- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Gay marriage. Abortion. Stem cell research.

There’s plenty for President Obama and Pope Francis to discuss when they meet Thursday at the Vatican.

But beyond their doctrinal differences lies a mutual desire for social justice that likely will tamp down any friction in their first meeting, analysts say.

Same-sex marriage and abortion might be points of contention, but the hope is that Mr. Obama and Francis can find a “point of convergence” on other topics, said Paul Manuel, director of the Institute for Leadership.

“We’re looking at two global superpowers that have competing visions of justice,” said Mr. Manuel, a political science professor at Mount St. Mary’s University. “I’m sure the White House would like to have convergence with the Vatican. One area that might help them is the pope’s initiative on human trafficking. I think that’s something the president would be happy to discuss.”

Francis this month announced his support of the National Conference of Brazilian Bishops’ Brotherhood Campaign, which aims to stem human slavery in Brazil.

Mr. Manuel suggested that the persecution of Christians in the Middle East as another likely topic. He said the issue could be linked to religious freedom, which “is not a far stretch to link to President Obama’s health care plan.”

Some Catholic institutions in the U.S. have voiced opposition to the president’s signature initiative — The Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare — because it requires them to provide birth control for employees, contrary to Catholic doctrine.

“That could be an interesting, robust conversation,” Mr. Manuel said.

Francis also has advocated immigration reform “and made it a priority to get countries off the brink of war,” he said. “Maybe there will be a discussion about peace in the Holy Land, along with Ukraine and South Sudan.”

Those priorities do not stray far from Mr. Obama’s objectives, Mr. Manuel said. “It might be a point of convergence, global inequality, and that might resonate with President Obama.”

The pontiff also likely will bring up abortion and traditional marriage. “I don’t think he’d miss the opportunity,” he said.

The Obama administration has supported same-sex marriage, stem cell research and abortion rights, issues that contrast with Catholic Church doctrines.

“In trying to find some common ground, it’s not going to be doctrinal issues,” said Jo-Renee Formicola, a political science professor at Seton Hall University. “It will be broader issues, like the notion of trying to help the poorest of the poor.”

In announcing the president’s meeting at the Vatican, the White House noted that the two leaders will discuss “growing inequality.”

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