More details are emerging about the White House’s decision — really President Bush’s personal decision — not to include former President Jimmy Carter in the official U.S. delegation to the funeral of Pope John Paul II.
According to White House sources, Carter’s representatives, apparently from the former president’s Carter Center, reached out to the White House over the weekend and offered to lead the U.S. delegation should the President or other senior Bush administration officials not be able to attend.
“There was no misunderstanding. It wasn’t Carter who made the actual call, but the message was pure Carter gumption,” says a White House source. “We were getting lots of calls from lots of people looking to get on this delegation. I would say over the weekend alone we got more than 100 requests, maybe more.”
Carter went public on Tuesday with his dissatisfaction at not being invited, after the White House announced that the official delegation would be made up of the current and two prior sitting Presidents, and Secretary of State Rice.
The U.S. Embassy at the Vatican has also been inundated with requests for assistance to attend the funeral on Friday. According to a State Department source, Carter’s people have called there as well.
Carter did meet with Pope John Paul II, and hosted the pontiff in Washington, D.C., in 1979. Carter claimed a kinship with the Catholic priest, though it isn’t clear that the Vatican thought so highly of Carter’s diplomatic skills, particularly after he left office. Carter was often the wrong side of the political fence when it came to elections and policies in Latin America, where John Paul II devoted a great deal of time in the 1980s stamping out the Marxist “Liberation Theology” movement. At one point in 1979, the Vatican sought assistance from the Carter Administration State Department to limit the travels of U.S. Maryknoll missionaries to Central American countries, where they were teaching and preaching Liberation Theology alongside like-minded Latin American priests.
“The other thing that people forget is that Carter has treated President Bush very badly. He has openly criticized the President in a manner that President Clinton has not,” says a Bush administration source. “He has traveled around the world bad-mouthing this president and this country’s policies. I would be surprised if a single person gave a thought to including him in the delegation.”