Nancy Pelosi at the Vatican: the Speaker and the Pope at Cross Purposes

In Rome, the House speaker tries to get close to Pope Benedict but finds no warmth.

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By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country

It was fascinating to read through Pope Benedict XVI's and Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's statements after their meeting at the Vatican today. The speaker and the pope seemed to be working at cross purposes, with Pelosi working to establish her closeness to the Vatican and the pope working to establish maximum distance.

Here's the Speaker's statement:

It is with great joy that my husband, Paul, and I met with his Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI today.

In our conversation, I had the opportunity to praise the Church's leadership in fighting poverty, hunger, and global warming, as well as the Holy Father's dedication to religious freedom and his upcoming trip and message to Israel.

I was proud to show his Holiness a photograph of my family's Papal visit in the 1950s, as well as a recent picture of our children and grandchildren."

As a short political document, the statement strives to bolster Pelosi's Catholic and family values credentials by:

1. Mentioning that her husband joined the meeting. This sends a signal that the powwow was more personal and intimate than the typical sit-down between religious and political leaders.

2. Identifying three major issues—poverty, hunger, and global warming—where the speaker, the Democrats, and the left are closer to the Vatican position than American conservatives. There's a reminder that the right doesn't have a lock on "Catholic issues." It's noteworthy that Pelosi omitted the Democrats' new abortion-reduction strategy, given the primacy of the life issue for the Catholic Church.

3. Praising the Pope's dedication to religious freedom, an issue that's increasingly the province of the right. Religious conservatives regularly attack the American left as a threat to religious freedom, with its opposition to school prayer and posting the Ten Commandments in government buildings.

4. Praising the Pope for his forthcoming trip to Israel. Support for Israel has become a key issue for many American Christians and has always been a top priority for Jewish Americans.

5. Expressing pride that her family made a Papal visit half a century ago, evidence that she comes from good Catholic stock.

6. Noting that she came bearing pictures of their children and grandchildren, evidence of her own family values.

The pope's statement was much more straightforward and exuded chilliness. It focused entirely on the Vatican's pro-life stance—implicitly criticizing Pelosi's pro-choice position—and downplayed the meeting with Pelosi as a "brief greeting":

Following the General Audience the Holy Father briefly greeted Mrs Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the United States House of Representatives, together with her entourage.

His Holiness took the opportunity to speak of the requirements of the natural moral law and the Church's consistent teaching on the dignity of human life from conception to natural death which enjoin all Catholics, and especially legislators, jurists and those responsible for the common good of society, to work in cooperation with all men and women of good will in creating a just system of laws capable of protecting human life at all stages of its development."

  • Read more by Dan Gilgoff.
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