I know that neither the Vatican nor the White House made it easy to cover President Obama's meeting with Pope Benedict XVI last week, but the situation seemed especially desperate when a reporter must begin interpreting body language for coded messages. Here's Jeff Israely of Time:
Body language says a lot about a world leader's audience with the Pope. During his 2007 visit to Pope Benedict XVI's private library, President George W. Bush sat down across the desk from the Pontiff as if he had just landed on his own porch in Crawford, Texas: leaning back in the velvet chair, legs crossed, apparently eager to show his command of the situation.
When President Barack Obama sat down in that same spot on Friday, July 10, for his first papal meeting, his posture was altogether different. Leaning forward from the front edge of the chair, his shoulders slightly hunched, his crossed hands resting softly on the edge of the Pope's desk, the leader of the free world looked more like a schoolboy who'd arrived to humbly plead his case to the principal.
It couldn't have been that Bush felt more at ease with the Pope because of their affinity on issues, could it? No, cocky Bush versus humble Obama makes more sense.
Israely compounds the damage with these scare quotes:
And during the oddly scheduled Friday afternoon meeting, crammed between the end of the Group of 8 meeting in L'Aquila, Italy, and Obama's departure for Ghana, the Pope had no intention of papering over differences on what the Vatican calls "life" issues, such as abortion and euthanasia.
Yes, the Vatican does tend to be obstinate about "life" issues, especially when they happen to involve human lives. Veteran observers tell me the Vatican also has shown occasional stubbornness about what it calls "theology," and what it calls "ethics," and what it calls "the Mass." It's a highly complicated and eccentric jargon, which has so very little to do with real life.
Israely's brief report was a masterpiece of journalism compared to Newsweek's publishing an attack on the Pope even before the meeting occurred.
The short piece, by Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, offers no insight that one has not heard multiple times from Catholic politicians who openly reject their church's teaching on pelvic issues, to use ex-Catholic Matthew Fox's memorable label.
It is amusing, however, to watch Townsend attempt to make Karol Wojtyla (otherwise known as Pope John Paul II) into the man most to blame for the church's continued teaching against artificial contraception:
But authority -- not truth, not love -- prevailed: Pope Paul VI, listening to the advice of Wojtyla, disagreed with the majority of these advisers, who had voted 69 to 10 for change, fretting that to change this position would weaken his authority.
Who knew? Perhaps the Vatican ought to add a new credit point as it considers future saints: Ticking off American Catholic politicians who presume to hector a sitting Pope.