George Bush's Catholic moment

The indispensable John Allen Jr. of The National Catholic Reporter writes this week about Pope John Paul II's visit to Switzerland and President Bush's visit to the Vatican. Two items stand out in Allen's 4,000-word post.

First, Allen paints a vivid picture of young people who consider the Pope objectionable on every front, yet are drawn to him:

On the streets of Bern, criticism was much more blunt. A small but determined group of young radicals staged a rally in the streets of Bern the night before the pope arrived, chanting, "To the devil with the pope." As John Paul was getting ready for Saturday's youth rally, local college students were wandering around the downtown area handing out lengthy tracts against Opus Dei, as well as condoms bearing the label "Protect yourself ... the pope won't do it."

"We don't want the pope," Mike Dee, 24, told me over a beer Saturday afternoon in downtown Bern. "He is too conservative on AIDS, on women, on everything."

Despite the fact that Dee and several of his friends, all from Protestant families, conceded that they never go to church, they insisted on feeling hurt because the pope would not give them Communion.

Second is a detail that's entertaining -- if only because an evangelical Methodist president cares more than his Catholic challenger about making common cause with the Vatican:

During his June 4 visit, Bush asked the Vatican to push the American Catholic bishops to be more aggressive politically on family and life issues, especially a constitutional amendment that would define marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

A Vatican official told NCR June 9 that in his meeting with Cardinal Angelo Sodano and other Vatican officials, Bush said, "Not all the American bishops are with me" on the cultural issues. The implication was that he hoped the Vatican would nudge them toward more explicit activism.

Other sources in the meeting said that while they could not recall the president's exact words, he did pledge aggressive efforts on the cultural front, especially the battle against gay marriage, and asked for the Vatican's help in encouraging the U.S. bishops to be more outspoken.

According to sources, Sodano did not respond to the request.

The days are gone, thank God, when a Catholic candidate must assure twitchy Protestant elites that he will not take orders from the Pope in Rome. Will some American bishops now want assurances from the Vatican that it takes no orders from an evangelical president?

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