- - Wednesday, March 26, 2014

President Obama meets Pope Francis at the Vatican on Thursday before heading to the Colosseum to continue his spring break with a little sightseeing. Given that no president has done more to alienate Roman Catholics than this one, the papal-presidential audience will be an interesting test of the Holy Father’s capacity to forgive.

The diplomatic slaps will be shrugged off. Toward the end of last year, the Obama administration said it would close the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See and make it a branch office of the Rome embassy.

Many Americans have always been skeptical of this official diplomatic recognition of a specific religious denomination, but several former ambassadors to the Vatican, some Catholic and some not, call the closing a slap in the face of the Roman church.

Joe Biden, ever on the scout for an occasion for incoherence, invoked the pope’s remarks about homosexuals at a fundraising dinner for the Human Rights Campaign, a homosexual activist group, the other night in Los Angeles. “To paraphrase Pope Francis, of all things,” he said, “but think about this, think about what he said, one sentence he uttered, to paraphrase him: Who are we to judge? Who are they to judge you or me?”

Mr. Biden twisted the pope’s words into an endorsement of homosexual conduct and the administration’s evolving campaign to undermine traditional marriage. In an extensive interview in “America,” the Jesuit magazine, the pope put the sentence in its correct context: “By saying this, I said what the catechism says. Which is to say, hate the sin but love the sinner.

“A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: When God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person.” Pope Francis thus shifted the emphasis of the conversation, but not the doctrine of his church.

That’s too much nuance for Messrs. Biden and Obama. They see issues only through the lens of politics, and how to use everything for political gain. The administration’s relentless drive to expand the intimidating power of the government is the actual source of contention between the spiritual leader of America’s 70 million Catholics and the White House.

Obamacare is a direct attack on all faiths that preach the ancient and lasting moral values, forcing devout Christians to pay for abortions and contraceptive devices. That’s why the Roman Catholic Church joined with Baptists, Presbyterians and other evangelicals in 94 separate lawsuits against the mandate from the Department of Health and Human Services.

Trampling on religious freedoms excites the liberals and those further left, but deliberately offending the Vatican is likely to be a grand political miscalculation. The new pontiff’s approval rating stands at 85 percent among Catholics, according to a new survey by the St. Leo University Polling Institute in Florida.

Only 8 percent of all Americans, including atheists, agnostics and infidels as well as the religious, have a negative view of Pope Francis and his work. Barack Obama can only dream of ratings like that.

The important thing Mr. Obama could take away from his meeting with the pope is an understanding of the source of such popularity and good will. Pope Francis has humility in abundance, and Mr. Obama has none. That makes the difference.