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Barack Obama says Pope Francis’ Job is not ‘Down on the Ground’

by Lisa Graas on March 28, 2014

Mother Teresa, down on the ground.

Mother Teresa, down on the ground.

The White House has released a “Readout of the President’s Audience with His Holiness Pope Francis” which is actually just Barack Obama’s opinion of how the meeting went. You can find the Vatican statement here. There are several things to take issue but I found this part to reach the level of insult and to indicate also what many of us have feared, that Barack Obama would exploit this meeting for political gain.

First of all, I just want to make clear — maybe it wasn’t clear from my answer to Jim — that we actually didn’t talk a whole lot about social schisms in my conversations with His Holiness. In fact, that really was not a topic of conversation. I think His Holiness and the Vatican have been clear about their position on a range of issues, some of them I differ with, most I heartily agree with. And I don’t think that His Holiness envisions entering into a partnership or a coalition with any political figure on any issue. His job is a little more elevated. We’re down on the ground dealing with the often profane, and he’s dealing with higher powers.


I do think that there is a potential convergence between what policymakers need to be thinking about and what he’s talking about. I think he is shining a spotlight on an area that’s going to be of increasing concern, and that is reduced opportunities for more and more people, particularly young people — who, by the way, have more and more access to seeing what’s out there and what’s possible because they have access to the Internet or they have access to other media, and they see the inequality and they see themselves being locked out in ways that weren’t true before. And that’s true internationally, not just within countries.

The one thing that has been said most frequently of Pope Francis is that he is “down on the ground dealing with the often profane.” For the president to paint the opposite picture of His Holiness is, I think, insulting. Pope Francis has made it a priority of his to ensure that Catholics, and particularly priests, should be “down on the ground dealing with the often profane.” It made news in the Catholic world, for example, when he said that priests should be “shepherds living with the smell of the sheep.”

The exploitation of the meeting is seen clearly in the second paragraph above, where he says Pope Francis is “shining a spotlight on an area” that just happens to be the area where Barack Obama prefers to exploit people – the poor. Whereas Barack Obama sees “inequality” in income as being the same as inequality in dignity, the Church sees equality in that all people have objective value and dignity regardless of their income. We serve the poor, primarily through charity, because they have inherent dignity. Barack Obama’s rhetoric seems to be saying that the poor cannot have dignity unless the state makes all incomes equal. It is a perversion of the Gospel that Pope Francis would certainly not approve of, let alone “shine a spotlight on.” Rather, he shines a spotlight on the Gospel, which includes the inherent dignity (equality) of the poor. Obama’s policies are founded in a false belief that the poor cannot have any dignity unless the state redistributes dollars to them.

That perversion of the Gospel is almost certainly the reason that he paints Pope Francis (wrongly) as a person who deals only with “higher powers” and not as someone “down on the ground dealing with the often profane.” Perhaps he thinks we are going to be impressed with the idea of a pope being far away from us, talking to angels and saints and God, and not caring for us in a “hands-on” way. A faith that is detached from our daily routine is not a living faith, it is not what Pope Francis is about and it’s not what Catholicism is about.

The “Hope and Change” of Barack Obama is a state that marginalizes faith as being more like entertainment or a hobby than about how we live our lives “down on the ground,” hence he moved forward with the HHS mandate thinking that Catholics who actually live their faith “down on the ground” are doing something wrong. He has taken it upon himself, frequently but also in this press release, to define for Catholics what Catholicism is. Defining Catholicism whenever there is mass confusion about it is actually the job of Pope Francis and all of our bishops, not the President of the United States nor of any other head of state.

In Barack Obama’s defense, he does not profess to be a member of the Catholic Church. His view of what Catholicism is probably has come from what he has seen in his fellow Democrats like Nancy Pelosi, Andrew Cuomo, Joe Biden and others who support abortion, same-sex unions, etc. Having said that, this ignorance does not then grant him license to distort Catholicism after a meeting with Pope Francis who, as we can see from the Vatican Press release, was clear on the issues Obama claims were largely ignored.


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