Obama, the pope and the ecumenical patriarch

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Funny how some meetings are private and others are not. Today (Friday), Pope Benedict met with President Obama in the papal library for a half-hour-long private discussion. Who knows what was said? Obama, by all accounts, appeared over-awed at the surroundings and the holiness of his host. Possibly the best insight on what may have gone on may come from Robert Moynihan, editor of “Inside the Vatican” magazine, said many actively pro-life Catholics were “scandalized” that the pope agreed to meet with the pro-choice President Obama. About 70 U.S. Catholic bishops publicly criticized the president’s May 17 appearance at the University of Notre Dame, where he was the commencement speaker and received an honorary doctorate. 


Mr. Moynihan quoted a Vatican official as what they hoped to get out of the meeting.

“We must remember all the aspects of the situation,” the official said. “And one of those aspects has to do with President Obama’s education, his formation. He was not brought up with our formation. We must realize this, and not expect him to think like us. But we must believe that with dialogue there is always hope.”

I was gazing at the pile of religious publications that find their way to my desk and discovered on the front page of the Orthodox Observer a full account of what was discussed this past April when Obama visited Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in Istanbul. He is basically the pope of the Orthodox world. There it was in black and white: they discussed religious freedom (which is in increasingly short supply for non-Muslims in Turkey) and the Halki seminary, a school on an island off the coast of Istanbul and closed for almost four decades. That’s where the Orthodox want to train their clergy. 

Having any kind of Christian seminary in the Middle East is a problem. Jordan has made life very difficult for the Jordan Evangelical Theological Seminary in Amman and when I was in Jordan in 2001, a Catholic official complained of not having an in-country seminary for their priests. According to orthodoxwiki.org, there’s no Orthodox seminary anywhere in the Middle East except for Lebanon. 

Anyway, Halki is a huge rallying cry for the Orthodox and Obama mentioned it during a speech to the Turkish parliament. Unlike President Bush, Obama doesn’t seem to meet with a whole lot of religious dignitaries when he’s state-side. But he sure does when he goes overseas.

— Julia Duin, religion editor


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About the Author
Julia Duin

Julia Duin

Julia Duin is the Times' religion editor. She has a master's degree in religion from Trinity School for Ministry (an Episcopal seminary) and has covered the beat for three decades. Before coming to The Washington Times, she worked for five newspapers, including a stint as a religion writer for the Houston Chronicle and a year as city editor at the ...

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