AP Photograph/Arturo Mari, File
President Joe Biden, who will meet Pope Francis on the Vatican on Oct. 29, is Catholic. The nation’s’ first Catholic president, John F. Kennedy, visited the Vatican too. However conferences between U.S. presidents and popes have been a staple of politics for the reason that Kennedy period, whether or not the president was Catholic or not.
Woodrow Wilson was the primary sitting president to satisfy a pope, visiting Pope Benedict XV amid peace negotiations after World Warfare I. Dwight Eisenhower met John XXIII as a part of a global goodwill tour. Lyndon Johnson first met with Paul VI when the pontiff got here to New York for a historic deal with on the United Nations in 1965. Richard Nixon twice met with Paul VI, regardless of the Pope’s clear opposition to the struggle in Vietnam. Gerald Ford met with Paul VI in 1975, and Jimmy Carter greeted the brand new pope, John Paul II, in 1979.
These conferences all preceded the institution of formal diplomatic relations between the USA and the Holy See, because the Vatican city-state is thought in formal diplomacy. The 2 states lastly exchanged ambassadors in 1984, underneath Ronald Reagan and John Paul II. Each had been dedicated anti-communists, and their transfer to determine official ties marked an necessary geopolitical alliance.
In my analysis on the connection between Catholicism and U.S. politics, their partnership stands out as a turning level – and a boon for Reagan. On the time, he wanted a Catholic ally, and located one in John Paul II.
And right this moment, Biden faces a considerably related scenario.
AP Photograph/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File
The Holy See has been an unbiased city-state since 1929, however in actuality, the pope has been a head of state not less than for the reason that eighth century.
It’s a distinctive scenario: a spiritual chief functioning totally as a head of state. But the Roman Catholic Church occupies a singular place in world historical past. As the primary world energy, the church has formed world politics for hundreds of years. At this time the church isn’t solely house to greater than a billion believers, but it surely straight and not directly helps an incredible quantity of nonprofit work around the globe.
When Reagan formalized the long-standing U.S. diplomatic relationship with the Holy See in 1984, the church’s large affect offered a very good purpose. However not the one one.
The earlier yr, shortly forward of his reelection marketing campaign, Reagan had purpose to fret that Catholic voters may not help him. U.S. bishops had revealed a pastoral letter, “The Problem of Peace,” which stated that “good ends (defending one’s nation, defending freedom, and many others.) can not justify immoral ends (using weapons which kill indiscriminately and threaten complete societies).” It was a direct problem to the Reagan administration’s arms buildup, which had heated up the Chilly Warfare.
The administration went to lengths to discredit the bishops, suggesting they had been out of step with the pope. American public opinion was turning towards the arms race, and Reagan wanted a strong ally who might assist him maintain on to Catholic voters.
Reagan discovered that ally in John Paul II, who shared his wariness towards the Soviet Union. Whereas the bishops’ pastoral was being drafted – a course of journalist Jim Castelli has traced in depth – John Paul warned that the church should not name for the U.S. to disarm unilaterally. The Polish pope had skilled Soviet domination and hoped to liberate the world from communist affect.
Given the president and the pope’s frequent trigger, Rome possible can be extra sympathetic to Reagan’s perspective than the U.S. bishops. The U.S. established diplomatic relations with the Holy See eight months after publication of “The Problem of Peace” and 10 months earlier than the 1984 election.
Abortion politics heated up within the run-up to the election, as pro-choice Catholic Mario Cuomo, the Democratic governor of New York, thought of operating for president. The Democrats finally nominated Walter Mondale, with one other pro-choice Catholic, Geraldine Ferraro, as his operating mate. Reagan, who positioned himself as pro-life, centered consideration on the difficulty in one other effort to win again Catholic voters, one assured to hold approval from the pope.
Reagan received the 1984 election in a historic landslide. He carried 49 states and took the best share of the Catholic vote that any Republican had received to that time in historical past.
One other well timed journey?
At this time, 37 years later, the Biden presidency faces its personal Catholic dilemma – the newest chapter in an extended wrestle about Catholics in American public life, highlighting a deeper rift between U.S. bishops and the Vatican.
Many U.S. bishops wish to bar public figures from receiving the sacrament of Communion – the main target of each Catholic Mass – in the event that they help the proper to an abortion, which the church considers a grave sin. In 2019, a South Carolina priest refused to supply Communion to Biden due to the politician’s pro-choice stance.
In November, U.S. bishops will collect to debate a doc on “Eucharistic coherence,” which can comprise directions about who’s eligible for Communion.
However the Vatican has all however urged the bishops to not go forward with the doc.
“I’ve by no means refused the Eucharist to anybody,” Pope Francis informed reporters in September 2021, urging clergymen to consider the difficulty “as pastors” relatively than from a political viewpoint.
As Biden prepares for his papal go to, the administration might have Reagan’s instructive historical past in thoughts. The president – like Reagan – might discover a extra receptive ear in Rome than at house.
Chicago Theological Seminary is a member of the Affiliation of Theological Faculties
The ATS is a funding accomplice of The Dialog U.S.
Steven Millies was a member of the Biden/Harris 2020 Marketing campaign's Nationwide Catholic Advisory Council.