WASHINGTON - June 4 - The atmosphere around Fridays visit between President George W. Bush and Pope John Paul II at the Vatican seemed more like a rally stop on the campaign trail than a meeting between two world leaders who share little in common on matters of foreign policy.
The meeting between the two world leaders and the concomitant media coverage that accompanied it suggests the strategic importance the Bush administration is placing on the Catholic vote in the upcoming presidential election, said Dave Robinson, national director of Pax Christi USA (www.paxchristiusa.org). But no matter how many photo opportunities or presidential awards the Bush administration cloaks its 2004 reelection strategy in, the fact remains that this administrations foreign policies are diametrically opposed to the values and beliefs articulated by Pope John Paul II and the worldwide Catholic Church.
Echoing recent criticism of President Bush and his policies in the Middle East by Cardinal James Francis Stafford and the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Michel Sabbah, Pope John Paul read from a prepared text: In the past few weeks other deplorable events have come to light which have troubled the civic and religious conscience of all, and made more difficult a serene and resolute commitment to shared human values; in the absence of such a commitment neither war nor terrorism will ever be overcome.
Such criticism continues to be dismissed by the president. Ignoring the popes statements, President Bush instead chose to bestow the Presidential Medal of Freedom on the ailing pontiff.
President Bush should have used todays meeting to offer explanations why the opinions of the worlds religious leaders are ignored by himself and others in his administration, said Eric LeCompte, chair of the Pax Christi USA national council. Instead, what we see is blatant political opportunism, orchestrated to confuse U.S. Catholics into thinking that President Bush is in tune with the principles of their faith.
When the visit between president and pope was announced in mid-May, many U.S. Catholic leaders predicted that this meeting was less about President Bush seeking the counsel of Pope John Paul II and more about the upcoming presidential campaign and the important Catholic swing vote.
Bush campaign strategists know full well the value of the well-timed photo-op, said Robinson. While video and photographs of Pope John Paul II and President Bush sitting side-by-side will appear in hundreds of news outlets and front pages across the countryand linger in the minds of voters for months to comethe Vaticans harsh criticisms of President Bushs foreign policy will continue to be underreported in the media and, unfortunately, unheard in pulpits across the United States.