Upon the inauguration of the forty-forth president of the United States of America, two messages were delivered to President Obama. While both of these messages were from representatives of the Catholic church hierarchy, they could not have been more different in tone.
The first message was sent in form of telegram from Pope Benedict XVI (perhaps he only reserves text messaging for fellow Catholics). The tone of the telegram was friendly and welcoming. It read:
[The Holy Father offers his] cordial good wishes, together with the assurance of my prayers that Almighty God will grant you unfailing wisdom and strength in the exercise of your high responsibilities.
Under your leadership may the American people continue to find in their impressive religious and political heritage the spiritual values and ethical principles needed to co-operate in the building of a truly just and free society, marked by respect for the dignity, equality and rights of each of its members, especially the poor, the outcast and those who have no voice.
At a time when so many of our brothers and sisters throughout the world yearn for liberation from the scourge of poverty, hunger and violence, I pray that you will be confirmed in your resolve to promote understanding, co-operation and peace among the nations, so that all may share in the banquet of life which God wills to set for the whole human family.
Upon you and your family, and upon all the American people, I willingly invoke the Lord’s blessings of joy and peace.
President Obama received a second letter from Cardinal Francis George, the president of the United States Conference of Bishops. This letter, unlike the pope’s jolly telegram, was lengthy and much less welcoming in spirit. George wrote,
I expect that some want you to take executive action soon to reverse current policies against government-sponsored destruction of unborn human life. I urge you to consider that this could be a terrible mistake—morally, politically, and in terms of advancing the solidarity and well-being of our nation’s people.
He went to outline the bishops’ outdated positions on reproductive rights, including abortion and stem cell research.
Now, one would think that Pope Benedict and Cardinal George might have shared notes before addressing President Obama. Perhaps they are going for a good cop/bad cop strategy with the pope buttering President Obama up and George coming in with an iron fist. Or perhaps the Vatican, unlike the US bishops’ conference, realizes that there is more than just one issue to focus on in this complex world.