White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs's Catholic Side

Obama's press secretary speaks to Catholic social teaching's influence on the president—and himself.

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By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs is not predisposed to showing his personal side. So I was surprised to hear him invoking his Roman Catholicism in today's White House press briefing in L'Aquila, Italy, on the eve of Obama's first visit with Pope Benedict:

...the question as it relates to the influence of Catholic social teaching on the President, I would say something that I've been quite impacted by myself, I would offer. The President, in both his words and in his deeds, expresses many things that many Catholics recognize as fundamental to our teaching.

I was also surprised by Gibbs's grasp of Catholicism's influence on Obama personally and the way he framed it as a basis for pushing the president's healthcare plan. This is not the kind of thing Democratic press secretaries were doing five years ago:

One is that the President often refers to the fundamental belief that each person is endowed with dignity, and as it relates to the issues I work on most frequently with the President, the President often underscores that dignity of people is a driving goal in what we hope to accomplish in development policy, for example, and in foreign policy. That's one.

Two, I've also heard the President speak very movingly about what Cardinal Bernadin called the seamless garment of Catholic teaching. That garment speaks to not just taking care of the poor and the needy but also investing in the kind of health care infrastructure that would ensure that people like those on the South Side of Chicago, who the President is very familiar with are oftentimes finding their health care not in publicly funded hospitals but in Catholic hospitals, for example.

And here's deputy national security adviser Denis McDonough at the same briefing, laying it on pretty thick for Pope Benedict before Obama meets him tomorrow:

Given the influence of the Catholic Church globally, as well in the United States, and frankly, given the influence of the Catholic Church and Church social teaching on the President, himself, he recognizes that this is much more than your typical state visit. So I do believe that it's fair to say that the President looks very much forward to this visit since a very good conversation he had with the Holy Father as President-elect in, I believe it was in early December. The President has been looking for an opportunity to visit the Holy See and to meet in person with the Holy Father.