message of the Pope and am glad CNN is covering his visit. The claim of Nancy Pelosi that the church is like the Democratic party is if anything else – amusing.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    April 16, 2008 at 9:01 pm |
  16. Lorie Ann, Buellton, California

    People who hate religion, will find nothing in the Pope's words or politics in which to agree with. The bottom line is that Religion and people will be connected for many years to come. True tolerance works both ways on this issue. Letting the believers believe and letting those who don't, live their lives. One extreme on either side is not a tolerate position. Just my thoughts.

    Lorie Ann, Buellton, Calif.

    April 16, 2008 at 8:47 pm |
  17. Michael Lyon Alvarez

    I think that the Pope is very very much more Republican if we are comparing this. Now, I am NOT Catholic, but I MYSELF, DO respect him, and love his prayers for me... .for everyone. I love to see him, but hate the nervousness we all feel when another comes up. Maybe that's how he feels with presidents.
    We need to stop catorgorizing him as Rep. or Dem.. He's neither, really. I mean, if he were living and practicing here in America, then, okay, but, it would be up to him.
    Secretly, I feel he is more "Republican"!
    I think he is a beautiful thing. But, I don't pray to him, nor do I think anyone should. He is like a lot of hard workers, and I feel that is why we identify with him so well.
    He should not stand in one way or another for who we choose as president.
    I think he should talk more, and say, "Oh, I think this and that."
    That's it.

    April 16, 2008 at 8:35 pm |
  18. Joseph Kowalski, North Huntingdon, PA

    I have a problem with any religious leader who uses their position to dictate government policy. The United States has been blurring the line of separation between Church and State for the past 8 years, and that's a dangerous thing to do.

    Most of us wouldn't want to live in a nation ruled by a Taliban like Christian religion. Read the Bible some time. Very few of us live up to the standards of fundamentalist Christians who base their belief on the Bible. Most fundamentalist Christians don't even meet those standards.

    April 16, 2008 at 8:26 pm |