Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Obama and the Vatican

John L Allen, Jr. in Vatican's moderate line on Obama has deep roots National Catholic Reporter 05/04/09 observes that the Vatican has been much friendlier in its treatment of President Obama than some American Catholic fundamentalists have been, like those trying to get him banned from speaking at Notre Dame University.

Allen sees a couple of basic reasons for this:

First, abortion has never been the overriding focus for conservative Catholic intellectuals and activists in Europe that it is in the United States. In Europe, the dominant issue tends to be the continent's Christian identity, which is often expressed in anti-EU activism or concern about the social impact of immigration. As a result, it does not come naturally for many European Catholics, including many in the Vatican, to evaluate leaders primarily through the lens of their policies on life issues.

Second, the Holy See is a sovereign state with its own diplomatic corps and a wide range of international interests. On several matters of global concern -- including the reconstruction of Iraq, the Israeli/Palestinian problem, multilateralism in foreign policy, and nuclear disarmament -- Vatican diplomats generally believe the early signals from the Obama administration are encouraging. For that reason, some Vatican officials are reluctant to take a hard anti-Obama line, particularly on the eve of Pope Benedict XVI's much-anticipated trip to the Holy Land, which the Vatican hopes will lend momentum to the peace process. [my emphasis]
While the Vatican has generally opposed anti-immigrant extremism, it has promoted the "Europe's Christian identity" business.

There are other distinctions between the Vatican and the Catholic Church in Europe, on the one hand, and the American Christian Right on the other. Don't get me wrong: Ratzinger (Benedict XVI) is a reactionary in terms of his theology. And there is a tradition of Christian Democratic parties in Europe that gives the Vatican close allies among conservative politicians.

But Christian Democrats in Europe are not like American Republicans. The leader of the Partido Popular (PP) in Spain, a party closely aligned with the very conservative Church hierarchy there, said after the US election last November that the PP was a less conservative party than Obama. I haven't looked hard to see in what ways that might be true. But the point is that the conservative parties close to the Catholic hierarchies in their respective countries don't understand their politics in the way the US Republican Party understands theirs.

And the hardline rightwingers, those who would be impressed with European versions of Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck, don't tend to be aligned with overtly religious activists like US Republicans are. On the contrary, the European far right tends to be anti-clerical. Some of them promote kitschy "pagan" religions, something in America that people tend to associate more with tree-hugging New Agers.

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