In their first encounter, Pope Francis received US President Barack Obama at the Vatican yesterday for a discussion that touched on several areas of tension between the Church and the White House, including religious freedom and medical ethics, reports the Catholic News Service.
During an unusually long 50-minute meeting, the two leaders discussed 'questions of particular relevance for the Church in (the US), such as the exercise of the rights to religious freedom, life and conscientious objection as well as the issue of immigration reform,' the Vatican said in a statement.
The mentions of religious freedom and conscientious objection presumably referred to the contraception mandate in the new health care law, which has become a major source of conflict between the administration and the Church.
According to the Vatican statement, Pope Francis and President Obama also had an 'exchange of views on some current international themes, and it was hoped that in areas of conflict, there would be respect for humanitarian and international law and a negotiated solution between the parties involved.'
In September, Pope Francis launched a high-profile campaign against Obama's proposal for military strikes to punish the government of President Bashar Assad for its presumed use of chemical weapons. The Pope wrote to Russian President Vladimir Putin, host of a G-20 summit, decrying the 'futile pursuit of a military solution,' and a few days later led a prayer vigil for peace in Syria that drew some 100,000 people to St Peter's Square.
The Vatican did highlight two points of harmony with President Obama in the discussions: immigration reform, on which the administration's position is closer to that of US bishops than that of the Republican opposition; and a 'common commitment to the eradication of trafficking in human persons in the world.'
Later in the day, at a joint news conference with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, Obama said he had spent the 'largest bulk of the time' with the Pope discussing 'issues of the poor, the marginalised, those without opportunity and growing inequality' and the 'challenges of conflict and how elusive peace is around the world,' particularly in the Middle East.
Obama said Pope Francis 'did not touch in detail' on the contraception mandate, but that in the President's subsequent meeting with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, 'we discussed briefly the issue of making sure that conscience and religious freedom was (sic) observed in the context of applying the law.'
Francis’s Manifesto: the book Obama might be reading on bad days (New York magazine)
Contraception debate clouds Obama's Vatican visit (AFP/Yaho07)
Obama and Francis find common ground (The Australian)