The Spectacle Blog

Pope Obamus?

By on 3.26.14 | 1:52PM

No, not quite. But the New York Times might as well have referred to President Obama with that title in a story by Jason Horowitz this past Sunday that tried to portray the president as being part of the Catholic experience in America.

According to Horowitz (of Romney-was-a-prep-school-bully fame), President Obama began his professional career working in numerous Catholic parishes throughout Chicago's South Side. He worked intimately with priests, bishops, and other Catholic leaders to serve the poor and needy. And despite not letting Catholic doctrine "tempt him," he nonetheless "effectively proselytized for the church."

Moreover, the young Obama

fit seamlessly into a 1980s Catholic cityscape forged by the spirit of Vatican II, the influence of liberation theology, and the progressivism of Cardinal Joseph L. Bernardin, the archbishop of Chicago, who called for a "consistent ethic of life" that wove life and social justice into a "seamless garment."

In other words, minus the whole belief part, the president was as Catholic as they get—at least in Horowitz's view. This is unsurprising given how the media let Nancy Pelosi get away with calling herself a "devout Catholic" despite her views on abortion (among other things), which are fundamentally at odds with her faith. All that matters is the social justice part, of course.

The timing of the article is no coincidence. As the story acknowledges, the president is scheduled to visit Vatican City on Thursday to meet with Pope Francis for the first time. And Horowitz is right: "Mr. Obama has far more to gain from the encounter than the pope does" and the pope is probably "wary of being used for American political consumption."

Just what exactly does the president stand to gain? For starters, the meeting will more than likely emphasize areas of agreement such as fighting poverty rather than debate over disagreed notions of life and marriage. As a result, President Obama may walk away from the meeting with an implicit endorsement from Pope Francis for his measures to tackle income inequality in the U.S.

But this piece comes at an opportune moment for another reason. Today the Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments over the hotly contested contraception mandate. Two groups of owners of private organizations are challenging the president's signature law, the Affordable Care Act, for mandating that they violate their consciences by providing contraceptive coverage to their employees in their health plans.

Obviously, no decisions will be made until the summer, when the Supreme Court issues all its rulings for the term. But by playing up the president's religious sympathies—his "Catholic roots," as the title claims—the Times is most likely attempting to buffer the president (as they are wont to do) from any negative coverage he may receive for the religious liberty cases. Put another way, this Times story is part of an effort to blunt claims from the right that the president is just another staunch secularist trying to erode religious freedoms and protections.

After all, why would President Obama ever want to undermine the Catholicism he devoted himself to in his days of community organizing?

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