President George W. Bush this morning attended the fifth annual National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C., and on hand were GOP presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, cochairmen of Catholics for McCain. The event drew criticism from one Catholic group, Catholics United, which called it a "shameful attempt to shoehorn authentic Catholic teaching into a partisan political agenda."
In his remarks, Bush was effusive about the visit of Pope Benedict XVI, who concluded the Washington portion of his trip Friday when he left to address the United Nations General Assembly. The president also touted administration initiatives dealing with the sanctity of life, help for Catholic schools, and support for faith-based groups. The president, a Methodist, said the pope's visit made for a "joyous time" for Catholics and that "it wasn't such a bad week for Methodists, either." Talking about Benedict, Bush added: "He is a humble servant of God. He is a brilliant professor. He is a warm and generous soul."
Bush was applauded repeatedly when he discussed his record: "Together, over the nearly 7½ years we've worked to uphold the dignity of human life.... Over the last years, my administration has put a stop to U.S. tax dollars funding foreign groups that perform or promote abortions. We've worked together to protect unborn victims of violence and to end the barbaric practice of 'partial-birth' abortion. We have stood fast in our belief that promising medical advances can coexist with ethical medical practices. Last November, scientists discovered a way to reprogram adult skin cells to act like embryonic stem cells. This is a significant breakthrough, because science—scientists have found a path that can lead beyond the divisive debates of the past—and extend the healing potential of medicine without destroying human life."
Also on hand: Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, another Catholic. "He's always looking for a free breakfast," Bush joked in singling him out.
Catholics United held a protest with about 45 people outside the hotel, said James Salt, a leader of the protest, where they held aloft a banner saying, "Thank you Pope Benedict for speaking against war." The group noted that the prayer breakfast's board includes Joseph Cella, who serves on a National Catholic Steering Committee for McCain, and Leonard Leo, who is the Republican National Committee's national cochair for Catholic outreach. The protest group also read the names of U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians killed in the Iraq war, Salt said.