Sunday, January 16, 2022

During Biden’s visit to his dad, a page from a Reagan play?

President Joe Biden, who will meet with Pope Francis at the Vatican on October 29, is Catholic. The country’s first Catholic president, John F. Kennedy, also visited the Vatican. But meetings between US presidents and popes have been a staple of politics since Kennedy’s time, whether the president was Catholic or not.

Woodrow Wilson was the first incumbent president to meet with the Pope who visited Pope Benedict XV during the post-World War I peace talks. Dwight D. Eisenhower met with John XXIII as part of an international goodwill tour. Lyndon Johnson first met Paul VI when the pontiff arrived in New York for a historic speech to the United Nations in 1965. Richard Nixon met with Paul VI twice, despite the Pope’s clear opposition to the Vietnam War. Gerald Ford met Paul VI in 1975, and Jimmy Carter welcomed the new Pope John Paul II in 1979.

All of these meetings preceded the establishment of official diplomatic relations between the United States and the Holy See, as the Vatican City State is known in official diplomacy. The two states finally exchanged ambassadors in 1984 under Ronald Reagan and John Paul II. Both were staunch anti-communists, and their move towards formal ties marked an important geopolitical alliance.

In my exploration of the relationship between Catholicism and US politics, their partnership is a turning point and a boon for Reagan. At that time, he needed a Catholic ally, and he found it in the person of John Paul II.

And today Biden faces a similar situation.

President Joe Biden’s audience with Pope Francis in October 2021 will not be the couple’s first meeting. Here they shake hands before the Pope’s address to Congress in 2015.
AP Photo / Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File

Common Cause

The Holy See has been an independent city-state since 1929, but the pope has actually been head of state since at least the eighth century.

This is a unique situation: a religious leader fully fulfills the functions of the head of state. Yet the Roman Catholic Church occupies a unique place in world history. As the first global power, the church has shaped world politics for centuries. Today, the church is not only home to over a billion believers, but also directly or indirectly supports a huge number of non-profit organizations around the world.

When Reagan formalized the long-standing US diplomatic relationship with the Holy See in 1984, the church’s widespread influence was a good reason. But not the only one.

Last year, shortly before his re-election campaign, Reagan had reason to fear that Catholic voters might not support him. The US bishops published a pastoral letter “Challenge to the World”, which stated that “noble goals (defending our country, defending freedom, etc.) cannot justify immoral goals (using weapons that kill indiscriminately and threaten entire societies). “It was a direct challenge to the Reagan administration’s arms buildup that fueled the Cold War.

The administration went to great lengths to discredit the bishops, suggesting they were out of step with the pope. American public opinion turned against the arms race, and Reagan needed a powerful ally to help him keep Catholic voters.

Reagan found this ally in John Paul II, who shared his wariness towards the Soviet Union. While the pastoral ministry of bishops was being drafted – a process that journalist Jim Castelli followed closely – John Paul warned that the church should not call on the United States for unilateral disarmament. The Polish pope experienced Soviet domination and hoped to free the world from communist influence.

Given the common cause of the president and the pope, Rome is probably more sympathetic to Reagan’s point of view than the US bishops. The United States established diplomatic relations with the Holy See eight months after the publication of Challenge to Peace and 10 months before the 1984 elections.

Abortion policy heated up ahead of the election as pro-choice Catholic Mario Cuomo, New York’s Democratic governor, considered running for president. In the end, the Democrats nominated Walter Mondale with another Catholic electorate, Geraldine Ferraro, as his partner. Reagan, who has positioned himself as an advocate of abortion, has focused on the issue in yet another attempt to reclaim Catholic voters, one of whom won the Pope’s approval.

Reagan won the 1984 election in a historic event. He had 49 states and received the largest share of the Catholic vote that any Republican had won by that point in history.

Another well-timed trip?

Today, 37 years later, Biden’s presidency faces its own Catholic dilemma – the latest chapter in a long Catholic struggle in American public life, highlighting a deeper divide between the bishops of the United States and the Vatican.

Many US bishops want to ban public figures from partaking of the sacrament – the focus of every Catholic mass – if they support the right to abortion, which the church considers a grave sin. In 2019, a South Carolina priest refused to take communion with Biden due to his position in favor of choice.

In November, US bishops will gather to discuss a document on “Eucharistic Concordance,” which may contain instructions on who is eligible for the sacrament.

But the Vatican almost urged the bishops not to continue working on the document.

“I have never denied anyone the Eucharist,” Pope Francis told reporters in September 2021, urging priests to think of it “like shepherds,” and not politically.

As Biden prepares for his papal visit, the administration may be referring to Reagan’s cautionary tale. The President, like Reagan, may find a more receptive ear in Rome than at home.

During Biden's visit to his dad, a page from a Reagan play?

This article is republished from – The Conversation – Read the – original article.

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